A Fluid Life
Nov 10, 2017 04:10PM
By Leo Adam Biga
That's how digital graphic designer and fine art painter Dana Oltman describes her aesthetic.
As art director for Identity Marketing Group (she was previously at Rebel Interactive) she fulfills client project wishes. She says her branding design work consistently features “minimal, simple, clean” looks that, well, flow.
“Fluid is what I love,” she says. “Fluid is where I'm at now.”
Her abstract expressionistic fine art, especially her poured art work, is all about the swirls and natural organic fades of liquid flows.
“Most of the paints I use are acrylics,” she says. “which have as their base water, and so they're very fluid.”
She invariably listens to music when painting in order to activate or induce that state of flow.
“What I do is based on whatever mood I'm in,” she says. “While design is very rigid—I like to have a plan and justify everything I do—painting is exactly the opposite. I like to work with the medium, just pick a paint, pick some colors, and basically put it on a surface and see what it does. It's very much working with my medium to get random results, trying to affect it minimally as I go, letting gravity and fluid dynamics do the rest. It's all very in the moment.”
If she does manipulate the image, she says, it’s for texture, and in those cases she may apply etching materials, resin, linoleum carvers, and even a culinary blow torch.
The images she creates on masonry board or wood panels and, occasionally, on canvas are often expressions of things found in nature–everything from nebulas in outer space to severe storm skies.
Her favorite skies appear after a storm at sunset. “The clouds are stacking up to the east after they've already moved through and the sun is shining from the west and you have orange, yellow, purple, red—which is my favorite color palette," she says.
Her natural hair color is red, and she often sports highlights in different shades from her favorite palette.
In August, she drove to Beatrice, Nebraska, to catch the total solar eclipse, and she knows it's only a matter of time before it shows up in one of her paintings.
Music is another source of inspiration for Oltman, 26, who loves going to local live shows and festivals.
Occasionally, her work is featured at local concerts and entertainment events. She did a live painting of a musician at an Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards showcase.
She's also taken on art projects for local bands, including an album cover for The Big Deep.
Some of her paintings can be seen at Curb Appeal Salon & Spa in the Old Market. A broad sampling of her work is available on her website, danaoltman.com.
Additionally, she draws and makes photographs, which she shares on her Instagram page.
Other influences and inspirations range from high fashion to poetry. She did a multi-week study abroad in Japan learning that country's visual culture. The Japan immersion naturally showed up in her work, and she intends returning one day.
She's also a Francophile who's visited Quebec, Canada, and France. She expects taking ever deeper dives into French culture and returning to France—the home base for her favorite art movement: Impressionism.
Oltman grew up in Bennington, Nebraska, and graduated with a fine arts degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She draws a clear distinction between graphic design and art activities. She loves both, but one's her job and the other's purely for pleasure. She likes the balance of producing on a schedule as part of an office team and creating art alone when she feels like it.
“Since I don't have art hooked to a vocation, it's in my court totally. I don't have to rely on anyone,” she says. “If I don't want to make stuff, I don't make stuff. If I do, I do. It's just totally free."
On the design side, she's finding her most satisfaction working on websites.
“It''s such an advancing field,” she says. “Websites are so versatile, and you can do so many things. And it's just so nuanced. It's a really pretty time for web design.”
Motion graphics and animation are two new areas she's learning fast. Coding is another.
“I enjoy learning new things,” she says. “I’m a learner.”
Oltman enjoys the meet-ups that the local American Institute of Graphic Arts chapter puts on, including BarCamp.
She also stays connected to the design community via social media.
As a self-identified millennial, she admits, "I definitely fit the label in respect to being super connected online, being liberal, wanting a meaningful career that isn't too constricting and gives me creative output, focusing on experience over material things in life, etc.”
A couple years ago when legalizing same-sex marriage was struck down in Nebraska, Oltman made a graphic of the Husker "N" with the Human Rights Campaign logo imposed in it. “I'm for causes that focus on equal human rights," she says.
At UNL she was one of several art students who created a mural portrait of George Flippin, the first African-American athlete of note at the university. The mural adorns the campus multicultural center.
When not doing pro bono work for things she believes in, she donates to the American Civil Liberties Union and to disaster relief funds.
In whatever she does, she follows her passion. Her personal credo-tagline says it all:
"Doin' me a life."
This article appears in the November/December 2017 issue of Encounter.