Joymaker: Dana Fortune

I’ve followed Dana Fortune’s rainbow-hued posts on Instagram for awhile now, and was thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed for our Joymaker series. Dana works across a wide range of media, from textiles to jewelry to collage, always with her characteristic joyful, vibrant color palette. For her, the significance of these colors runs far deeper than what’s on the surface. They are poignant and powerful — connecting her to family and friends, and creating a tangible way of raising her spirits on a daily basis. In this open and reflective interview, Dana shares how she’s created what she calls “a colorful escape, a safe haven” for herself  and offers ideas for how you can too. Thank you, Dana, for sharing your story with us!

Where are you from? Where do you live now?

I was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and I moved to Baltimore for college when I was 18. I really wanted a change; I had never seen snow, and growing up surrounded by beaches and sunshine is something you definitely don’t appreciate until you leave! I lived in Baltimore for seven years. I think Baltimore is where I really grew up. My best friends are there, and it’s a weird and quirky place with a lot of character and good people. I moved to Manhattan for a year, and then lived in Philadelphia for a year. After nine years up north, I decided I was ready to get back to the warmer weather and sunshine! Now I’m in Miami.

Do you have a “happy place”? Where is it?

Water is my happy place. It has always been a huge part of my life. I remember spending every day at the beach with my mom when I was little. I was always a swimmer, I played water polo for years, I rowed in college, I have my scuba certification, and I love to kayak. Being near water just feels restorative and grounding, and I’m one of those people that needs to live near the ocean. I’m also a Pisces, so I think I was just born to love the water!

Rainbows are obviously a big theme in your work. Have you always loved rainbows? Do you have any memories of rainbows from your childhood?

Everyone always asks me why I love rainbows. I can’t remember a time I didn’t love them! My mom wanted to name me Rainbow Moonbeam, but my dad said no. I wish she had! But maybe if my name was Rainbow, I wouldn’t love them as much?! Who knows – but I think I would have! I wore rainbows all the time in school, and got teased for them, but I didn’t care. My best friend and her grandma even sewed me this crazy rainbow skirt when I was 14 that I wore every week. I still have it! I integrate color into my work, my life, and my home because it fills me with joy – and I love when my color creates a moment of happiness in someone else’s life. My dad really loved unicorns and rainbows too, and started my collection by giving me a beautiful vintage unicorn postcard and a bookmark from his own collection. I was 17 when he died, and on the day of his funeral, I saw my first double rainbow. I continue to see them occasionally on dark or significant days in my life. It kinda makes me think that my dad is saying, “Hi, you’re not alone.” And that feels really comforting.

I integrate color into my work, my life, and my home because it fills me with joy – and I love when my color creates a moment of happiness in someone else’s life.

Tell us about your rainbow pompom rug! Where did the idea come from? How did you make it?

Well, just over a year ago, I was asked to do my first solo show. I was totally freaking out and full of self-doubt. I knew I needed a cool focal piece, and after a bunch of crazy ideas, I decided to go back to basics and stick with what I knew. I have been working with yarn and embroidery floss since middle school, so I decided to make a giant pom pom rug, thinking it would be easy because I’ve been making pom poms forever. When I got started though, I realized there was just no way I could make the hundreds needed for the size rug I wanted in the time frame I had. I definitely got in over my head, but I recruited four or five friends, and even my mom got in on it, which was awesome and hilarious! I had to first teach her how to Face Time because she lives in Massachusetts, and then teach her how to make pom poms. She sent me two boxes full of them! My mom and my friends saved the day – without their help, I never would have been able to make it happen in time for the show. I was still tying pom poms onto my rug an hour before I was supposed to be at the gallery for the opening. It was a lot of pressure, but now it’s one of the coolest and most meaningful things I’ve ever made!

What tips do you have for someone who wants more color in their life but doesn’t know where to start?

