by Lee Down

Artist Dawn Rodger, calling it honestly, is one of the most unique people I’ve come to know in the art world. Dawn is an artist, mother, wife, friend, sister, cat-lover and so many other things, who treats the world differently. Including through her art. Dawn sees people, not just their actions. She does not just listen to people’s voices, Dawn hears the emotions from their words. Dawn does not just see an artist, she sees a person.

Dawn Rodger sees the world differently than most. Not through the proverbial rose-coloured glasses. But through realistic lenses, if you will. These lenses bring about understanding, compromise, solution and beauty. This beauty is translated through and into Dawn’s own art to a vast degree.

Let’s meet Dawn Elisabeth Rodger. Who is quick to add the Elisabeth “is with an S” due to her mother’s preference. I think from what you’ve already read, and much more from what you will read, you will all agree, Dawn Rodger’s middle name should be Grace.

Artist Dawn Rodger’s Landscapes

Dawn Rodger lives in North Devon, a coastal area of southwest England. She has told me that sometimes her evocative landscapes are inspired from the views out of her own windows. When I Googled North Devon, I could tell this was indeed the land of artist Dawn Rodger. I saw the vast fields, unending beaches, magnificent skies and sublime shorelines that Dawn transports us to with her impressionistic style of her landscapes. Always leaving the viewer with a sense that this is someplace they would like to walk.

More often than not, Dawn Rodger’s landscapes are imaginary or from memory. When she gets stuck on a detail, she’ll get a reference from photographs from copyright-free sites or from photographs she has specific permission to use. Usually these images come from Dawn’s own daughter, Kim, who is also a moderator for the AAA Shared Artworks group on Facebook.

Dawn Rodger does not take using photographs to inform her own fascinating landscapes lightly. She promptly mentions the fact that when artists use photos as references, they are often very quick to forget that photographers are also artists. Capturing a striking image takes as much skill with a camera as it does with a brush, she says. Dawn feels that where copying art, such as that of a photograph, is a valid form of learning, it should never be an end in itself. She says that artists should only use copying other art to improve skills and further vision.

Occasionally, if we are really lucky, Dawn Rodger will add a woodland creature into one of her landscapes now and again. Perhaps a badger or an otter. She says these animals symbolize friends and their missing characters. Recently, Dawn completed The Peace of the Wild Things. It is a large diptych containing an owl in flight based on a photograph by an online friend.

The Peace of Wild Things (diptych) by Dawn Rodger Art
The Peace of Wild Things diptych by Dawn Rodger

My personal favourite Dawn Rodger landscapes are, without a doubt, her cold weather ones. I appreciate the starkness she presents in them. As much as I love Dawn’s winter scenes, she does not have a favourite specific season. The changing of the seasons is her favourite. Dawn describes each season with words I’d only expect the great artist who paints these landscapes we so want to be a part of. For Dawn, springtime is bursts of floral colours and lush greenery. Summertime is lilac haziness. Autumn has leaves with a strange purple twinge. Winter, Dawn Rodger describes with the stark black tree branches and twinkly lights that I love so much.

Artist Dawn Rodger’s Figurative Art

Dawn Rodger’s figurative art is completely unique in its rare style of exclusive surrealism. Dawn refers to Magic Realism as a good descriptive genre. Magic Realism in a very basic definition is when the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred in art. The genre originated in literature, but quickly moved onto visual art as well.

For those of you who know Dawn Rodger’s Art well, you may be surprised to discover that the woman in her figurative art is not the same person in each painting. She comes from the same well of experiences and feelings. Either way, these women leave you with a huge sense of tranquility.

Oftentimes Dawn Rodger’s female figures are accompanied by small animals, similar to those found in her landscapes. My personal favourite being Seeking Solace. The woman who is in the painting has otters on her shoulders hiding under the hood of her cloak. I love this painting because my interpretation was always that the otters were seeking solace from Dawn, and she was being kind enough to help them find it. Her grace continues to shine through her art.

Seeking Solace (The Quest) by Dawn Rodger Art
Seeking Solace The Quest by Dawn Rodger

When I asked Dawn Rodger if she ever painted a male figure, she said she had once. But she had painted over him. Because I told her he looked like the brother of the female figures she normally painted. Then Dawn saved me with her grace by reminding me that women make more elegant muses.

