When Newburgh, Indiana, artist Dakri Sinclair begins a painting, she sometimes writes the words “new beginning” on the canvas. With every vibrant and colorful brushstroke, the message disappears and her final artwork shines through.
It’s a season of new beginnings for Sinclair, 47, who experienced the passing of her mother Angie Sinclair in 2012. The artist used her mother’s home, a small rented cabin on the Ohio River in Newburgh, as a studio until recently when she was forced to relocate. Sinclair debated about where she should start again, and the decision was reached to convert the garage of her Newburgh home, which she shares with her husband Jim Herrell of 15 years and their three children Brauly Sinclair, 16, Maggie Herrell, 14, and Graden Herrell, 11.
Sinclair, who attended Evansville Day School and Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, where she studied fashion design and illustration, also has seen her artwork transform. Her career was jumpstarted through her parents’ former manufacturing company Arbor Hill House (makers of decorative hand-painted wooden alphabet letters and accessories, and writers of stories of their adventures under the name Tootie Mouse), which took her to Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, and others. Although she continues to create products for her Etsy account, a popular online commerce retailer of vintage items, arts, and supplies, and has done commissioned murals all over Evansville, including several in Jane Schroeder’s Newburgh home (Look for “With Open Doors” on page 50), Sinclair says she now has the confidence to paint without knowing what the end result will be.
How has your artwork changed during the many transitions in your life?
I will hibernate and lock myself in my studio and paint, which I’ve never really had the time to do. I’ve always been busy with commissioned work, or the products, or the murals. I usually start with however I’m feeling and lately those feelings have had to do with the transitioning into a new space. If I don’t know where to start or what the subject matter is I want to paint, I will just write “new beginning” on a canvas and just go from there. I will flip it over, turn it over, by the end of it, you don’t see the words. I blow dry a lot as I go. I paint very fast. It takes about an hour and a half to two hours. It’s fun. It’s a very therapeutic process.
Who inspired you to start painting for yourself?
Last year, I hosted artist Tracy Verdugo from Australia in April. She’s on a nine-month tour doing workshops and she’s phenomenal. That really enlightened me a lot. She has become a good friend in the process. Everything I’ve created has been very specific to a room, whether it is a mural or a canvas. I have to look at the bedding colors, the wall color, and I have to take all those factors into consideration. After I took her class, that’s really the first time I felt comfortable and confident in grabbing a canvas and having no idea what I was going to do. I’ve spent years knowing exactly what I had to do and what the final product was going to look like. Especially the murals, I would sketch them out before I would start painting. It was very different for me to grab a canvas and start painting. That’s been so much fun and it’s all I want to do. She will be back again next May.
How did mural painting become your specialty?
Friends of mine Don and Lisa Cobb had a restaurant Rosie O’Gradys Sports Bar in Downtown Evansville. I hadn’t really thought of doing large-scale art. He asked me to do a mural of Evansville with the river and a paddleboat. I went and grabbed tiny little paintbrushes for this huge wall — I didn’t know what I was doing. I just started painting. It was life changing. I’ve done a lot for St. Mary’s and Playville J.L.E. (a project of the Junior League of Evansville, located outside of St. Mary’s Pediatric Unit). It has kind of morphed into specializing into children’s rooms and environments.
I knew Jane Schroeder’s daughter in high school and she knew me and was familiar with my work and that I painted murals. It was a perfect fit. It was definitely a subject matter that was out of my box and my comfort zone. She made it easy. I did a mural in the hallway going back to the bedroom, which is called The Scripture Gallery, a baptism scene, three panels in the guest room upstairs, a painting of a church, and canvases here and there throughout her home. When you hear the whole house is white, you think sterile and uncomfortable, but it is so not like that. It is so well done.
What does the future look like for you and your creations?
My own home has more of my kids’ artwork than mine. I love working with kids and art. I aspire to get involved with more workshops, host more artists like I did with Tracy, and look into possibly getting a commercial space. (Creating art) is a part of me. It’s in my blood. It’s my happy place. What I hear a lot from people is that my work makes them feel happy — what more can I ask for?
Look for Sinclair’s work online at her Etsy store, visit her Facebook and Instagram pages to watch videos of her painting process, or stop by the 10th Annual Jingle Mingle Mart from 5 to 9 p.m. Nov. 13 at Christ the King School. Last year the event had more than 70 vendors, and more than 900 shoppers attended.