In The Studio: Process of a Painting with Dyani White Hawk

Dyani White Hawk’s (NAP #113) acrylic on canvas paintings are bold, delicate, and deeply intricate. Their brightly saturated hues and geometric shapes create repetitious patterns that draw in the eye and compel viewers to want to see more. Upon further inspection, White Hawk’s paintings reveal a trick of the eye in that her brushstrokes mimic and simulate a beaded and quilted aesthetic, all in layer upon layer of fine details and repetitive brushes.

In the Process of a Painting, White Hawk walks us through her step-by-step process from the very beginning in building the stretcher bars for the canvas to showcasing the finished piece, Wičháȟpi Wakíŋyaŋ Wíŋyaŋ (Thunder Star Woman), along with its companion piece, Čhokáta Nážiŋ Wíŋyaŋ (Stands in the Center Woman). - Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor


Dyani White Hawk, Wičháȟpi Wakíŋyaŋ Wíŋyaŋ (Thunder Star Woman), acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 in., 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

White Hawk noted that she very much created the two pieces in tandem with ones another. In her words, she said, “I realized that a huge part of the process of the blue piece was its ‘partner’ piece and the evolution of this work. They were created simultaneously and very much informed one another.”

Follow Dyani White Hawk here as she walks readers through her complex process, from start to finish.


First they are pictures of the actual beginning...building the stretcher bars, stretching canvas. That's where the work truly starts!


Laying out the composition and base layers of the work.


Once base layers are established the lanes are measured and drawn onto the canvas in a white charcoal pencil.


Long thin strips of green painters tape are cut and applied to the canvas to create the spacing in between the individual lanes to eventually create the simulated bead/quillwork lanes.


Calico fabric pattern is projected on the canvas and pattern is traced with white charcoal pencil.


Close up detail of calico pattern drawn on canvas.


Beginning stages of painting in calico fabric patterning onto canvas.


Painting of calico pattern continues.


Painting of calico pattern continues. I do most of my painting standing up. Because of the nature of this patterning and small meticulous work I ended up doing it with the piece laid out on a large table.


Calico patterning is completed.


There is a "sister" piece to this work that was created simultaneously and informed a great deal of how this painting was going to exist. They are one another's counterparts, compliments, balance…The title of the red one, Čhokáta Nážiŋ Wíŋyaŋ (Stands in the Center Woman), was actually completed first.


Line work for beaded/quilled patterning begins to be laid in.  These are created with individual strokes, sometimes more than one layer in each line.  Each section like this can take up to a full work-day to complete.


Additional measurements and line work is measured and drawn in with white charcoal pencil as a guide to create central pattern.


Close up of line work to create simulated bead/quillwork patterning.


Painting in white simulated bead/quillwork continues.


White sections of simulated bead/quillwork is completed.


Painting of yellow and blue triangular sections of simulated bead/quillwork begin are rendered.  These sections take 2-3 layers to create the rich color and dimensionality. In other words, each vertical stroke that make up these fields of color has been painted 2-3 times. You can also see in these completed sections the strips of green painter’s tape have been removed to expose the under-painting and create the spaces between lanes. 


Yellow and blue sections are completed to create central star design.


First layer of yellow is painted into the center square.


All line work is complete to create bead/quillwork patterning.


Shadowing is painted in to separate the patterned calico background from the patterned bead/quillwork foreground. This creates shallow yet seductive layering, pushing the dimensionality of the work. The central square of simulated gold beadwork is painted in as the final touch.


Finished piece:
Dyani White Hawk | Wičháȟpi Wakíŋyaŋ Wíŋyaŋ (Thunder Star Woman), acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 in., 2015. Courtesy of the artist.


Along with finished companion piece:
Dyani White Hawk | Čhokáta Nážiŋ Wíŋyaŋ (Stands in the Center Woman), acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 in., 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

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Dyani White Hawk (Sicangu Lakota), earned her MFA in studio arts in 2011 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She completed a BFA in 2008 from the Institute of American Indian Arts. White Hawk is represented by the Bockley Gallery in Minneapolis and the Shiprock Santa Fe Gallery

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer. 

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