Although we do occasionally get to see an animal or two in a Dawn Rodger figurative painting, most of the animals end up hidden within the threads that seem to cover the women like a welcome blanket. These threads, Dawn says, symbolize the thoughts and emotions of the figure. Dawn uses them to draw the viewer’s eye to all of the components of the piece. When Dawn paints animals (as well as other objects) within the threads of the woven blanket, they become invisible. Buried and completely ambiguous underneath layers of paint and glaze. Thus, Dawn says, the animals find shelter in the thoughts and memories of the figure. However, with enough time, pentimento (oil paint that slowly becomes more translucent with age) will reveal not only that there are hidden animals, but that some have Icarus-like wings as well.

Commonalities in Dawn Rodger’s Art

Looking at both Dawn Rodger’s landscapes and figurative art, there are some commonalities that cannot be denied. One in particular, that is extremely bittersweet, is the colour blue. Blue goes from just being a colour when we went beyond Dawn’s technical answer as to why it is her favourite colour with its ability to go from the edge of purple to becoming turquoise and the muted violets that magenta and greens make when mixed. Because Dawn then tempers her reflection on the colour blue by describing it as becoming a principal colour in her art after she was put into an induced coma after falling ill with encephalitis (an inflammation of the brain) several years ago. After Dawn’s recovery from encephalitis and the ensuing coma was as complete as it was going to be, she was left a changed person in many ways.

Dawn glibly says of blue that it is like the sea where worse things happen. We learned this is an idiom for the adage, things could be worse. How fitting that during our interview, Dawn also alluded to beaches marking the space between the conscious world and the unconsciousness. This, the colour blue, is a significant example of the compromise artist Dawn Rodger makes on a daily basis with so much grace that we are all so fortunate to see carried through into her art.

Dawn Rodger and Art Supplies

Dawn Rodger Making Oil Paint
Dawn Rodger Making Oil Paint

Artist Dawn Rodger makes her own oil paint, which is both arduous and fruitful. She likens the process to baking with a simple recipe. Which Dawn says is very forthright. She says, it’s merely a pigment. Pigments are a complex bunch that she could write an entire article about and still not be done. A short, Dawn Rodger approved explanation is: pigments are ground up substances that are dispersed in a liquid to make paint. They can be clays or chalks dug up from the earth like ochres and umbers. Or chemically synthesized. Like Prussian blue–made by accident by a chemist trying to make quinine. Some particularly gruesome historical pigments–mummy brown–were made from actual mummified bodies. Gamboge–from the dung of cows force fed mango leaves.) That is ground (mixed with) and oil, usually linseed, with a muller until the particles are evenly dispersed. The baking comparison comes to a conclusion as Dawn says the skill comes from experience of knowing the characteristics of different pigments and how much to add to each.

Dawn Rodger Pigments for Making Oil Paint
Dawn Rodger Pigments for Making Oil Paint

Initially, Dawn Rodger began to grind her own oil paint to save money. We all know how expensive good quality paint can be. However, Dawn also wanted to gain knowledge with oils. Partly because no matter what other medium Dawn has ever found herself working with, she would always rather be oil painting. Partly because she thinks the possibilities of exploring half formed ideas is easier in oils. She also finds the scent of linseed extremely soothing.

Dawn has come to understand through her extensive paint grinding experience that oil paint isn’t just about the colour. She goes on to say that different pigments behave differently. With this statement, Dawn is able to give me an example about paints that are hues. First, she starts off with the fact that hues are where the colour is approximated using cheaper pigments. Or sometimes, she says they have lots of additives and extenders. Either way, Dawn Rodger has come to find through her experience grinding her own oil paint, hues don’t offer the level of luminosity and depth she loves. This is one more compromise Dawn Rodger makes to bring more beauty into her art.

Also begun as a money saving practice, Dawn’s husband, Chris, stretches her canvases for her. He is much more adept at getting them square than Dawn is. However, once stretched, Dawn takes over from there. She primes each canvas with 2 coats of acrylic primer. Stopping to sand between each coat. Finally, Dawn uses a top coat that is an oil primer for the lovely, smooth surface to paint on that she has become accustomed to. Now and again, Dawn Rodger will indulge in a ready made canvas for a painting. But never before she has added a layer of oil primer.

I jokingly asked Dawn if she made her own brushes as well. Again, with her grace, she spoke of her favourite brushes made by Rosemary & Co. Dawn describes them as lovingly handmade, really competitively priced and their customer care is brilliant. So for everyone like me in the US, Rosemary & Co. brushes are available here as well.

Artist Dawn Rodger on Working to a Schedule

Dawn Rodger’s production schedule is not as rushed as most other artists I’ve spoken with. She normally doesn’t get into her studio until the late afternoon. Always able to find tasks that are seemingly more important than art, which has always been her luxury. Dawn intends to spend a few studio hours daily, but in reality only makes it three or four days a week.

