Always Learning

Dayna Walton adding finishing touches to her piece Pondscum,
located on the Lansing River Trail, under the Cedar Street bridge.

For as long as I can remember, I have adored studying my surroundings – taking the time to find and name each living thing, even the tiny plants and insects that hold ecosystems together. Maybe it was my parents, who made it a priority to raise us with trees for neighbors, that instilled this need to always be seeking understanding. Maybe it was their parents – a farmer, a biology teacher, and a couple of attentive caretakers, who taught me to care. Nowadays, I know it’s sustained by seeking out the places that science and art overlap. Wherever it comes from, my inspiration comes back to the same feeling- the sense of discovery that comes with noticing something new, the feeling of unraveling the complexities of nature to something you can comprehend. In my artwork, this notion appears as illustrations of anything from centipedes to slime molds to dragonfly larvae. I make a point to explore and celebrate species that you might overlook, that might make you cringe – because they are just as significant, just as crucial, as the flowers that are easy to love. 

This focus on understanding and strengthening ecosystems can’t help but spill over into all parts of my life.  Years of working through college at a brand new gallery and venue cemented this into my art practice. Over the years I worked there I learned the importance of building our own intentional, reciprocal systems through a network of support. I saw firsthand the advantages of embracing abundance instead of competition, and learned how every artist, small business, and community member truly needs each other. 

I’ve always been a maker with too many ideas than I can possibly finish- and since starting out selling crafts online at 14, I’ve always found a way to support myself with these ideas. After years of trying on mediums, I think I’ve found my role in my own creative ecosystem with Solstice Handmade. Even when the world is upside down, returning to these goals keeps my head on straight. Through teaching workshops that bring together art skills and conservation themes, I can inspire others to live with awareness. Through residencies and travel, I can educate myself outside of academia. Through freelance work, I can help other small businesses flourish. Through my small business that commissions makers to collaborate, I can work in small steps to legitimize art as a career. Through sharing opportunities and support with other artists, I am in return supported. Through public art opportunities, I can make work that is free and accessible. Lately, through the pleasure of working with Lansing Art Gallery, I’ve found like minded creatives  building a place for artists in Michigan’s economic ecosystem.

For the past two years I have had the opportunity to create an art installation for Artpath. Each year this has proved a thrill – painting huge, meeting locals, adapting and adjusting (as murals insist) all the way to finish. This year, “pondscum” popped up along the Lansing River Trail. A community of aquatic microbes, insects, and plants now lives under the Cedar St Bridge. For me, Artpath has been significant for my portfolio, giving me a public place to try wild ideas that a client might not be so stoked about.

This fall, Lansing Art Gallery invited me to co-curate their Holiday Exhibition and I jumped at the chance. In a year like 2020, any outlet to share and sell work is much needed for working artists and craftspeople. I was excited at the chance to extend this invitation to other Grand Rapids artists, to strengthen a regional community of artists. For me, meeting creatives everywhere in the state has given me more mentors than I could ask for. Although this event can’t include the gathering it normally would, it still brought together a unique collection of makers. I know I’ve discovered several artists to admire, and will know who to look for at future art fairs and exhibitions to meet some day.  At the end of the day, jurying the exhibition felt like a taste of normal – as close as I can get to seeing and meeting artists in one place, and I hope that I can continue finding ways to build creative ecosystems alongside groups like Lansing Art Gallery.


  1. Carol Schirner on December 9, 2020 at 3:00 pm

    I have had the pleasure of watching this young lady grow and create. I am a teacher and environmental educator. I love her joy in creating, learning and sharing. I love her analogy of bringing together art and artists to create ecosystems like those she discovers and loves in nature. After all, we are all part of this wonderful ecosystem we call Earth and must all care for it and for each other…now more than ever.
    Dana makes my heart grow!!!

  2. Cathy Knooo on December 9, 2020 at 9:33 pm

    I love your thought process and enjoyed seeing Pondscum! Painting a mural such as this, that pops out to those who pass and hopefully also builds their knowledge and awareness is a beautiful, yet subtle educational process. Thank you for working to instill an appreciation of the ecosystems that surround us.

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