World-class Swimmer Turned Wildlife Artist Danielle Tomlinson Talks to Culturalee

British contemporary wildlife artist Danielle Tomlinson (b.1998) made a name for herself in the sports world as a successful young competitive swimmer, making the finals at the nations most high profile and prestigious national competitions the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth, and the World Trials whilst studying sports science at Loughborough University.

In a short space of time this journey has led to Danielle’s art attracting the attention of collectors all over the world, including the USA, Australia, France, Canada, and many countries throughout Europe.

Culturalee caught up with Danielle as she prepares for her inaugural solo exhibition in Spring 2024.

Culturalee: How would you define ‘culture’? 

Danielle Tomlinson: I believe it’s the daily collective experiences that characterise our humanity. Culture is a manifestation of humanity shared by a particular social group or pinpoint in our existential timelines. 

You competed at national and international level for the British swim team and made the finals at many of the nations most high profile and prestigious competitions including the Olympic, Worlds and the Commonwealth Trials.  How did you transition from a career as a competitive swimmer to a career as an artist?  

Transitioning my identity from swimmer to artist was a struggle I had.  I poured so much of my purpose into the sport I didn’t really have a separate entity for just me. I’m now an artist, but questioning who I am without sport or art is something I still negotiate with. Other than that, it was very easy. Sport teaches you responsibility and resilience, both very useful attributes for going full time in art. 

Pictured: Danielle Tomlinson

Why did you decide to focus on animals and wildlife in your art, and do you paint from life or from your imagination? 

My travels serve as inspiration for most of my works, I developed my sketching skills over many years from literally sitting in front of David Attenborough documentaries and copying the animals in different movements on screen. Which now allows me to draw from imagination or more easily – photographs. I paint on such a large scale, painting from life isn’t possible especially there are no exotic or endangered animals here in Leicestershire (where I live)!  

What has been your most moving cultural experience to date?

Hands down my trip to South Africa. Seeing another way of life, the beautiful sceneries, endangered animals, and conservation projects has been an incredibly grounding and eye-opening experience for me. I’ve carried it in my heart ever since and can’t wait to return to Africa in 2024.

Pictured: Danielle Tomlinson in her studio

You’re only 25 but you’ve already achieved more than some people do in a lifetime as a world-class competitive swimmer. Do you think your disciplined approach to training when you were swimming competitively has helped with your determination to succeed as an artist?  

Firstly, thank you, that’s very kind. But annoyingly, a negative to my competitive nature is that I’m never content, I always search for the next goal to tick off! (I’m working on it!! Haha!). However, positively, any sport gives you an edge even in the employment world. Top CEO’s are fond of the characteristics and qualities sports bring to a workplace. However, it takes a certain type of of person to innately be drawn into competition. I was born with an athletic talent and drive, but it was trained and nurtured by my swimming career, coaches, parents, teammates. 

Pictured: painting by Danielle Tomlinson

What’s your favourite artist / book / exhibition / play / film / musician?

I’d say my artistic loves lay mostly with music and poetry; Lana Del Rey, The Neighbourhood, Nothing But Thieves and Glass Animals  are regulars on my Spotify mix. I love the way the tunes and lyrics ignite something quite spiritual inside me. I think art in all its forms is the closest thing we can get to the divine, it’s creation.

The Arts in most forms solidify shared human experience. To share pain and happiness is one of the most beautiful connections between humans, Art isn’t a luxury, its sustenance. We need it. 

Who are the cultural icons or artists who have inspired you most?

More recent and contemporary names Artists like PichiAvo, Sophie Tea, Jack Kabangu and Damien Hirst have made the most profound impact on me. I also grew up listening to 2000’s music, so pop and rock icons like Britney Spears, Rhianna, Gorillaz, Kings of Leon and Artic monkeys are big faves of mine. 

Any tips for young people wanting to break into the art world?

Be your most authenticate self, get online and post yourself alongside your art, don’t be scared of what others will think or say if art ignites something inside you.

Can you describe the process of making your art and how you developed it? For example what materials do you use, do you work in a studio, and do you sketch out your ideas before painting? 

 I moved into my 3rd studio back in May, it’s large, 750 sq ft. New York style loft vibes, bare brick, triple heighted ceilings, tones of light and original fittings from its former purpose as a Victorian sock factory! The heritage of the building serves as a beautiful space to create. However, before such luxuries I developed my style on my parents’ kitchen walls and back garden studio. Safe to say they were happy it kicked off as quickly as it did haha!

I always do a rough sketch, usually based of a reference photo or a series of them. I lay down a couple of washes in water colour to define the lighter and darker sections before using a mixed media approach to layer acrylic, sprays, oils, pastels, inks in a fury of splatters, spills, scribbles and brush strokes.

What project(s) are you working on at the moment?

I’m working towards a funded project for 2024, but most importantly starting planning for my first solo show launching in Spring.


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