canny folk

Deer Dawn-The indescribable art of Dawn Shade

Do you like my logo? I love it! It was one of the first steps in my journey to creating this website. One of the first brave things I had to do to get here. Having fallen in love with some art at the local play café, I contacted Dawn and spoke to her about a commission. I knew I wanted to work with and support local artists and although Deer Dawn Art isn’t particularly ‘witch’ themed. The connection with nature and the serene scenes she depicts really move me. Nearly 2 years on and here we are!

I went to interview Dawn near her home. Due to covid restrictions we weren’t able to do it in the usual fashion but we found a way to make it work safely. As ever, for transparency, you can listen to our conversation and awkward giggling at the bottom.

Dawn Shade ( what a name!) is predominantly a water colour artist. I find it hard to describe Dawn’s work and why I am so drawn to it. There’s a definite peace and serenity to it. Slightly ethereal and certainly magical. I asked Dawn how she describes herself, I feel there is a pagan folk lore aspect, but she doesn’t identify with ‘witch’ or strong labels; simply artist. She said:

I struggle with any descriptive words or labels, words that I connect with are ‘earthy’ and ‘mumma’- ‘earthy, mumma, artist’. I’ve always struggled with words [labels] even when I was a vegetarian I didn’t like being called it.

here she is, in her garden, being all earthy

Dawn puts this aversion to labels possibly down to her background. Born in Scotland, Dawn moved between there, Sheffield and London before she was 5. She has a blended accent which I find charming and joked about how she cycled through the accents when she was little. In her early 20s she wanted to identify as Scottish but then didn’t feel all that connected. A journey she would still like to make.

Dawn has always worked as an artist in one form or another and she’s been on quite the adventure. I asked Dawn of she felt as if here upbringing was nomadic like I sometimes feel;

No, not nomadic. I get these little images, I don’t see things I just get this sense, this image of me, I was following my Mum, like a little duckling. And she was quite chaotic, you know, when your Mum is looking always for the grass to be greener so it wasn’t nomadic as in there was a community and we were just travelling. It was more like where’s the whirlwind spinning next? Most of that spinning around was within the Sheffield borders. Mostly flats and maisonettes with no gardens.

I found this interesting as Dawn’s work is all centred around nature and animals. Although Sheffield is greenish for a city. It is still a city. Dawn says it was something she wanted more of, something she craved. This was intensified when she went to Uni in Birmingham a very concrete, flat city. When it came to her own travelling that’s what she sought for herself: expansive natural spaces.

At 18, young Miss Shade was living in Sheffield studying and then working in travel and tourism. It was here she learnt about a ‘Camp America’ programme. Where young people go to work in American summer camps. An opportunity to travel and see the world that would have otherwise been out of reach:

So they paid me like, no money, but they gave me a flight over there. I worked at the camp for a few months and then I went travelling for a month afterwards. We drove across America in this ‘drive-away-car’ [where you basically deliver the car] and we went to the grand canyon. Going from this kind of small world in Sheffield with a lot of poverty, where if you were lucky enough to have the bus fair you could get somewhere, to getting a flight somewhere! I mean, I went to America for 3 months with only £120 in my pocket and I somehow survived.

I think this shows how incredibly brave Dawn can be in following her desires. She says: “brave or stupid?”

I was 18! I was still packing the night before we left! I remember when I was out there and freaking out because I lost my toothbrush and had to buy a new one. like, THATS $2!!

I really admire her bravery. I grew up with similar levels of money worries and it really can hold you back because you think you cant afford these things. You fall into this trap of ruling out a better life for yourself or thinking that you can’t have the things you want because your life chances don’t allow it. Dawn and I talked later about how we don’t make much money but we thrive because we are able to follow our passions.

Dawn had a crucial moment when she set eyes on the Grand Canyon:

I had this pivotal moment where my world had been so small and it just went…[EXPLODING NOISE and ‘mind blown’ gestures] with all this possibility and blew me open.

On returning to the UK, Dawn suffered a bout of depression. She had a job in a pewter jewellers and was made redundant. They gave her £200 redundancy pay and she saw this as another opportunity for adventure. Dawn bought a train ticket to the Lake District- a very, very, rainy, boring part of England (a fact she had not been forewarned about) and got a job in a hotel. Her only friend was a young woman from Spain. Neither of them spoke each others language but would talk to each other anyway. It was on yet another rainy day, bouncing on a trampoline outside the little hut she lived in, Dawn announced to her friend (who didn’t speak English) “I’m gonna do Art!”

Again, I love the bravery of this young woman; seeking something and making to steps to find it. There’s a sweetness to this part of her story. Searching for what will bring her happiness and being brave enough to jump for it. However, with all the best intention, Dawn found herself in another concrete jungle setting. She chose photography as her art form and chose a university with an excellent photography programme but it did not bring her joy. She told me her photography was a lot of self portraits of her going “aaaaaargh” and expressing how dark and down she felt. So different to the light and hopeful work we see now.

