Artist of the Week: Danika McElroy

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This week, Brighton Journal had the pleasure of chatting with Brighton based artist Danika McElroy. Danika’s unique pieces of art are created predominantly with watercolour, resulting in vividly striking scenes. Her cosmic art portrays a much deeper concept relating with the vast spectrum of ones emotions such as loneliness, elation, fear and love. Using her battle with mental health as an inspiration, a catalyst, this artist explores the depths of her mind and spiritual growth which she expresses through her paintings. One of Danika’s main motivations is to guide others who have experienced some sort of battle with mental health to find hope, insight and the benefit of creativity for well-being.

Danika’s latest piece ‘Thoughts Fought, Thoughts Taught’ and ‘Guided By Love’, appeared in this year’s Artists Open Houses at Preston Park Recovery Centre.

What are you doing today?

I am currently sitting in the Pavilion Gardens drinking an iced latte in the sun – summer must be here! It’s been an exciting morning actually. I’ve just been to Creative Future with my paintings as hopefully they will be soon on their online shop for sale as prints. This is a first for me, so exciting times. I feel really grateful to have the support of Creative Future as they help support under-represented artists to get their work more widely seen.

Describe where you do most of your creative work

A lot of my paintings have been done in my bedroom but I love taking my art to coffee shops – that’s the beauty of watercolours! Easy to carry in a backpack, not a lot of mess and the curiosity it evokes in people is refreshing. I guess people are more used to seeing laptops in coffee shops these days, so it’s nice when some people are intrigued by my art. It can also spark some meaningful conversations with strangers. I love how art connects people.

What’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on?

My most recent pieces of artwork ‘Thoughts Fought, Thoughts Taught’ and ‘Guided By Love’, which appeared in this year’s Artists Open Houses at Preston Park Recovery Centre. I would say this is probably the most exciting in terms of the response the work received and the experiences that followed from it. I sold some art prints for the first time which was a great feeling and was then shortlisted for ‘A Creative Celebration’ Award by Sol Design Collective. It was such a privilege to be able to shine a light on the huge benefits of creativity for mental health recovery and share a message of hope.

What made you decide to become an artist?

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I don’t think you necessarily decide to ‘become’ an artist, I think we all have the potential to be artistic but it seems to be in some people’s blood more than others. Well that’s my experience anyway. I’ve had a love for art ever since I can remember. People often ask me ‘did you study art? or ‘where did you learn how to paint?’ I tend to just show them a photo of me when I was 2 years old, with a big smile on my face, sitting at a table painting. For me it’s part of my nature.

What are you currently working on?

My current collection of work is called Paint For Space. It is my painted path through mental chaos and clarity – it visualises my relationship with mental illness and spiritual growth. I try to do this in a way which people may better understand this through using symbolism and colour to show the intensity of thoughts and emotions which I feel. I use a simple figurine to represent my personal experience and the use of the earth to show how my world feels. But I have deliberately kept the figure in each piece anonymous so that anyone can relate to the art and find their own meaning.

What are the key themes in your work?

Apart from the mental health theme, I am mesmerised by the sky in all its glory and the universe as a whole. You can see influences of this throughout my work. Someone actually asked me today ‘what types of films do you like?’ I said I don’t really watch TV or films, then laughed and said ‘my favourite film is the sky; I like to watch the clouds, the sunset and the stars’ That’s true to be honest! I find the sky absolutely fascinating – the colours, the shapes, just everything – I never get fed up of watching it.

What would you like people to notice about your work?

The deep emotional story behind each piece. People will recognise my artwork as being cosmic and maybe see an interest in space, but on looking deeper there is meaning behind the choice of colours used, the stance of the figure and the positioning and forms of all the details. There’s a meaning behind it all. My work visualises my experience of the extreme emotions I experience – the highs and the lows of depression, fear, loneliness, paranoia, elation, love, anxiety – and everything in between.

What attracts you to the medium you work in?

I love the nature watercolours and how the paint glides along the water. It’s lends itself very well to the cosmic effect I try to create. There’s a flexibility with it which I like but also an element of surprise. It’s possible to create more subtle colours and washes or bolder more vibrant effects. A lot of people don’t think my work looks like watercolour they say ‘it’s too vibrant to be watercolour’ but it’s just all about the amount of water you use.

What equipment could you not do without?

A paint brush! Well that was my automatic response… but now thinking about it more, I’d have to say water! Yeah, definitely water – I wouldn’t be able to produce the effects in my paintings without it. Well watercolours wouldn’t be watercolours without water.

Who or what inspires you?

The biggest thing that inspires my work is my own personal experience with my mental health. Not only is art and painting a huge source of joy for me but it is my biggest form of expression. It helps to visualise the invisible by creating sometime tangible. Being about to then share that with others helps these experiences become valuable and worthwhile, if that makes sense. I am motivated by a desire to give hope and insight to others. Inspiring others inspires me as I’ve often said that the best medicine for me is giving hope to those feeling hopeless. If a glimmer of hope can be given to somebody through sharing my art then that’s worth its weight in gold.

How is your art effected by living in this area?

Living in Brighton is amazing – it’s such a vibrant, creative city and a gem for artists. There is a sense of acceptance here and people embrace and support quirkiness – which is great for artwork! I’ve gained a lot confidence in my art since living here. I think being involved in my first exhibition, Tight Modern by Creative Future, and awarded 2nd prize in the public vote, was what ignited my artistic drive again. To know that people were connecting with my artwork and the fact that it opened up conversations around mental health really spurred me on to continue sharing my work.

What’s your favourite thing do to locally?

Go down to the sea. It’s such a blessing to live on the coast – the sound of the waves is so meditative and I love that I can see the sky better from down there. It’s like my own personal panoramic cinema screen! It’s bliss.

What’s your favourite gallery (or place to see/experience art)?

Got to be the Artists Open Houses every May – the atmosphere, diverse range of art and the opportunities it gives the community to connect with art is just amazing. It’s great that the art is often displayed in the artists own home. It helps to get an even greater understanding of the artists character and inspirations but also it’s nice to see the artwork in situ– it brings it to life even more.

If you could collaborate with one artist, from any time, who would it be
and why?

I’d have to say Louis Wain. The curiosity his mind and paintings create within me, makes me want to speak to him in person to find out more. He struggled with mental illness as well and I love the way his art visualises his story. I think our experiences combined could produce some interesting artwork!

What’s your favourite colour?

Wow, have you seen my artwork? Haha, how could I possibly chose – I like the colour of the rainbow – does that count? 

You can follow Danika on Instagram: @a_clutteredmind

or check out her website:

Danika will have art prints for sale soon. Keep an eye out at:

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