I say go for it! Surround yourself with whatever makes you feel happy. Start slow, or just jump right in. Do what feels right! At home, paint a wall, add some bright throw pillows, or collect vintage dishware. Then, just keep mixing in more color. I have several different quilts; switching your bedding is a quick and easy way to transform the mood in your bedroom. Nothing is permanent, so you can always make changes if you’re not into something! With clothing, I often wear a lot of black and white, so fun statement earrings, colorful shoes, or a rainbow manicure are fun, subtle ways to create a more vibrant look without altering your entire closet.

Do you notice any connection between your surroundings and your happiness? Are there any ways in which you’ve found that your surroundings can pick you up when you’re going through a tough time?

Yes, yes, and YES. I believe that color is healing and transformative. Rainbows are magical, mysterious, and wonderful. The world can be an extremely dark and dismal place, and I have struggled on and off for over a decade with severe depression and anxiety. I have essentially spent the last ten years trying to create a colorful escape, a safe haven, where everything is happy and bright. Even if I don’t always feel that way on the inside, being surrounded by color just feels better. I’m still working on brightening up my wardrobe to match the rest of my life, so colorful accessories help! One of my favorite outfits is all black with pink shoes, and my rainbow pom pom necklace. It gives just the right pop of color and my handmade pom pom necklaces always seem to make people happy! People often approach me when I’m wearing color, and I like to think that it’s because they feel a warm and inviting energy. I teach high school, and my students seem to appreciate my quirky outfits, especially first thing in the morning!

I have essentially spent the last ten years trying to create a colorful escape, a safe haven, where everything is happy and bright. Even if I don’t always feel that way on the inside, being surrounded by color just feels better.

What song always makes you smile?

Oh gosh, this is a hard one! I think I’d have to tie between Don’t You Want Me by The Human League and River of Dreams by Billy Joel. When I was a kid, my mom and I sang Don’t You Want Me as a duet whenever it came on the radio. My mom was always the male singer, and would sing in the goofiest deep voices. It always makes me think of her!

River of Dreams was one of my dad’s favorite songs. I remember him singing it, and after he died, the lyrics became more meaningful to me. The song talks about fear, doubt, spirituality, and life after death in a really beautiful way. A few years ago, I got my favorite lyrics from the song tattooed above a portrait of my parents:

We all end in the ocean, we all start in the streams, we’re all carried along by the river of dreams

Who are your muses?

I am surrounded by talented and creative women who inspire me every day. My mom is a great writer. One of best friends, Morgan (@awljokesaside), makes handmade cards and notebooks! My friend Nicole (@nmsalgar) paints amazing murals here in Miami. My former classmate, Siri (@sirisanden), is a photographer in Norway with an incredible eye. I also try to keep my Instagram feed full of female artists who inspire me, so whenever I’m on social media I’m seeing beauty and creativity.

What new things are you learning or experimenting with in your work right now?

I’ve been excited about statement jewelry lately, especially earrings. I’m working on making some of my own jewelry just for fun! I’m also working on larger scale textiles. My goal is to create pieces to fill entire walls. This summer, I’m planning to pick up my camera more often and start blending my photography and collages. As a teacher, I’m always working on new ways to make my lesson plans creative and engaging, too. I encourage them to color and draw as part of their daily homework assignments. I have some amazing artists in my class, and their work adds color to my classroom walls every day! Because I teach 11th grade U.S. History, I think I’m in a unique position to really connect with young adults and educate them on the injustices in our society. My goal is to teach them tolerance, acceptance, and respect for all people, every day. They are our future, and they have the power to create change. My students are a constant source of inspiration.

What holiday brings you the most joy?

Fourth of July is my favorite holiday. I don’t like the pressures and expectations of more formal holidays. It’s a great excuse to get outside and spend time with friends, plus Fourth of July is so quintessentially summer. I also love any reason to have a BBQ. Corn on the cob and vegan hot dogs are my favorites!

Fill in the blank:

Joy is finding meaningful connections with people who understand and accept you for exactly who you are.

All images courtesy of Dana Fortune. Follow Dana on instagram, shop her work on Etsy, and catch more of her work here.

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