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Meet Dave Santillanes

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dave Santillanes.

Dave, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
By the time I was in high school, I knew that I wanted to be a full-time artist. But no one ever suggested that this was actually possible. If you were into art, you were usually steered towards illustration, or animation or graphic design – there was no blueprint to become a full-time artist, at least not the kind that I wanted to be. I wanted to be the “free” kind of artist… the kind that worked for themselves and painted what they wanted to paint. But I also didn’t want to starve – so I took the advice of most and studied graphic design in college. I knew it wasn’t a fit for me but thought that at least I could take some studio classes and perhaps the degree would allow me to bide my time before making it as an artist. But after graduating, I wanted to see if, just maybe, there was a shortcut to achieving my dreams. So I packed up my car with the few paintings that I’d done after graduating and approached several galleries in the mountain towns west of Denver. To save the suspense, I’ll just say there are no shortcuts. Those gallery doors could not have closed faster and I’m sure a couple of them hit me in the butt on the way out. But it allowed me to come to terms with the fact that if I wanted to achieve my dreams, I’d have to be in it for the long haul. I’d have to really want it.

And I did. I spent the next 16 years working various jobs from ski lift operator to wildland firefighter to digital imaging technician all while honing my skills as a painter at nights and on weekends. One particular weekend I got all geared up to paint near Milner Pass in Rocky Mountain National Park – a two-and-a-half hour drive. Once I got up there and gathered my painting gear for the 6-mile hike, I realized that I’d forgotten my hiking boot. I had looked forward to this painting trip all week while working, and going home empty was NOT an option. So, frantically, I searched my jeep for an upgrade to the flip flops I was wearing. And when I saw the golf shoes under the seat, I knew I was going to be painting near the divide in no time – I just needed to write a note of explanation in case anyone found me at the bottom of a ravine with golf shoes on. My ankles hurt for a week afterwards but it was worth it as I painted amidst bugling elk and fall color on one of those perfect Colorado Autumn days.

It ended up taking all 16 of those years to gain a national reputation as an artist, and after winning a number of prestigious awards, I was “close” to making the leap to full-time artist. But it took a tragic set of circumstances to push me over the final hill.

After working for a professional photo lab as a digital imaging technician for 12 years, the company began experiencing serious financial troubles. The digital revolution had dried up many of the labs large commercial accounts. In its final years, the company downsized from a small company to an infinitely small company with just myself and the owners. I ran the entire digital department. And as if their financial problems weren’t enough the primary owner found out he had stage 4 lung cancer. His prognosis was not good. My paychecks became understandably very sporadic and over the final year and a half that I worked there, I received only a handful. But I wanted to stay to see them through this difficult time and I knew they wouldn’t be able to hire a replacement. I definitely didn’t have the money to work for free but thought if I could help them out as long as I could, I might see them through this difficult time. And an amazing thing happened – every time things got scary for me financially something big would happen in my art career. And the realization that I was making it as an artist soon followed. I finally left the company when my friend’s health had stabilized. That date is still marked on my calendar with the words “Freedom”.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Definitely not always a smooth road. Early on, it was a struggle to get in the door of some of the elite shows and galleries. I always had the idea that I just had to get better… to be “so good they can’t ignore you”. It took years of work at nights and on weekends to gain a national following and become a full-time artist. Soon afterwards I met my wife and started a family. (I met my wife in Hawaii while doing a plein air painting event on the island of Maui. She’s an artist too and was living there and showing her work at a Gallery in Lahaina. The same gallery, it turns out, that hosted my event.). Now the struggle is to do a better job managing my time between career and being a good husband and father. When a painting demands 16 hour days in the studio and events take me on the road, it’s a tough balancing act.

Please tell us more about your art.
Fine Art: Landscape Oil painting. Known for atmospheric landscape paintings.

Teaching: Landscape oil painting workshops both LIVE and online courses. Focusing on creating the illusion of depth. Monthly and Annual subscriptions.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I want to take an extended RV painting trip across the country with the family. My wife paints too. So an RV painting mobile would be the ideal way to see the country. And a fantastic adventure for my daughter. I also have big plans for my online school for landscape painting and want to devote more time to it.


  • Instructional Video Club: $39/month
  • Self-Guided Workshop: $395/year
  • Mentorship Program: $695/year
  • Individual Coach Program: $1495/4 months
  • Paintings Range: $1000 – $30,000

Contact Info:

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