Alumni Profile: Dayna Walton (BFA Printmaking) On Why Your Future Is Yours to Create
Owner, Solstice Handmade
Grand Rapids, MI
(’19, BFA Printmaking)
That Dayna Walton graduated from KCAD already a successful professional artist and entrepreneur isn’t all that surprising when you consider how long she’s been making a career out of her creativity. Long before launching Solstice Handmade, an online platform showcasing her nature-inspired artwork, Walton was a 9th grader selling multiple pieces of handmade jewelry and clothing a day on Etsy. Still, she knew she had room to grow, so she came to KCAD and found the perfect environment for deepening her creative practice, evolving her business, and discovering new ways to connect to the world around her.
What initially led you to KCAD?
Growing up, my goal was always to make art for a living, so when I was first exposed to KCAD through dual enrollment classes at my high school, that was huge for me. I was learning amazing skills from professors who were also working artists, and their mindset and their passion were infectious. The focus was always ‘what do you want to do with this next?’ That proved to me that I could make my own path and make a living too.
You came to KCAD already thriving as an artist. How did your experiences here build on that?
The community environment at KCAD is amazing. You’re surrounded by other people who are equally passionate about creating, so you’re constantly soaking up what they’re doing and getting their perspective on how to take your work further. You build this support system of people who know what matters to you and are able to put you in the best position to grow.
Walton working in her studio (image courtesy of Solstice Handmade)
What did that journey look like for you?
My first three years at KCAD were in the Illustration program, and it took my technical skills to a whole new level. You’re gaining experience with all sorts of different techniques and media, and that gives you a really broad set of tools. For me, it’s something that feeds into everything I do. At the same time, I was learning how to use technique to say what I wanted to say with my work.
You then transferred to the Printmaking program. What inspired that?
I love to build things, so what attracted me to Printmaking is how you’re converging all of these different elements—technique, equipment, chemicals, your hands, your ideas—to make something totally new. It’s messy, and there’s a lot of experimenting and failing and refining, but that’s all part of the process.
Also, the program does a great job of uniting the technical with the conceptual, and professors are intentional about giving you opportunities to talk about your work and listen to what others have to say. It’s open and honest, so you can learn how to think critically about not just what you’re making and how you’re making it, but how you’re going to engage other people with what you’re doing.
(above): "Smog," a print from Walton's BFA thesis series "Afterglow;" (below): "Lansing River Rhythm," a wheatpase mural made of woodcut prints Walton created under the Kalamazoo Bridge in Lansing, Mich. as part of the city's ArtPath project, which injects public art into the Lansing River Trail recreation area (images courtesy of Solstice Handmade)
What do you want to say as an artist?
I want my work to get people talking about nature, and to spark their memories of experiences they had outdoors that shaped them. The most beautiful thing about nature is that anyone can experience it. There are no barriers. It’s all around us and it doesn’t cost anything.
So, it’s a call to be more present and observant of the natural world around us. A lot of my imagery focuses on plants and animals that people don’t always notice, but are very important parts of the natural system. It’s also about exploring our connection to nature, and how there are parallels between that relationship and the relationships between different organisms, the cyclical interconnectedness of everything.
Why are you so drawn to this focus on the natural world?
It’s always been there, but it really unfolded in a natural science illustration class I took. From there, my professors encouraged me to apply for the Gordon Fellowship from the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute here in West Michigan, which allows you to work on your art in the setting of this massive nature preserve.
That was a big watershed moment for me. I was being paid to work on art that I cared deeply about, so from then on, I knew that opportunity was out there. I also got to spend a ton of time learning from the scientists who work there, as well as biology students who were there doing field research. I got to see firsthand how nature has its own balance, and observing that every day was very powerful. It’s something I’m always aware of now, and I want to spread that awareness to others.
work by Dayna Walton (image courtesy of Solstice Handmade)
How does that sense of purpose factor into helping your business, Solstice Handmade, succeed?
I can create images in a way that will engage and inspire other people, but I’m also thinking about how people want function. With Solstice Handmade, I’m printing my drawings on things like clothing, paper, notecards, and handbags, so that people are constantly using them, and each time they do, they reconnect with the imagery and what it means to them.
It means so much that people have been interested, including a lot of people who aren’t necessarily interested in science. It’s exciting to do what I love while also having the opportunity to remind people how important it is to explore the world around them.
How do you align your creative process with that message?
I did a whole project at KCAD where I dyed clothing using only natural materials found here in Michigan. It taught me to respect the connection between the things you make and the materials you make them out of. When you’re involved in making on that deep a level, you have a stronger relationship to the end product.
Solstice Handmade is my outlet for selling natural dye and printmaking projects. I love the way using natural materials keeps time. The colors I dye with change with the season, and some fade differently than others, or look differently depending on the time of year you make them. It’s just mind blowing what you can do with natural materials.
Walton interacting with visitors to her Solstice Handmade booth at a recent art fair (image courtesy of Solstice Handmade)
Your creativity has more than one avenue though, what are some of the others you pursue?
I love creating murals, and I’ve already done a few this summer. I did a wheatpaste mural on the Art Path on the Lansing River Trail, where I was gluing a number of smaller prints on a wall. I also got to paint a mural on Bradley Salon in Grand Rapids as an artist working with a neighborhood improvement and street party, Creston After Dark, and another one at Lions & Rabbits, a gallery in town where I assist with curating exhibitions and planning classes and events.
I just recently undertook an artist residency at Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the month of October. It was an amazing opportunity to push my art in new directions while continuing to learn about biology and ecology. I hiked backcountry trails in search of inspiration from mushrooms, insects, birds, and everything else that inhabits these untouched lands.
(above): Walton creating a mural in Grand Rapids' Creston neighnorhood as part of the Creston After Dark event; (below): Walton in Great Smoky Mountains National Park during her recent artist residency (images courtesy of Solstice Handmade)
What’s next for you in a big picture sense?
As much as I am itching to make a plan for my career, I've noticed that the majority of the projects I've really enjoyed come up when I least expect them to and have unfolded on their own. I feel like I have some sort of momentum going; each connection I make leads to meeting new people and new jobs, so I'm trying to leave room in my life for these opportunities, a hard thing to do while also having a stable income.
As much as it's unpredictable, working in this way is so exciting and ever changing and I really value the flexibility it allows me to have with my practice. I plan to continue to work with teaching and programming in some respect part time over the next few years, and spend the rest of my time seeking out or creating opportunities for public art and illustration projects.
It's important to me to be selective about who I work with, focusing on organizations and people that value creativity and the environment. Long term, I hope to continue to teach at a university or with an arts organization, leave time to create for myself, and work towards having my own studio and storefront as a home base for my work.