Serena Dugan: Weaving Art and Psychology Together

Serena Dugan draws on both sides of her brain when she designs her textiles.

She earned a degree in psychology from Wake Forest University in 1994, then set her sights on a master’s in clinical psychology.

But it was not to be. As John Lennon once pointed out, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Dugan had moved to Denver, where she began to probe her creative instincts. “I was applying to graduate schools, and then I started painting spaces at home,” she says. “People were asking me to paint for them, and I said: ‘No – that’s not what I do.’”

Eventually, she put a pause on the psychology business – and enrolled in art school. “I found the best art program at the Metropolitan University of Denver,” she says. “I got my bachelor of fine arts degree, studying drawing, painting, and art history – so I got a firm background in art and design.”

She was also working full-time in the tech world, but that too would take a back seat – first to art, and then to Italy. “I was loving my art classes, and quit work and went to Florence – and that solidified my interest and love for art,” she says. “I was there for a fall semester in 1998 at the Lorenzo de Medici School of Art.”

Like anyone who’s spent time in Florence, she found the city full of magic. “It was a great place to find your creative calling,” she says. “I travelled to the other side of my brain.”

She returned to Denver, left her comfortable job and set out on her own as a decorative painter. “I did my own house and some for friends and developed a roster of interior design clients,” she says.

Next, she shifted her creative focus to San Francisco, where she became adept at original pattern painting. “I went to textile design school, and did printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute,” she says. “I taught myself what I needed to know, and how to carve my own blocks.”

Today, she uses textile design as a way to express herself. “The end use is very secondary,” she says. “I am an artist, and my medium is painting and textiles.”

So brand-building for her work is the least of her concerns now. This woman is all about creating art. “I’ve done it in a commercial way and I’ve learned about that,” she says. “I believe textiles are a legitimate art form, so I want to solidify that and earn recognition for that.”

She finds her inspiration in travel, fashion, runways, couture, nature and history, all the while eschewing repetition. “I try not to emulate what’s been done before because then it becomes derivative,” she says.

Her material palette varies with the spaces in which her designs are used, whether for her upholstery, weighted linens, sofas, headboard, drapery or pillows. “Indoors, it’s printed on Belgian linen, and the wallpaper is on grasscloth – it’s a woven natural material that becomes almost like an upholstered wall,” she says. “Outdoors, I use solution-dyed acrylics.”

She loves color – especially blues for summer in her Capretto, Costa, and Capri collections. But she’s not afraid to mix and match bold combinations too. “My palette is very out-of-the-box, like the pillow that’s hydrangea purple, poppy orange, and black and white,” she says.

Her installations depend on the interior designer – and could be anything from coffered ceilings to sofas and settees. “I sell through interior design or fabric showrooms and in about a dozen showrooms inside and outside the U.S.,” she says. “Interior designers find my fabric swatch, show it to clients and if they like it, they order it.”

To experience what she’s saying in her designs means seeing them in person. “That’s critical to understanding what I’m doing,” she says.

Maybe that’s because she’s weaving together art and psychology, all at once.

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