Published 11:05 am Tuesday, November 1, 2022
By Michelle Love
Photos by Jeremy Raines
It’s been a busy year for Danielle Portera Lang. The Helena artist has not only flourished in her career, she and her husband Joseph also found out in April they’re going to be parents.
“We’re over the moon,” Joseph said about the baby, as Danielle nodded in enthusiastic agreement.
Some Helena residents may not know Danielle personally, but they definitely know her work. In the past year, she’s painted murals around the city’s various businesses. Her first mural was the now-beloved Cahaba lilies outside Oversoul Brewing in Old Town. Once the lilies debuted, other local businesses reached out to Danielle to give their buildings a more colorful aesthetic. She now has murals outside Helena Hardware, Skull Girl Soaps, a canvas inside Brown Sugar Desserts and, arguably the most popular, the Helena Husky mural on the side of Tire Doctor, Inc.
Danielle said the Husky mural received considerable attention on social media, leading to her and Joseph wanting to take a big step in expanding her art platform.
“We wanted to branch out a little bit and see if we could get to the Birmingham area,” Joseph said. “Cahaba Brewing took us on, and it’s very fitting with Cahaba Brewing and the Cahaba lilies. It was a very smooth transition. We have a lot to be grateful for.”
Danielle said the local recognition for all of her work has been tremendous.
“The reception has still been so strong, even like a year later,” she said. “I had never done a mural before last year, so to keep working publicly is so different.”
Danielle got her degree in art from Samford in 2019, but she said she hadn’t pursued her artistic career full-time until fall 2021. While working a series of odd jobs to pay the bills, it was once the pandemic hit that she decided to take the leap.
“It was a little scary at first, but the other jobs I was working weren’t fulfilling that creative need I had,” she said. “I couldn’t really balance doing commissions part-time when the other jobs I had were pretty draining, so I just realized that’s what makes me happy at the end of the day.”
She was commissioned to do the mural outside Oversoul, and the rest is history.
Through everything, Danielle said Joseph has been supportive every step of the way, and it means everything to her. They first met in 2016 and got married in 2020. They moved to Helena from Hoover in 2019 and fell in love with the area. Joseph works full-time at Publix currently. In his free time, he’s working with Danielle to try to recruit clients and helping her with her art shows. On occasion, he even holds the projector steady for her.
“I’m no artist, but I’m the money man, mover, motivator, I’m in the background cheering her on,” he said.
Danielle: It’s hard in this day in age to take a chance on something that’s such a risky and traditional way of working. Like, a lot of stuff is digital now, but I think it still means something to have hand-painted images on a building versus a sticker that you roll out.
Working on outdoor murals has its share of challenges, including the infamous ever-changing Alabama weather. Danielle said while she was working on the Tire Doctor mural, the main reason it took so long to finish is due to the unpredictable weather.
“I’d work on it one day and the weather be fine and the next day I can’t do anything because it’s raining,” she said. “It really gets in the way sometimes.”
“With every mural, we learn something new,” Joseph said. “Whether it’s the material, texture or if they want to try something new. It’s fun.
As far as future projects go, Joseph said they’re in talks with another local restaurant here in Helena and working on wrapping up Danielle’s commission pieces. After everything is finished, they plan on taking a break to focus on the baby and adjusting to parenthood. With the next coming months filled with various milestones, Joseph and Danielle said they can always lean on each other for support and balance.
“In any relationship, you have your good days and bad days,” he said. “It’s all about finding the give and flow with each other. She has her strengths and I have mine, and I think we’ve found a good balance with that. At the end of the day, being there for each other is half the battle.”
“He has been so supportive, and I’m so thankful for that,” Danielle said.
Danielle also sells art prints of her work on her website, in addition to art commissions. A few years ago, she started doing pet portraits for people, which are particularly popular around the holidays. Danielle said of all her work they mean the most to her customers. A lot of them, she said, are memorials for pets who have recently passed.
“Giving them the finished picture and seeing the look on their face, it’s pretty special,” Lang said. “It’s what keeps me doing the pet portraits.”
Danielle said her art has been a great way to get to know the people in their community. She’s even had some people honk as they drive past her while she’s working. It’s that connection through art that she said makes certain pieces so special.
“I feel like this has been a good way to get to know everybody,” she said. “The local business owners, I consider them friends, now. It’s been a great way to know people on a different level that you wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise.”
In late August they found out they were having a boy, who they plan on naming Giovanni. They’re due in December, and they couldn’t be more excited. Joseph said he is particularly looking forward to being able to share Danielle’s work with Giovanni and future generations.
As they prepare for the next few months, both Danielle and Joseph said they are so grateful for what this past year and the city of Helena has provided them.
“We can’t thank Helena enough for taking a chance on us,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to put your own personal touch on your town. And it will be so fun in future generations being able to, like, drive Gio around town and he say, ‘My mom did that!’”
To view Danielle’s art, visit Dplfineart.com, and make sure to drive through Helena to see her murals.