Behind the Easel: Meet Dani ReneeSeptember 23, 2020
The first time you see Dani Renee’s work, you may wonder, ‘Is it a photo or a painting?’
What your eyes are seeing is fine-art portraiture with painterly touches.
“It all starts with the photography,” she explains. “Any time my work is displayed, people stare at it, and usually go back and forth with one another over whether it’s a painting or a photograph. The answer is ‘yes’ to both.”
Dani is a classically trained professional photographer with the expertise to use lighting to create depth in the photographs she creates. After the portrait session, clients come in to go through the images to select portrait sizing, framing, and finishes. Each heirloom wall portrait is hand-finished using various painting techniques.
“Photography is painting with light. Fine art portraiture takes it a step farther by enhancing texture and dimension with hand-finishing,” Dani says. “I love showing the finished work to people and seeing their reaction.”
For clients who are of a more formal style, she recommends a studio setting. For those who prefer a more casual approach, the setting is often outdoors. “If fall is their favorite season, and they love to hike with their dogs, we’re probably going to go with casual dress in one of their favorite hiking spots,” she says. “I want the end product to reflect their personality. This portrait is for their family to enjoy for generations to come. Life is ever changing, and I enjoy creating art based on those cherished moments for them.”
As with most artists, Dani’s creativity was apparent from her earliest years. She remembers, “I was always creating things, whether it was coloring or playing around with Claymation-type figures. Although my uncle was a professional photographer who was in the portrait business my entire life, the idea of me doing that for a living never occurred to me. Maybe it was because I was one of the first in the family to go to college, and I was supposed to graduate and go get some nine to five job.”
Dani lived up to those expectations. With a master’s degree in education, she taught kindergarten and pre-K for many years, as well as working with some educational non-profit organizations.
“Those jobs were fine, but there was nothing spectacular about them for me. My life started to change when I got into dog sports. I was always taking photographs when I wasn’t in the ring with my Dobermans. People were always very interested in my photographs. One thing led to the next and I kept going with photography.”
Dani loves taking classes of all kinds, from cooking to dancing to aerobics, and when she began taking photography classes her instructor was impressed. Dani’s uncle had also caught wind of what she was doing. “I didn’t feel that I was at his level of expertise, so I wasn’t ready to share what I was doing with him. Once he saw some of my work, he became one of my biggest cheerleaders and took me under his wing. He really pushed me into learning more, and adding various elements that were out of my comfort zone.”
Sixteen years later, Dani is enjoying working from the studio in the back of her home near Athol, Mass. Starting the morning at the barn where she takes lessons to get her equine “fix,” she also is very involved fostering and adopting her beloved Dobermans and competing in many dog sports. Dani also likes helping worthy organizations. “Any charity or non-profit with a good cause that I can get behind, I’m happy to help by donating a portion of my profits, goods and services” she said. “It’s on an individual basis, depending on their goals.”
Dani’s love of horses began with the occasional family outing to ranches that offered trail rides. “My mother loved horses and I fell in love with them too on those rides. I’d save up birthday money and go buy a brush or a hoof pick,” she recollects, “for that horse that I was going to own one day. Then life went on and my own horse never became a reality. About seven years ago, my brother wanted us all to go on a trail ride as a present for my mother. I realized that riding an hour or so on a rental horse wasn’t really riding, so I started calling around to find out about taking lessons.”
Dani doesn’t have her own horse yet, but, being an artist, she can arrange her schedule to be at the barn helping with morning chores in addition to riding and leasing horses, focusing on dressage. “I’m still with the first person who called me back about taking lessons, Janet Brousseau. She’s amazing, and I have learned so much from her. I wanted to be around the barn and the horses more than just for lessons, and I’ve been helping with morning chores for a long time.”
What’s next for her art?
“I’m working on some new ideas,” Dani says. “I love fantasy imagination, and lately when my husband and I get the chance to watch television, we enjoy the show Once Upon A Time. As a photographer, the show’s cinematography is pure magic for me. I’m still deciding how ‘fantastical’ I want to go with my new line, but the idea is based around children’s imaginations. I’ve just finished a few samples during a recent model call for a princess, pirate, and an astronaut. The kids had a lot of fun helping me with the project and the parents loved the outcome.”
To appreciate Dani Renee’s work visit: danireneeportraits.com.
By Debbie Curtis