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Meet the Austin Artist Whose Vibrant Paintings Are Inspired by National Parks

by | Jul 20, 2020

Danika Ostrowski draws her inspiration from Big Bend and beyond to create her modern and colorful paintings of America’s public lands.

Austin-based artist Danika Ostrowski creates modern, colorful paintings of America’s public lands, in a signature style she describes as “somewhere between impressionistic and graphically illustrative.” Using acrylics and exaggerated color schemes, Danika’s works emphasize the unique character, plant life, geological forms, and panoramic views of her favorite parks. US Park Pass spoke with Danika about her craft, life lessons, and the inspiration she draws from our national parks—and Big Bend National Park in particular—as part of our Meet the Artisans of the National Parks series.

Danika in her Studio based in Austin, Texas

USPP: How did you become interested in painting national parks?

Growing up, our family summer vacation was often to National Parks. Big Bend is the closest park to where I grew up and I am certainly nostalgic when it comes to that particular park. My love for travel and the outdoors stemmed from these trips. I’ve always loved art and it was only natural that my two interests collided.

After graduating in 2014 with a degree in Visualization, I rented a studio space in Austin and just started painting. I traveled around Texas looking for inspiration and ultimately found it in Big Bend National Park. I’ve been painting National Parks ever since.

USPP: What has been an inspiration to you throughout your work?

I’ve always loved visiting National Parks and other public lands. From an aesthetic standpoint, I am drawn to the vibrant colors found in nature. Every time I visit a National Park, I find the scenic landscape to be a tiny bit different. The light, weather, time of year, time of day, etc. create an ever-changing set of colors that I strive to capture. The more time I’ve spent in the parks, the more I’ve learned of their historical, cultural, and scientific importance. The history of these places, along with the people who work so hard to protect them inspire me every day.

USPP: What values do your work and business embody?

Creativity and authenticity are at the core of my business. I’m constantly challenging myself to explore new creative ideas. In the past couple years, I’ve become more interested in using my platform as an artist to advocate for the conservation of our National Parks. I seek new ways to educate my audience about the National Parks system and emphasize its significance and importance to our society. I’ve also developed a series from which I donate a portion of the proceeds to the National Parks Foundation.

USPP: What part of your craft do you love the most?

Traveling for inspiration is at the top of my list, but I also love connecting with other people who share my love for nature and public lands. The most exciting moments are when someone walks by one of my paintings, stops, and pulls out an image they took from the same viewpoint the painting depicts. It’s such a cool connection and I never tire of these interactions.

Danika painting in her Studio

USPP: What have you learned the most?

I think being an artist means you are constantly learning and growing (I guess that’s true for most of life, actually!) I’m always working on my craft and expanding my comfort zone. Painting is a life-long endeavor and I don’t know if anyone truly ‘masters’ it. It’s the creative process and perpetual practice along the way that are so enjoyable and addictive.

USPP: How have National Parks played a role in your craft?

Big Bend National Park was the place that originally inspired me to start painting landscapes. Even now, when I’m feeling creatively stuck or overwhelmed, I’ll take a road trip over there, to reconnect with the park. The open space and massive scale of the landscape have such a humbling and calming effect. I always return to my studio with a clear mind and the motivation to create.

I’ve also been fortunate to participate in two artist-in-residence programs in Badlands and Petrified Forest National Parks. These experiences were so immersive. I was able to spend weeks at a time exploring, discovering, learning, and painting the parks’ landscapes.

During these residencies, a typical day would begin with an early wake-up time to watch the sunrise (because really, is there anything more beautiful than watching the sun rise in a national park?!) I’d map out my planned hike(s) for the day, pack up my daypack and head out with my small painting set.

I hiked miles upon miles in each of the parks, art supplies always in hand. Most days I’d work on some smaller painting sketches along my hike, then head back to my temporary ‘home’ to work on some of my larger studio paintings. I’d watch the sunset and, just before going to sleep, make a point to admire the stars in the sky. Many of our national parks are Dark Sky-certified and if you ever have the chance, do lay out and stare into the universe—it’s one of my favorite parts of visiting the Parks.

Danika’s painting hanging on a wall

Painting on paper

USPP: What would you say is unique about your work?

Everything I sell is designed and created by me in my Austin studio. I’ve developed my own unique painting style which seeks to capture the emotion one feels when visiting the beautiful places I paint.

USPP: What advice would you give to other craft-makers who want to start their own business?

Two things:

First, don’t be afraid to ask for help! I wish I could have told myself this when I first started out. You certainly don’t have to do everything on your own and you are doing yourself a disservice by not reaching out to family, friends, and fellow creatives who can be valuable resources. Whether it’s an extra pair of hands on a project or advice from someone who’s been in the business for years, it’s worth asking for help when you need it.

Second, just keep swimming. Perseverance is key when you’re starting out. Don’t let one bad day or rejection slow you down. Keep moving forward with your vision!

Danika’s painting during her residency

USPP: What struggles have you faced as a small-business owner and how have you overcome them?

Probably the biggest challenge I’ve had is finding balance between work and taking care of myself. It’s easy to over-extend yourself or get caught up in the “hustle” culture. I’ve had to learn that being busy does not define how successful you are!

USPP: Anything else you’d like to add?

One of the most common questions I get is “do you paint on-location or in your studio?” The answer is “I do both.” I work en plain-air (outdoors), but I also travel with the intention of photographing the landscape for reference material. Much of my work is very large-scale and a lot of my inspiration comes from my memory as well as photographs.