“I remember walking into an art gallery in Laguna and staring at the William Wendt and Edgar Payne paintings. I was in total awe. As a ‘want-to-be artist,’ I longed to be able to paint like that,” Toni Danchik recalled.
Though years ago, Toni still finds that the admiration of incredible art awakens in her a yearning to create, and living in a bustling art community like Laguna Beach, California, she does not have to look far for inspiration. The character-rich city with blanketing rolling hills along the Orange County coast overflows with showrooms, galleries, and festivals highlighting various expressions of creativity.
But when you ask the impressionistic oil painter who truly fuels her artistry, she does not credit to any of these sources surrounding her Southern California home. She, instead, points to the most innovative and creative artist she knows, her Creator.
“I take my art seriously. I believe that it is a gift that the Lord has given me and that I have a responsibility to develop that gift. My job is to learn the skills and obtain the creative tools so that He can draw out of my heart the concepts and ideas that come from Him.”
It is this humble hunger that has kept Toni grounded and has pushed her to grow as an artist over the years. Growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa, Toni traces her creative spirit back to her family of origin.
“I grew up in a creative family. Father was an engineer, mother loved arts and crafts, my cousins were artists, actors, dancers, and musicians and my uncle wrote short stories and was a translator. To create was what we did.”
“Though I never formally studied art during high school, I was fortunate to be accepted into the Fine Art Faculty at the University of the Witwatersrand. I soon realized that their approach to art was not what I was looking for as an artist. I ended up switching programs, in favor of studying printmaking for 2 years at the Johannesburg Technical college.”
Though life took her in a different direction, the fine arts always had Toni’s heart. After moving to Southern California, she jumped at the opportunity to learn under master artist Jove Wang.
“His painting style, the richness of his brushwork and use of color impressed me so much,” she recalled. “I realized he was a genius in his artistry. He ended up playing a big part in forming me as an artist over the years that followed.”
It was Wang who first introduced Toni to the Russian Impressionists that clearly influence her style today. Their ability to tell stories of everyday life is reflected in Toni’s heart and choice of subject matter. No place is this influence more clear than in her paintings of her home country, South Africa.
“I will always have a connection to Africa in my paintings. I love telling the stories of the grace and beauty of the local people regardless of the difficult life in the townships. I also like to bring awareness to the basic need for fresh clean water experienced by many African villagers and what life consists of for women and children who do not have this most basic daily amenity.”
Anyone who looks will find that Toni’s love for others and God is a common theme in both her art and her life.
“My art is the language that I use to express the glory and splendor of God’s creation and the preciousness of His people. It is our Creator who fills my heart with inspiration and I pray daily that He would help me bring expression to what He has placed there.”
It is this burning to bring Him glory that has always and is still calling Toni beyond what she ever thought possible in her art. She has come a long way since the day she stood musing at the mastery of Wendt and Payne. Now a highly skilled artist in her own right, her God-centered approach has paved the way for tremendous success in her career.
Her art has been featured among many private collectors and she has won countless awards at the Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach, the California art club, and LPAPA & CAP Juried Shows. Her art now serves as an inspiration to others and is praised alongside the art of those she admires.
Through her example, she hopes artists would use their creativity to love others and honor God, rather than bring glory to themselves.
“Your value and identity as an artist are not based on your performance, skill, knowledge, achievements or lack thereof. Your value is based on who you belong to. He who loved you first is at work in your heart. Your Creator’s DNA runs through you and in Him you live and move and have your being. In Christ, you become the artist God has created you to be. To Him belongs the glory.”
Toni's intersection of art and faith has greatly inspired the many communities she is a part of. As a part of the Grove's Cultivated Artist Experience, she encourages those in her cohort to strive not just after their own success, but after what God is truly calling them to. It is there that God will show us how to be who He has created us to be.
We'd love to hear your thoughts and comments.
What about Toni's story resonated with you in some way? How would you like your own relationship with God to influence your art more?
Drew Tilton is an experienced writer, creator, leader, editor, pastor, spiritual director, and project manager, who is passionate about Jesus, His Kingdom, and His Church.