Awe and Wonder
Her lifetime love of the outdoors inspires Dianne Munkittrick’s fine art
By LEAH RHYNE
Plenty of artists paint wildlife and landscapes. The flora and fauna of the Lowcountry inspire even the least intrepid artists to try their hand with brush and canvas. Not many, however, can capture the spirit of their subjects like Lake Marion-based artist Dianne Munkittrick. As she uses her lifetime’s experiences in the outdoors to inspire her artwork, her unconventional artist’s background has given her a gift: an ability to create creature portraits and landscapes that are vivid, lifelike, lovely and adorable.
Munkittrick has always loved the outdoors, and the wildlife filling it. Growing up near Newark, New Jersey, might not have been a typical place to spark that love, but thanks to her family and their dog, nature was always a part of her life. “My dad would take my brother and me for walks in the country,” she says, noting they’d bring the dog in hopes of finding walking trails. “We started camping when I was twelve years old, and I absolutely loved it. I decided I wouldn’t live in the city when I grew up. I’d look for something to do where I had to live in the country.”
From semi-urban Jersey, she flew out west to the University of Idaho, where she received her undergraduate degree in wildlife management. Jobs in that industry were scarce, so she took graduate courses in forestry and became a silviculturist, a beautiful title for a tree-growing specialist. It was Munkittrick’s job to know how, when and where to cut back trees, making sure all environmental laws and safety regulations were followed. It was also her job to make sure animal habitats stay safe, and to re-plant those areas for their hundred-year cycle.
From there, it was marriage and family, still in northern Idaho, where she remained for decades. Art was always a part of her, noodling around in the background of her life, but it wasn’t until 1997 when she really got serious.
What sparked the change?
Munkittrick painted wildlife. A cardinal, to be exact. A little red bird that, according to the artist, “turned out really well, and I thought. ‘Wow, I think I can really do this.’”
A passion was officially born. There was a graduate degree in graphic design, too, but soon Munkittrick switched focus to fine art—wildlife and landscapes, mainly. In Idaho, her focus was on large game: deer, elk and bears. Foxes, too, with their bright eyes and orange fur, were fun, and people seemed to like them. “It was a gradual process,” she says of becoming a professional artist. “I just started painting things, and people started seeing my work and saying I should be in a gallery. I got into galleries in the Northwest, and people started asking me to do workshops and demonstrations.”
It was a long way away from silviculture, but her subjects kept her connected to her first loves: the outdoor, and animals.
After her children were grown and her nest was empty, Munkittrick and her husband headed south for more temperate climates. In the Lowcountry of South Carolina, she found new, beautiful landscapes, and a menagerie of new creatures to paint (although foxes remain her favorites, and a bestselling item for her). Her landscapes, though, are still animal-centric. Says Munkittrick, “Almost all my landscapes still have wildlife you can find in them. Somewhere, there’s an osprey or an egret or something alive. I always feel like it needs that little spark of life.”
The artist paints in oils, using a method she’s developed, “through trial and error mostly,” she says. Preferring thinner, translucent paints, Munkittrick’s process varies from painting to painting. Usually there’s a sketch on the canvas before she begins to paint. Sometimes there’s a monochromatic layer. Often she paints a thicker layer but wipes bits away to, as she says, “let the light shine through.”
In a recent painting of an alligator, as she played with color and abstracts, she experimented with modeling plaster to create a texture for the scales and scutes. “Right now I’m playing with colors and abstracts a little,” she says. “I’m trying to loosen up, but to still capture the essence of the animal.”
For Munkittrick, it’s always going to be the love of animals and nature that she puts into her paintings. As she says, “It’s my love of the outdoors and how I try to capture the awe and wonder that nature inspires in me. That’s what I try to portray in all my paintings.” diannemunkittrick.com