Embracing Impressionism: Meet Fine Artist & Teacher Dena Peterson

Written by Artie The Panda

Not every artist would sign up for a six-month stint painting eight to 10 hours a day in a small cubicle in Gdansk, Poland. But for Dena Peterson, it was an honor: She’d been chosen as one of 125 international artists to work on “Loving Vincent,” the world’s first fully painted film. 

From Realism to Impressionism

Dena has long admired the Dutch Post-Impressionist artist Vincent Van Gogh. And although she learned to paint in a realistic, representational way, the Iowa-based artist has come to prefer — like Van Gogh — painting what she feels rather than merely what she sees. Her oil painting “Hallowed Ground” (featured above) is a scene from Auvers-sur-Oise, France, where Van Gogh lived at the end of his life and where Dena taught a few years ago. She painted it on a tea towel from the Ravoux Inn, just like the ones Van Gogh used when he ran out of canvas.

"Hallowed Ground"

Peace and Tranquility

For her oil painting titled “Solitude” (below), Dena says, “I focused on the lone sailboat not just for compositional reasons…but because it gives me peace and tranquility every time I look at it.” For framing, she chose our Wood Frame Profile 526, with a Papermat WC 4-Ply Mat Board and Non-Glare Acrylic. “The frames are affordable and professional-looking,” Dena says.

“Solitude” framed in Wood Frame Profile 526.

See More of Dena’s Work

On Dena’s website, you’ll find an array of paintings, from plein air to portrait, still life to studio landscape. She also wrote a wonderfully detailed blog post on what it was like to work on “Loving Vincent.” Cruise over to Dena’s Instagram page to see day-in-the-life reports, like the time she spied one of her paintings on a billboard (1/10/22 post). To discover her most indispensable tools and how she embraced (and later re-embraced) painting, see my Q&A with Dena below.

Now for Artie’s Eight Q&A with Dena Peterson …

1. What is your background; how did you get started?

I have loved art and painting since I was a child. After receiving a Master’s in Counseling Psychology, and raising three kids, I returned more seriously to pursue my first love — art. I enrolled in workshops with renowned artists and studied art education.

2. What role do you think the artist plays in society?

I believe that artists help us to see possibilities, to see the world creatively and differently. It’s especially important for children’s developing minds to learn to think in new ways. All of the arts play an important role in this, and in raising good citizens of the world.

3. What has been a formative experience or the best advice youve received within your career?

The most informative experience for me was being selected as one of the artists to paint for the film “Loving Vincent” in 2016. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 2018. I realized that even at the age of 54, I could learn new skills and accomplish something so unique. If I hadn’t taken the risk to go to Gdansk, Poland, it never would have happened. It opened many doors for me and I am eternally grateful for that experience!

4. In what ways does your work reflect your personality?

My work reflects my love of nature and color. I consider myself to be very intuitive and above all, human. That’s why I like seeing “humanity” in paintings. And why I’m not a fan of photo realism. 

5. Creative blocks, do you get them? If so, how do you overcome them?

I think everyone gets them! It’s all a part of the creative process. For me, it’s usually because I am putting too much pressure on myself to “perform.” The best way to overcome it, for me, has been to take on an attitude of play and experimentation in my studio, without expectations for certain results. Trying new mediums helps, too. And it’s okay to just take a break sometimes!

6. What is your most indispensable tool? (Not counting the obvious, like paints, brushes, canvas, camera, etc.)

My most indispensable tools have to be my art books. I enjoy looking at the work of other artists who inspire me. And it’s not about copying them. It’s about seeing work that takes risks that I’ve been afraid to take, or handles artistic problems in new ways. Also, going to art museums! Seeing work in person is very important to me.

7. Do you have a new project you are working on, or a new passionate idea?

My new goal in my studio these days is to take nature and make it more abstracted and expressive. I was trained in a very representational way. Nothing wrong with this, but I am looking for something more in my work these past few years. Like Van Gogh, I want to paint what I feel much more than what I see. It’s harder than it sounds!

8. What is your favorite color to incorporate into your art?

I’ve always loved blues. Lately, Turquoise Blue has found its way onto my usually limited palette.

All artwork and/or photographs used in this post are subject to copyright held by the featured artist.

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Last Updated October 5, 2022