When Dawn Rodger is creating a painting that has none of her famous threads, she says they all take forever and a day. As an artist about the same age as Dawn, I am just beginning to get an inkling of understanding when she says she enjoys the meditative and revisionist methodology of a longer timescale per painting. Dawn admits she realizes if she were speedier, she would be viewed with more approval by online galleries and social media in general. Fundamentally though, Dawn Rodger says sometimes the resulting painting is less important than the time spent making it.

Is There More to Dawn Rodger’s Art?

Now that Dawn Rodger’s art has been dissected both in its appearance of the art itself as well as the physical anatomy of what she does to produce her art, what does she hope to impart to her viewers with all of that hard work?

Dawn says she knows there is a lot of symbolism in her art. Most times, the symbolism is quite intimate and sometimes even Dawn finds herself unaware of it until it is pointed out to her by someone else. That being said, the latter result is not what Dawn hopes for. It is much more informal symbolism that’s important to her. This is what Dawn hopes helps the viewers of her art gain their own understanding and connection to it.

Equally as important are the materials Dawn uses and their intended effects on the viewers of her art. Dawn says she hopes the glazes and textures help produce a depth that goes beyond the picture surface, creating a space around the figures and a distance in the landscapes. With everything, as always, Dawn is trying to create a sense of calmness and breathing space. I think this is true of Dawn Rodger well beyond the artist and her materials.

Three Ravens by Dawn Rodger Art
Three Ravens by Dawn Rodger

Up and Coming or Already There?

Our own Lee Down recently did a feature Emerging and Notable Artists article that listed Dawn Rodger as an Up & Coming artist. I was surprised. I was more surprised that Dawn was pleased to be on that list. I thought Dawn Rodger had clearly already come up in the world of art. I know I’d like to be just like her when I finally grow up. Let’s see where Dawn Rodger really did come from.

When Dawn Rodger was in primary school at about age seven, she forgot to bring her physical education gear to school with her. Her teacher, Mrs. Nodes, was very strict, and she punished such things by making children write essays in the school library while all of their classmates participated in physical education. Dawn was a very slow writer and knew she would be punished further with a good talking to for her short essay. To Dawn’s surprise, Mrs. Nodes asked her to draw a picture of one of the Three Kings from a Nativity display. Dawn thrived in the quiet and did extremely well. Mrs. Nodes ended up being very happy with Dawn’s performance. This experience made Dawn Rodger realize that art was something she wanted to spend more time on.

At school, Dawn Rodger studied the Heidelberg School, which was a group of Australian impressionists in the 19th century. She began University in Australia as well. She studied both Psychology and Fine Art because she had been persuaded by a close family member that Fine Art on its own was not a viable career. When Dawn ended up returning to the UK just two years into her university studies, she no longer studied Fine Art. At least not officially. Dawn went on to get an Honours degree in Psychology and Sociology from Brunel University. However, during this time, Dawn studied Art History on a solo basis as well as began to play around with different art materials. As life would have it, for a while, art only remained a hobby in Dawn’s life, as the birth of her daughter nearly coincided with her graduation, and Dawn was forced to work full time.

Spreading her wings with art did not come smoothly for Dawn Rodger. She describes it as going from a hobby to a crutch in helping her improve my coordination, ease my frustrations and combat my tiredness while still working full time after falling ill with encephalitis. Then one day, Dawn’s brother, Andrew, who often confiscated her paintings so she wouldn’t paint over them said other people should have her paintings on their walls but they should have to pay for them. As a result, Dawn Rodger’s art became available for sale in a few online galleries.

Due to the lasting effects of encephalitis on Dawn’s mobility, she sells her art online most of the time just for the ease of it. However, this past summer, Dawn Rodger was accepted into the Westward Ho! & Bideford Art Society as a full elected member. It was a very special year to be accepted as this year was the institution’s 100th annual exhibition.

In further physical exhibitions Dawn Rodger has been accepted to, she has had three of her paintings also hung in the even larger The Burton atBideford. This is a huge honour as others large names like David Hockney and Lucian Freud have hung there. I’m pretty sure artist Dawn Rodger has arrived.

Who Inspires Artist Dawn Rodger?

Breathing Space by Dawn Rodger Art
Breathing Space by Dawn Rodger

In a short list, artist Dawn Rodger will say that Brett Whiteley, one of Australia’s most celebrated artists, Marc Chagall, the notorious Russian-French artist and the well-known British artist Joan Eardley, are all huge influences on her. Dawn also credits unconscious Renaissance influences from childhood trips to Italy.

