How Vegan Artist Dana Ellyn Inspires People Through Her Vegan Themed Paintings?

Vegan Artist Dana Ellyn - Vegan Paintings - Vegan Lifestyle - Vegan Fashion

Diligent, sarcastic, introvert, Dana Ellyn is revered as one of the most notable vegan artists. Her distinctive style and an uncanny way of expressing her message of compassion and veganism through her art cannot fail to leave a lasting impression. Her artwork gets strong reactions from people –  leading some to make the vegan switch while drawing strong criticism from others {maybe they don’t want to accept the truth}.

It’s undisputed that the emotions that a piece of art can generate may not emanate despite a thousand words and Dana experienced this at an early age of 5, that’s when her fascination with art began. Dana shares the funny incidence and how her relationship with art hit off, “I drew an unsolicited picture of my aunt and uncle naked on their wedding day.  His penis was tied around his neck as his tie and my aunt’s boobs were slung over her head as her veil.  Not surprisingly, the drawing caused quite a stir around the house. I enjoyed the attention that my stab at humorous art gave me.  Ever since then, I’ve grown to love the reaction (positive or negative) that my art receives.”

We ask Dana more about her vegan lifestyle, how does it influence her work, where does she draws her inspiration from and more.

Vegan Artist Dana Ellyn - Vegan Fashion & Vegan Lifestyle

How long have you been vegan? What led to the change?

I’ve been a vegetarian at heart my entire life. But in fact, I became a vegetarian in 2001 and a vegan in 2013. It was this shift from vegetarianism to veganism that influenced my art to start focusing primarily on the issues of animal rights. Recognition of the suffering and the impacts on the environment are my reasons for being vegan. Watching YouTube videos of chickens being stepped on is a good start for anyone. The more people research where their food comes from, and become aware of the violence in the meat and dairy industries, the more they will tilt towards being a vegan. I like to consider myself an informed consumer in general, and an especially informed consumer regarding what I put in my body. There are no muffled screams of knock boxed cows, boiled-alive hens, throat sliced pigs, ground-up chicks, or bludgeoned fish weighing on my conscience.


Was the transition easy? What challenges did you face?

As I mentioned, it was the process of learning more about the dairy industry that ultimately led me to the decision to go vegan. My transition to veganism wasn’t gradual. I did not slowly ween myself off of cheese or other dairy. A switch was flipped and that was that. It was the day I finished reading “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Saffron Foer that I made the declaration that I was vegan – with no turning back.


What’s the hardest part of being a vegan?

The hardest part is trying to hold myself back from constantly telling others that the dairy industry is just as horrible as the meat industry. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy to hear someone say they are a vegetarian and I would never criticize them because they are doing a world of good by not eating meat. But now I understand why I sometimes received the ‘side eye’ from vegans when I proudly declared myself a vegetarian in the past. I just didn’t know all the facts yet.

Vegan Artist Dana Ellyn - Controversial Vegan Artist and Vegan Lifestyle - Vegan Paintings -Left: Dana’s Solo exhibit SPECIESISM  at P Street Gallery in Georgetown in DC. On right with Gallery Owner Lisa Brown

When did you decide that you wanted to be a vegan artist?

I’ve always painted subjects that I’ve felt passionate about. Naturally, being a vegan is a lifestyle that I am proud of and receive a lot inspiration from. Once I started creating vegan-themed paintings, I saw the effect they were having on some of my meat-eating followers. It was satisfying for me to hear that my paintings were causing people to second-guess their decision to eat meat. Somewhat regularly I have people tell me that they can no longer eat meat without images of some of my more graphic paintings dancing in their heads and making them feel guilty. Mission accomplished!


What is your state of mind when you are painting?

I spend a lot of time researching my paintings by subjecting myself to the horrors of the meat and dairy industries; however, the actual process of painting is a peaceful joyful time during which I spend numerous hours of blissful creativity.


Where do you get your inspiration for your art?

Every day I keep all my senses open to possible sources of new inspiration.


How do you deal with controversies over your work, if any?

Negativity towards my paintings come mostly on social media. I post all my paintings on Facebook, Instagram, and on my webpage. Occasionally, a meat-eater will post a snarky response to one of my paintings – something like, “looks delicious” or “yum, bacon”, in reaction to a portrait of a cow or pig. I wonder if I did a pet-portrait of their dog or cat how they’d feel if someone left such a comment? It all goes back to the underlying message in all of my paintings – why do we love some animals and eat others?

