Ella Dang: The Painter

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Two women, side by side, one the antithesis of the other. A snake-lady strangling herself with her own body. A heavenly butterfly with the sky painted on its wings, resting gently on a lilac background. A disheveled and sad looking blue man gazing off to the left. A painted skateboard with a woman and an array of clouds around her. These are just a few of senior Ella Dang’s art pieces.
Ever since middle school, Dang has used painting and drawing as a creative outlet. However, once she entered high school she put art on the back burner. In a new environment, she lost track of her passion and was fully consumed by her rigorous workload. Since she never saw art as a future career, Dang decided to take psychology instead of art in high school. In the end however, she was happy with her decision.
It wasn’t until her sophomore year that she rediscovered her hobby and started treating it as such. In middle school she looked at art as more of a task — not something she took pleasure out of, but a weekly assignment she had to complete. Now, she treats art as a leisurely activity.
“I think I just do it whenever I have free time,” Dang said. “

I kind of wish that I had more of a schedule, but I think that’s another reason why I didn’t take art in high school… I’d get really stressed out in middle school because I’d have a new project every week… I’d rather do it on my own time and have the freedom to make what I want.”
When she was younger her preferred medium was chalk pastels, but due to the cost of the materials she has since shifted toward acrylic paints. This isn’t the only reason why she finds herself drawn to this medium though.
“I change my mind a lot, so a lot of times I’ll start with one thing, but it ends up being [something completely different],” she said. “I never really go into painting with an idea of what I’m going to do, I just kind of add on as I go, and acrylic is really easy to layer.”
Alternatively, one medium that she is not a fan of is watercolor. Most of her pieces are vibrant and bold, and Dang finds that watercolor lacks this aspect — the final product is too washed out for her liking.
Dang will often find herself painting over old works that she no longer likes. She takes pleasure in knowing that she’s the only one who knows about the hidden work beneath the final product. Dang is also indecisive in nature, so she appreciates the fact that her work doesn’t have to be permanent. “I hate things that are set in stone, so the fact that I can just change it whenever I want is really satisfying to me,” she said.
Dang relates her art to her life and the way that she likes to live — never planning things halfway, always going all in and seeing where it takes her.
Her most personal and favorite piece is a reflection of herself and her thoughts. The piece is called “Self Sabotage” and is acrylic on canvas. It depicts the head of a woman with the body of the snake, but she’s choking herself with her body. “I started with just drawing the head and I didn’t realize [she would become a snake], but once I made it I decided to name it ‘Self Sabotage’ because she’s choking herself,” Dang said. “it’s supposed to represent our consciousness overthinking and ruining what was once [a] good idea.”

Her inspirations are a bit unconventional — as opposed to looking to famous artists for ideas, Dang refers to TikTok creators. A few months ago she found the trend of creators showing their Advanced Placement Art portfolios, which have to have a central theme. From this, Dang decided that she wanted to make her art more meaningful. Since then, she’s made a piece about the beauty of diversity, displaying people of all colors dancing around the canvas without a care in the world.
On the other hand, Dang learned that not all of her art had to have a deep meaning behind it. “Sometimes some people will feel a different way about it. That’s what I learned, that people will interpret art in so many different ways that sometimes your [original intentions aren’t] conveyed… that’s why I stopped going into every piece with an intention.”
Creating art has also been a coping mechanism for her. “I think I use [art] as a distraction a lot of times, because when I’m [drawing or painting] I’m just thinking about what I’m doing [right then],” Dang said. “It’s a good distractor, because… I can put on music and just paint for a whole day and I won’t get bored of it. So yeah it’s a good way to cope.” She also enjoys the freedom of expression that art provides her with, and that she can make something and be the only person who knows her motivations behind it. “Part of why I prefer making more abstract art is because for me, art is an escape from the real world, so I don’t want it to look like something you’d see in real life,” she said.
The pandemic has also affected how she looks at art. Dang was an e-learner for the first semester of her senior year, and one perk that she found was that she had more time to create. Whereas before the pandemic she would devote all of her time after school to homework, the lack of commute opened up more time for her to work on her hobby.
“I feel like my art gives insight to whatever’s going on in my imagination at the moment. Especially after feeling restricted when I took art in middle school, I try to take full advantage of my creative freedom,” Dang said. As a kid she always had trouble staying focused and would daydream a lot. Instead of doing her work, she would draw on the back of her school worksheets or use her mom’s makeup brushes to paint with. “Something about the fact that I’ve reverted back to what made me happy as a kid feels really whole. It used to bother me that all my thoughts were so chaotic and I couldn’t choose a single direction to go in. Now I use my chaotic imagination as a way to make my art more interesting.”
You can find Dang painting on her balcony overlooking Downtown Tampa or on her Instagram account, @ellascoloringbook.