Personally, Dawn Rodger lists her grandfather, dad, husband and daughter as her biggest inspirations. Between them she has learned the gifts of acceptance, compassion and even a bit of stubbornness. Dawn also mentions great French philosophers like Paul Michel Foucault and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who have helped shape her view on the state of the world.

On a bit of a lighter side, Dawn Rodger speaks of finding any excuse to laugh and being inspired by poet Brian Bilston. Who really is worth following on Facebook for his daily poems. Dawn also speaks of finding laughter with comedians Richard Herring (British), Billy Connolly (Scottish) and Tim Minchin (Australian).

Dawn Rodger’s Involvement With Arts Artists Artwork

It is not possible to mention Dawn Rodger and not wonder how she is connected to AAA. One thing that Dawn does is that she sells from the online gallery of In the Shared Artworks group on Facebook, Dawn is an administrator. This covers being a moderator, which is basically managing posts. This also means that Dawn helps Lee Down manage AAA’s social media accounts over various platforms. Dawn also looks for content with which she helps Lee Down to create and schedule posts for these various accounts on social media. She assists with the running of the AAA website. Dawn handles questions and keeps things organized and fair for all. She is Lee Down’s right hand. And sometimes left.

Dawn Rodger’s View of the World

The Almanac of the Stars by Dawn Rodger Art
The Almanac of the Stars by Dawn Rodger

Artist Dawn Rodger says the current state of the world is wearying. She feels that quieter voices need to be listened to more. This goes right along with Dawn having described herself to me as always having been a good listener. Everything begins to come full circle here as we see Dawn’s grace again. She not only has ideas for what the world needs, but she knows she is good at participating in those ideas. Dawn credits her Honour’s Degree in Psychology and Sociology for her willingness to realize it takes all kinds to make the world go round. That degree may have made her willing, but after seeing Dawn in action with people from all over the world, I believe that realization was always there.

Dawn Rodger gets assuagement from the world in her family and her cats. She speaks of her helpful, loving husband, Chris. Her lovely, talented, artistic daughter, Kim. Her intrepid brother, Andrew, who is also a member of the Arts, Artists and Artworks gallery. Then there are Dawn’s three cats, Saffy (Sapphire), Terry and Caramac. Each cat has such an intermingled backstory, they could be their own little cat series on Netflix. That story is told with such great love.

Buy Art at Arts Artists Artwork

More Than Just Appearances

Being disabled myself, I can more than understand that Dawn Rodger would not want to use that word to describe herself. Especially in the world of art. I know firsthand, people tend to give pity once they gain this knowledge. Even if you’re showing someone your art and it displays mad skills and is just crazy good, all of that is often overlooked for the walking stick, the brace or the wheelchair. Then the art loses all merit. No matter what anyone says. Dawn Rodger has put up a fight for survival of character through her art that gives her solace. That fight comes out in her extremely thoughtful art. Dawn is fighting back with understanding, compromise, solution and beauty. Look at Dawn Rodger’s art as she looks at the world…… And you will see Grace.

While You’re Here

Browse Dawn’s Artwork on her shop page here.

About the Writer

My name is Nikki Finnigan. I am a visual artist and I love the opportunity to write about all of these amazing artists as it is another way to bring art to my life. Please follow me on-Granny Finnigan’s Art.

2 Replies to “Dawn Rodger’s Grace and Patience in Life and Art”

  1. Ilove viewing other artist’s talents. I am now in my 70s and loved art since I could first hold a paintbrush and pencil. Early years I was a watercolour artist and very successful in selling my work. When my husband passed away 13yrs ago I went to college to do pottery which I loved so much I bought my own kiln and produced a a lot for commission s from dogs to water fountains. I also kept painting and enjoy painting with acrylics loving the use of ligh. Turner was my inspiration. Now I find firing using the kiln has become too expensive so I am trying a new technique using clay to make a 3D picture then finishing with acrylics.It is great fun . I spend may hours on these pictures and have just finished my 10th one. I am never bored , with my life, I also love gardening and a love of nature often seen in my work. This is my passion for life and I will try to help my grandchildren to enjoy art too.

  2. I greatly admire Dawn not only for her artwork but her ongoing determinatiion to contribute towards the success of other artists. I was also thrilled to see the mention of Bideford, Devon, as that is where my earliest ancestor (George Routliffe) resided before coming to Canada (British North America at the time).

    Very interesting and informative article altogether, Nikki!

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