Upon finishing Uni, Dawn and some friends came down to Devon to look for work here with just a tent (can you imagine?! so brave!) . A previous Boyfriend had introduced her to Devon and Cornwall and she couldn’t believe somewhere as beautiful as this existed in the same land as Sheffield and Birmingham. Working as a waitress and saving up money for a better camera, Dawn thought she was on a photography trajectory but life doesn’t give a shit about your plans.

I always say that when dramatic, awful things happen it is because we were on the wrong path and the universe (gods, ancestors, spirit etc) shunts us back onto the right one. The further you are from the path the bigger the shunt and more painful the kick. Brace yourselves darlings, this one is a doozy.

Our young Heroin, at 25, was following her photography dream; travelling in South America; she had filled up her camera films and was coming home. The day (the fucking day!) she was coming home she was robbed. She was in the Taxi, on the way to the airport in Lima and someone on a motorbike smashed the window and took her bag with about 30 films, her passport, and with it her photography. She told me:

They took my bag, I had like 30 films in there with my last 4 months of travelling in South America. I lost all of it. I didn’t have a dark room anymore. I didn’t have a camera-my camera broke. I lost all my films and my photography just kind of ebbed away. That creativity-which had really saved me for that part of my life. Having felt really lost and depressed in my teens it really was like my best friend hanging on my shoulder. I had this support and this creative outlet and expression. And things just changed in my life so I didn’t need it as much. The creativity was still there and I think that’s part of my thing about identifying as a creative. Who am I as a creative person? My creativity has always been there it’s just however I choose to express it.

I understand this, labels can be as limiting as they are liberating to see yourself as one thing and then lose it must be bloody traumatic. Dawn was stuck in Lima for 4 days. She was ok, she didn’t go hungry and she got a passport and came back to the UK. Here she connected with her friend (now Husband and gentleman in every sense of the word) Rich (I’ll have the chance to write about him soon I hope).

spring, rebirth and ostara

South America had been a bit of a challenge for Dawn (robbery aside). She had been sick a lot with one thing or another, wisdom teeth, altitude sickness. When she returned; her and Rich came to Newquay. Now safe and with support Dawn underwent a transformation. She calls it her breakthrough, I call mine a reset. The journey took a couple of years but for the first time in her life Dawn felt like she was safe, she could be held and supported and from here; pick herself up and move forward.

Dawn and Rich stayed in Newquay for a bit. Dawn got a job face painting at the zoo! what an awesome job! I work with children and let me tell you: The pure joy a child gets from having their face painted is infectious. When was the last time you had yours done? Mine was at a festival and I loved it! There is a magic in being something else or dramatically yourself. I recommend you do it at the very next opportunity. Anyway, on with Dawn’s story.

From here they saved up and went over to New Zealand. Dawn talks about the sheer expanse of the landscapes and the diversity of culture. A more wholesome experience than South America it seems. They stayed for 6 months working at festivals. Dawn made macramé jewellery, they lived on the beach in a little van. Sounds Epic and Dawn says it was however ( and I think she hits the nail on the head here):

It sounds idyllic and it was but, you know, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing you still take yourself with you.

Having seen herself as this resilient robust thing (like myself, more out of necessity I feel); her time in South America and all the issues with her health had left Dawn searching for something. A sense of identity perhaps . She began to take responsibility for her physical and mental health. She felt reliant on someone else and vulnerable. I’ve talked a lot about how I feel there is strength in vulnerability. In allowing ourselves to explore our vulnerability; we are able to see what we really need and want for ourselves. If we can be brave enough feel the feelings beneath the triggers we can heal, transform and grow. Fuck faking it to make it! ahem excuse me. There are many rants on this elsewhere on the website (like this one). Moving on…

This search brought Dawn and Rich to Scotland first as Dawn wanted to explore her Scottish roots. They continued to work festivals, Dawn made her macramé jewellery and had cards printed with some of her photographs. She told me that at some point, a friend in New Zealand had mentioned Totnes to Rich and herself. So they visited and that was it. They visited on a market day and fell in love. There is something amazing about this town: uplifting and indescribable like Dawns work, the colours the vibrancy, the love. Some people think it’s the ley lines that attract us. I don’t care what it is. It’s home.

She sold her macramé jewellery on the market for several years. Longer than she probably should have because her fingers started to suffer (and still do) from the repetitive knots. By this Time Dawn was 30 and her and Rich wanted to have a baby so the started on the journey of becoming parents. A while later they had a baby boy, Hopi. A while after that when Dawn’s cycle returned so did this creative itch.