Vegan Artist Dana Ellyn and Lucy Tammam wearing their collaborative line - Vegan Fashion

What are your favorite vegan fashion brands?

Over the years since going vegan, I’ve replaced all of my real leather with synthetic shoes and purses and slowly learned which brands have the best quality. I now have a few amazing (vegan) shoes and purses instead of a closet full of leather ones. I just bought my first pair of shoes from Bourgeois Boheme (a splurge after a great month of painting sales!). I have two from Matt & Nat and two from Lou Lou Boutique. Love them all.

Last year, I collaborated with London couture fashion designer, Lucy Tammam. Tammam’s fashions are all 100% vegetarian, cruelty free and sustainably made. We used the concept of the inhabitants of the sea (‘bycatch’) as our starting point to create two dresses which we exhibited in Washington DC and then featured in a runway show at a fashion event in Los Angeles.

Since I paint full time, I spend the vast majority of my time in paint-covered clothes and big fuzzy socks. I don’t have much occasion to put on ‘real’ clothes or shoes and I have come to enjoy having conscientious quality over quantity.

Best vegan restaurant in Philadelphia - Hip City Veg

Most vegan friendly city you visited. The favorite vegan meal you’ve had was at ……….

Last year my husband and I travelled up to Philadelphia, PA where we ate one of the best meals we’ve ever had at VEG. We still talk about it over a year later. And, we also enjoyed the heck out of HipCity Veg.

I’m very luck to live in Washington DC and be surrounded by an abundance of great vegan & veg choices (including a newly opened HipCity Veg just two blocks from my studio!). This weekend we went to our favorite place for a plant-based meal for our anniversary at Equinox. I see a growing trend for restaurants to use the term ‘plant-based’ instead of ‘vegan’. I think it’s a wise trend because, unfortunately some people are scared off by the term vegan.

No matter where you travel, you can always find all the vegan food you need at a grocery store. Whether at home or on travel, we prefer to eat in; my husband always says my cooking is his favorite vegan restaurant! I’ve toyed with the idea of putting out a small cookbook of my favorite vegan recipes and do accompanying illustrations. But that’s definitely on the back burner.

Life mantra?

I made me this way.


How do you balance art and your ethics?

They are both in line with each other. It doesn’t take any conscious effort to keep them in balance.


How do you see the future of vegan art? Do you think one can make a living as a vegan artist?

I’m thrilled about how much notoriety my art has gained over the past few years and how well known I’m becoming as a ‘vegan artist’. I paint full-time and make my livelihood from my work as an artist. It wasn’t an easy path to get here and its hard work every single day to maintain it. But I continue to enjoy every second of it.

I’m often asked by younger artists ‘how do you do it’. My answers are very specific to me. Here are some facts from my life that played important role in getting me here: get good grades in school, go to college (NOT art school), get a good job after college, create your art nights and weekends, live life to the fullest, find what you care about and paint that, don’t spend much money, don’t have kids, don’t look for approval. If your art is good, it will sell. If it’s not good, work harder until you find your groove.

Vegan Artist Dana Ellyn with husband Matt - Vegan Fashion & Vegan Lifestyle

What are you currently working on?

2016 was my most successful and profitable year as an artist. The rise of veganism and my reach as an artist has afforded me the ability to take more chances with my paintings. I continue to work on exercising my voice as a vegan artist and activist. My love and advocacy for all animals drives my work and inspiration. It makes me happy and proud to turn people on to veganism – or at least inspire them to start to shift in a more vegetarian and compassionate direction. It will make me happier if one day the world adopts a more humane and environmentally conscience vegan lifestyle.

On personal front, my husband, Matt Sesow, and I almost moved to Connecticut late last year. We found what appeared to be our dream home & dream art studio. However, we later discovered major issues with that place, and so here we remain, in Washington DC – but big changes are ahead. After 16 years together, we’re finally going to start living under the same roof! We’re renovating his little Adams Morgan studio into a lovely small space for us to live, and converting my big downtown space into two separate studios for us to work. It’s with renewed excitement to be living in this great city of Washington DC that we begin 2017!



One thought on “How Vegan Artist Dana Ellyn Inspires People Through Her Vegan Themed Paintings?

    Philippe Orlando says

    I’m in pre-production for a project, a film with a vegan theme. I am considering using “trainable” real vegans as opposed to non-vegan actors. Would you be interested in collaborating? I’m looking mainly right now at casting my project. I can forward a synopsis to an email address. Feel free to forward this to anybody.

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