Idit Knaan

Dana Ellyn on Becoming a Full-Time Painter

I produced this audio slideshow as my final project for the visual storytelling class at American University's interactive journalism graduate program.

Dana Ellyn, 40, always wanted to be an artist, but wasn't sure how to go about becoming one. "How do you grow up and be an artist?" said Ellyn, "it's not like a job you get."

But 10 years ago Ellyn found the way to get that dream job. At 30, she quit a plush job with a big D.C. law firm to become a full-time painter.

Ellyn discovered her love of teaching while training employees at the firm. She started offering art classes in her home, and soon was making enough money to leave the corporate world.

For the first couple of years after quitting her corporate job, Ellyn says she lived the instant noodles-diet cliche. Things took an unexpected, lucky turn when she won a housing lottery for low-income artists the Cultural Development Corporation held in 2003. The lottery enabled Ellyn to purchase a heavily discounted live-work studio in Mather Studios in Penn Quarter.

"It was too good to be true," said Ellyn. Even though she has lived in the fortuitous studio for more than seven years now, Ellyn says she still can't believe her luck. She recalls walking by her now-building wondering if she will "get Mather."

In 2010, in the middle of one of D.C.'s worst snowstorms in recent years, Ellyn tied the knot with fellow artist Matt Sesow, 45, at the opening of their mutual exhibit "Till Death Do Us Part" at Long View Gallery in Washington, D.C.

But even after getting married, the couple made the unorthodox decision to continue living apart in their respective live-work studios, as they have through eight years of dating.

"Two people who paint all day and never leave the house cannot live together" said Ellyn, and creating the living arrangement that keeps them both happy "is a big part of the magic."