Laguna Beach born artist wins city’s juried fine art exhibit


Mika Denny Takes Top Honors for ‘Ella the Fierce,’ 17 years After Entering the City’s First Juried Show

It’s been a long time coming, but artist Mika Denny can finally add Laguna Beach Juried Fine Art Exhibit winner to her list of growing artistic accolades in Orange County. 

Artist Mika Denny stands with “Ella the Fierce” after winning first prize at the Laguna Beach Juried Fine Art Exhibit. Photo courtesy of Mika Denny.

Denny’s drawing, “Ella the Fierce,” was recently awarded first place, 17 years after she first entered the competition in its inaugural year. 

Denny was born in Laguna Beach and attended Aliso Elementary, Thurston and Laguna Beach High School. Growing up, she had artistic aspirations bolstered by Laguna’s rich creative culture. 

“I was so lucky to grow up surrounded by art and be inspired in a town that identifies as an art colony,” Denny said.

As a graduating high school senior, Denny received a four-year scholarship from the Festival of Arts (FOA) to pursue a creative arts degree. 

“I had to show my portfolio to Pat Kollenda on the FOA scholarship committee every year. I was always so nervous, but their belief in me gave me confidence as an artist,” said Denny, who graduated from Cal State Fullerton, with a degree in graphic design before working at a Laguna-based publishing company for many years. 

Denny submitted artwork for the city’s first annual juried exhibition 17 years ago while she was working as a graphic designer.

“I felt the desire to create fine art,” Denny said. “Over the years, I entered my work in the city exhibition a few more times, and was juried in, but never won an award.”

Figurative fine art became Denny’s main focus over the past five years. Fast forward to Nov. 2., and Laguna Beach artist and juror Gerard Basil Stripling named Denny’s “Ella the Fierce” the winner of the exhibition. 

Ella the Fierce by Mika Denny. Image courtesy of Mika Denny.

“The work this year was very competitive,” Denny said. “My piece “Ella the Fierce” was juried in after returning from exhibiting in South Carolina at the American Women Artists Annual Juried Museum exhibition.” 

“Ella the Fierce” was inspired by a photo of Denny’s friend’s daughter. 

“I asked if she would mind if I drew her, and she was thrilled,” Denny said. “I decided to create the image using charcoal and panpastel, but also included Japanese washi paper embellished with metallic designs. The work took me countless hours, especially the hair and lace color, which was all drawn by hand. I started realizing that this piece was one of my best. To me, the image of Ella took on a regal vibe, and her gaze felt nothing but fierce. And so she was named.”

Denny even framed “Ella” in a custom-built tabernacle frame with a 22-karat gilded insert.

“At the awards show, I saw Pat Kollenda, who still sits on the Arts Commission for the City of Laguna Beach,” Denny said. “The butterflies were back. I don’t think she remembers me, but nonetheless I am stunned and thrilled as they announce that my work won first place.”

The city’s Juried Fine Art Exhibit has been on display since Sept. 25 and closes this Thursday. However, Denny has plenty of other projects currently in the works. 

“In addition to creating art, I am also teaching online classes through Kara Bullock’s Art School,” Denny said. “I just finished a large portrait drawing of Mark Hilbert titled “Hilbert Under Construction” in honor of the reopening of the Hilbert Museum at Chapman University scheduled for February 2024.” 

Denny’s drawing “The Eulogy” will be published in the November issue of Artists Magazine and American Artist under the ‘Best of Drawing: Strokes of Genius.” 

Visit Denny’s website at to see more of Denny’s work, learn about art classes, and purchase hand-signed giclee prints of Ella the Fierce.

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  1. Indy: Thanks for the reminder! “The city’s Juried Fine Art Exhibit has been on display since Sept. 25 and closes this Thursday.” Lots of talented artists in this exhibit!

    Not sure why this local artists exhibit hasn’t had more coverage and promotion by our own City Arts and City Communications Dept. since its September opening though. Maybe I missed it?

    I’ve seen several articles and promotions of private art events and exhibits like the Laguna Art Museum Artist/ Main Beach event, etc. issued by the CLB promoting attendance. Fact is, FREE art exhibits and meeting juried artists in person are welcomed by the public and they attract a broad range of people to visit our City Hall. It’s nice for locals to discover they may have an artist in their own neighborhood and for visitors to see more than those featured in galleries. And many of these works can be purchased. Perfect way to support our local artist through the holidays!


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