This month’s featured artist in our Fort Collins store is Dominique Montano. We are captivated by her realistic yet conceptualized depictions of large safari animals. So we thought we would sit down and get to know a little more about Dominique and where her inspiration comes from.
Tell us a little about your background… when did you start creating art and what drew you to life as an artist?
I grew up with a lot of brothers, so there were a lot of comic books floating around. I loved the art in them and would sit and draw out panels for hours, and that really got me into the idea of sketching and drawing. I did portraits for a while before I started shifting to animals. I was very interested in animals at the time since I wanted to become a veterinarian, and eventually I just started trying to draw out animals. It was a pretty handy skill while in school for zoology and I was able to create my own posters and figures. Art was always a sort of hobby to me, but when I was in a car accident last year and had nothing but time in a bed to recover, it became very therapeutic for me and I started to draw and create artwork more often. I love being able to create and see myself grow as an artist with each new piece, and to be able to educate others and bring attention to some of the animal subjects I create.
You draw a lot of animals but not ones that you typically get to see in nature. What sparked your interest in big cats and safari type animals?
I’ve always been interested in the mammals and large predators of the world. In my time as an undergraduate I received a unique opportunity to perform work on pumas, and then after a study abroad trip to South Africa several years ago, I began to respect the nature around us and understand how little I knew of the world. As a zoologist, I respect cats in general due to their incredible adaptability and amazing diversity among habitats, and felt that pieces with cats as my subjects would command attention and help others understand a little more about them.
Beyond cats, there are amazing animals out there, large and small, predator and prey, whose populations are declining due to human-wildlife conflict. As I started selling my pieces, I realized I could use my art to call attention to these issues, provide resources to educate, and try to give back where I could to the animals whose likeness I was profiting from. I make sure to donate a portion of my profits from pieces to conservation organizations that do incredible work to combat the factors that are forcing these species into a corner.
The cheetah figures in “In Motion” were created with spray paint. Did you create a stencil for each one or airbrush them on?
I’m actually a pretty big fan of stencils! “In Motion” was one of my favorite pieces because it was as accurate as possible to the actual motion of a running cheetah, and turned out looking fantastic. I used freezer paper to draw on a stencil, cut out the areas to be painted, and ironed it onto the canvas, which creates nice sharp lines when it’s time to spraypaint. Then smaller detailed areas were filled in with pen to bring it all together. In progress photo can be seen on Dominique’s instagram.
Other than being an artist, we know you’re a CSU student. What are you currently studying and what do you hope to do when you graduate?
I received my bachelor’s in Zoology from Colorado State University in 2014, and am currently on a PhD track in Zoology at Colorado State University again! So it’s really nice to return and bring some projects to fruition that have been on hold for a few years. I perform research in a physiology lab, and would like to concentrate on comparative and exercise physiology in large animals, as well as animal locomotion. The dream is to work with the cats of the world and understand their physiology and morphology across species. In addition to research I’d like to continue my educational projects and perform outreach using my artistry. There is so much we as researchers and people can learn from the world around us, and respecting that world and the systems we may not even fully comprehend yet is absolutely integral to our own growth and survival. To be able to use my knowledge and talents to contribute to such an understanding would be an incredible accomplishment.
You work with a lot of different mediums, including woodworking. What is your favorite type of art to create?
I really do love it all! I’m still getting into more mediums every day, but the ones that stand out most to me are charcoal work and more recently, watercolors. Both mediums can be messy, but on one hand charcoals offer great contrast work, along with relatively easy shading to be done with smudges. Watercolors I love because it can add a fantastic element of surrealism by putting in different colors where they shouldn’t normally be. While I try to adhere to realism where I can in a piece due to my educational background, art is still art, and sometimes you just need to throw some blues and greens on a piece to really make it pop!
What is your favorite piece of art you’ve every done? (if you could also send me a picture or Instagram link to use in the blog, that would be awesome).
Ooh that’s a tough one. It’s tough getting attached to a piece because I never want to let it go! My favorites currently are probably “Tyger, Tyger,” “Native,” or “Ursidae.” “Tyger, Tyger” was an idea borne from a poem, and some of the techniques I tried out looked so fantastic in the end product that I don’t know if I’ll ever replicate that again. “Native” is one of my favorites due to my love of pumas, and was one of the first projects where I blended inks and watercolors to create contrast and fur detail, and the end product was better than expected, which is hard to get. “Ursidae” is a charcoal piece, one of my first larger ones that ended up just looking incredible. I’m very critical of my works, and it was just one of those rare pieces that I couldn’t find any criticism for.
The Tyger Tyger piece which one of the limited edition prints this month was based on has a cool ‘duality’ type composition. We saw this in some of your other work as well. Is there a message there?
Actually, one of my first pieces was called “Duality!” I previously did a piece called “Two Kings” which was similar to “Tyger, Tyger,” which featured two lions, one roaring and one just looking on. That idea of duality in nature, of fear and respect, regality and aggression, was just appealing to me; and cats were the perfect subject for it. There is a poem called “The Tyger,” by William Blake, which speaks of the dangers and beauty of nature, juxtaposing the innocence and frailty of a lamb with the power and fear that a tiger can impose. The piece was adapted from the first stanza, which reads:
“Tyger tyger burning bright
In the forests of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”
I have always loved that poem and the message it suggests, and after I did “Two Kings” knew I wanted to adapt ‘The Tyger” in a similar fashion. The message is similar to the poem: there is beauty in nature, and there is just as much power. It’s not always to be feared, because we can learn so much, but it is absolutely to be respected. The tigers in the piece, one roaring and one looking on, reflects nature and its duality. Most of these animals in the world around us are not to be controlled, but respected for the ferocity and poise they can hold.
Dominique’s limited edition artist tees are only available during the month of September, so shop them now before you miss out. The 2 prints available are a line drawing version of her tiger design, Tyger Tyger and the geometric panther. Come by the store to see the original artwork and other pieces by Dominique.