Painting is my livelihood…and at one point I fought it tooth and nail. Now don’t get me wrong, art has resonated in me always. I remember spending hours as a little kid taking chunks of tree bark and whittling them into shapes on the rough surface of the sidewalk, my days punctuated by more cat doodles than I care to admit. I drew for the sake of drawing; made for the sake of making. That’s just what people do right? Have lunch, make art, breathe, make art. Simple.
So where was this resistance? The fighting against? It came with the approach of “artist” as an identity. But I didn’t want to be an artist! I wanted no part of that world I perceived to be of sucking up and selling out. No sir. Not my thing. And so began the epic, losing battle of denying my true purpose. I floated and fumbled through my early twenties, painting but refusing to show the world.
It was when I was finally decided to go to school full-time—or more specifically when I was introduced to oil in my painting class at UNO—that my entire creative world exploded open. Here was a medium that allowed me to say what I wanted to say! To paint what I saw on the backs of my eyelids! I can liken it to writing in the dirt with a tree branch; it works well enough until someone hands you a pen and paper.
With the right tools in hand, I began exploring and painting, quite literally, the stuff of my dreams; simultaneously learning about art throughout the past, how to talk about my work, how to talk about myself in relation to it, contemporary artists, and the power of double espressos. The change happened slowly and quietly. I didn’t even realize that I had returned to that magical place where art and artist are inseparable until someone asked me not so long ago, “So, what do you do?” To which I simply and easily replied, “I’m an artist.”
Kelli McDanal grew up between Nebraska, Oregon and Pennsylvania, moving to back to Kearney Nebraska near the end of High School. She went on to spend several years in Sedona, Arizona before returning yet again to our beautiful state, and has resided in Omaha now for more than four years. She is continuing to work toward a BFA in Studio Arts/Painting, as well as a BA in Art History. She plans to balance working as an artist with the pursuit of an MFA in painting and hopes to ultimately teach art at a college level, thus happily remaining in school forever.