While I was covering the Iraq war as an embedded journalist, I felt at home. Fascinating, powerful stories flowed from my keyboard. My email box was filled with gratitude from readers who learned through my stories that their son/daughter/husband/wife was still alive. I could do interviews under fire without flinching.

It was after I came back that things fell apart. After writing about life and death struggles, stories I was assigned to do about zoning changes just didn’t seem important. My words were dull and grey. I grew depressed.

Then that moment came when out of desperation to find something, anything, that made me feel again, I put watercolor paint on paper and watched it flow. Suddenly I could create stories so much more beautiful and poignant and nuanced than anything I could ever write. And I was saved.

That was six years ago. Today I’m one of many artists in San Diego who can’t yet be called “emerging.” I work a day job (albeit probably the best ever as a public relations rep at the San Diego Zoo) and struggle in the studio every night. I don’t have Los Angeles galleries clamoring to represent me, but I do have a file cabinet full of awards and a good base of collectors who love what I do.

And I can’t seem to go anywhere without triggering that journalist in my head that exclaims: “Wow, that’s so interesting; someone should write about it!” With this blog I hope to do just that. I will take you behind the white walls of a gallery to see how art is made. I will introduce you to what’s happening in local galleries and museums, to the artists I meet in my daily life, and to those I seek out because they inspire me. Overall, this is a blog that will keep you up to date on San Diego’s art scene from the perspective of someone bumping around inside its fringes.

I came to San Diego in 2005 to take a job as a reporter with The San Diego Union-Tribune. While I wrote stories about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the corruption of Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham my blossoming love of paint found a home at the San Diego Watercolor Society. The nonprofit membership organization of water media artists hosts monthly shows at its gallery in NTC in Point Loma. (I left the paper in 2008 to take a job just as wild, but a little less hectic, at the San Diego Zoo.) The artists in the Watercolor Society nurtured and supported my creativity. Sure, my first submission into one of their shows was rejected, but within six months I had won a second-place award.

Over the last five years, I’ve won awards in local and regional shows and acceptance into national and international juried shows. I was a featured artist at the 2010 Mission Federal Art Walk San Diego in Little Italy. The recognitions gave me the confidence to continue stretching my raw, layered social observations to more and more abstract levels.

My art is an extension of what I did as a reporter — telling stories. Often my paintings depict people in urban settings. My intent is to inspire the viewers to see their own lives in the work and find their new meaning.

My education has been as non-traditional as my art. I sought out teachers to help me build the skills I needed to create the pictures I saw in my head. It’s tough to be someone who wants to reflect the human condition but lacks the ability to draw the human form. So I studied drawing, painting and art theory. I attended dozens of workshops with nationally known artists.

During one of those workshops in 2009, artist Alex Powers encouraged me to move from working primarily on paper to canvas. That same year, I became a part of the San Diego Fine Art Society‘s mentorship program for midcareer artists. The moves helped me focus on my art and opened up new venues to show it.

It’s been fun to watch my work become part of this city I love: a space at 3800 Ray Street, a solo show at Pimento Fine Art (ending Nov. 12.) and SDAI: Museum of the Living Artist. It was a huge honor when the museum invited me to have a solo show there in 2012.

My studio is part of Space 4 Art, one of the most exciting concepts for artist work/live spaces in San Diego. Located in the East Village, the studio also has a gallery devoted to cutting-edge work. I am inspired by the paintings on the walls every time I walk through the main gallery space.

I’m the first to admit, I don’t know it all. But I do know I can’t quit exploring San Diego’s art scene. I hope this blog will be a dialogue and a chance to find out together what’s surprising, fun and new.

Dani Dodge paints, writes and likes to play with animals, including her mutt named Cezanne: Follow her blog here at VOSD’s Behind the Scene, and find her on the web and on Facebook. You can drop her a line at dani@danidodge.com and follow her on Twitter.

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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