Dawn and I talk about moonblood and cycles more in the audio as we both feel it has a part to play in creativity. It is a cycle after all. One which you can work in harmony with, or against (more to come on this in another post)

Dawn told me that she really surrendered during pregnancy. She was in love and safe and falling in love with being ‘Mamma’. If you are unaware of the maiden, mother, crone cycle you can learn more about it here. I am not a mother as of yet but I am in that mother/lover stage and it feels so empowering and free. I feel like this is what Dawn was experiencing. This sense of ‘thriving’ which is where we all want to be. It’s here we are able to give over to our higher selves and in Dawn’s case explore, play and create. her creativity was awakened and she was given an opportunity to explore from her own mother:

I borrowed her [mother’s] acrylic paints and she had Hopi for a couple of hours and I just had a play and went ‘oh I quite like this’. And from that I did a three hour course at The Mansion [adult learning centre] where it was like a studio space and you could just play…

So, I did that. Those 3 hours on a Friday and being a Mum with a little baby I wouldn’t have time anywhere else to do that. I put that time aside for myself and my mum had Hopi and it just grew from there. but what I discovered there was watercolour; which I just wouldn’t have tried on my own because I though it was just sort of twee landscapes, which is lovely, but, not for everyone and all of a sudden, I realised ‘oh I could choose this and use it anyway that I want to and something went ‘ooooh’ in my mind.

I asked Dawn if it was here she started painting animals. She said she did a lot of feathers to start with. Something she still paints a lot and I love them.

absolutely gorgeous

The first Pieces I saw of Dawn’s as I mentioned, were in a play café These pieces were designed (I assume) to appeal to children and parents. The first was an illustrated ABC picture and it BLEW MY MIND! This is amazing! This is how I see the natural world! This is how I want the children that I am connected to, to see their world! And someone has seen it and painted it!

I call Dawn’s work indescribable because to me it is. I struggle to put all of the feelings it awakens in me into words. So far I have: whimsical, wonderful, joyful, enchanting, ethereal, serene and untethered. They are like happy warm dreams. The kind you wake from feeling all fuzzy and safe or the ones you wish you had instead of the ones you do, perhaps the ones we had as children. Does that make sense? I asked Dawn how she would describe her work and she found it hard herself. She knows she wants to inspire and with that:

I believe innately, in humans, is goodness. It’s about connecting to that. To support that. I want it to be a celebration of beauty in nature.

Dawn expressed that sometimes she feels removed from what she is working on, like it just flows through her, which I can totally believe. Not in a shamanic way. She doesn’t have a ritual as such or meditate like some of the other creatives I have had the pleasure of working with. She describes it as:

Golden drops just pop into my head. I’ve always found this with my creativity, like if I choose to be creative it’s a channel for it to come through.

personally, I feel the world is a better place with art in it. Especially with art like Dawn’s which definitely succeeds in being inspiring. I will admit here that she gifted me a print of my favourite piece of hers and on the walk home I had a grateful little cry.

look at his face! look at it!

The message reads “follow the light within you” which is exactly what I’m trying to do with this website, these stories, my witch path and life in general. Encountering others like Dawn and seeing how their gifts provide hope and light as well as reflecting the darkness and suffering we all go through in order to get there. I don’t know if Dawn sees her story as one of triumph and transformation but I see it. Even her name ‘Dawn Shade’, which apparently wasn’t a conscious choice of her mother’s. That juxtaposition between the soft light of a dawn and the nurturing darkness of shade is what makes this world beautiful and inspiring.

Dawn’s next big project is the upcoming folktale week on instagram where roughly 170 artists from around the world are following the same prompts and creating art inspired from different folk tales. I don’t want to give away too much but,
I was given a sneak peak and I am beyond excited to see what Dawn and others come up with. This starts on the 23rd of November and you can follow the hashtag here.

Dawn, like me; is a one woman show. She is the artist, the web-designer, the advertising and marketing team all while supporting her family and passion. I told her she needs a hype person so please allow me to be just that:

Dawns sells prints of her work and produces absolutely breath taking cards especially the Christmas/yule (they feel more pagan to me) ones. As well as badges and buttons. I hope her original artwork from folktale week will be for sale. So please do have a look.

a selection of cards

The children’s posters would make thoughtful gifts, her work is also available on clothes for little people-again they’d make beautiful gifts.

You can find all her links below and you can subscribe to listen to the audio of our conversation in which we talk more about folktale week, working with our cycles and just general awesome connecting and chatting.

Insta Etsy clothing for children is under the name little deers creations

*I’m a one witch show. so, If you want to show your support for my work and make a donation; hit the button below. Any and all support is gratefully received*

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this canny person’s story. If you know anyone who has a tale to tell or you want me to tell yours feel free to reach out.

Peace out witches!

Love Kate

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