Hi! I’m Dani. I’m a children’s illustrator and I’ve drawn pictures for things like picture books, magazines, textbooks, and comics. I have also written and illustrated several books, such as the children’s book MONSTERS VS. KITTENS and my self-published comic MY SISTER THE FREAK. I also wrote an instructional book about drawing on the iPad called IPAD FOR ARTISTS.
When did you first decide to become an illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?
Although I’ve been drawing since I was little, I didn't make the conscious decision to become an illustrator until I was in college. I didn't think it was possible or realistic to make a living until I met my professors and other working illustrators while I was in school. I slowly started to realize that it is not only possible to make money as an artist, but there is a variety of industries to work in and lots of different types of art in demand. During the last two years of school, I really started to take it seriously and started building my portfolio.
Who do you look up to? Who are your heroes in the industry?
There are way too many. I really love Norman Rockwell and JC Leyendecker. I also look to Mary Blair a lot because she not only has mad skills and made a name in both animation and children’s books, but also did it as a lady in a predominantly man’s world.
Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
I have always been drawing and took art classes throughout grade school. I was formally trained while I was at college at BYU-Idaho. I have a BFA in illustration from there.
Tell us a little about your process. What tools do you use?
I work almost exclusively on the computer for my professional work, mostly in Photoshop. I have also been using my iPad a lot recently and do everything from sketches to finished paintings on it. When I’m not working digitally, my favorite medium is gouache and watercolor.
How do you keep it "fresh"?
The best way to not get bored is to always be experimenting and learning new things. It not only keeps you from being tired of your work, but your clients as well. I try not to be tied down by a style or process. Instead, I try to evolve more organically by just doing whatever is fun or interesting to me.
What are you currently working on?
I just finished up my third written and illustrated picture book. I always have a few smaller freelance jobs sprinkled on my plate. Right now, I just have to decide what to pursue next because I have several ideas swirling around in my brain.
Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
I've worked on a lot of fun projects and I'm pleased with a lot of the published work I've done, but I'm most proud of some of my personal projects. I wrapped up my webcomic My Sister the Freak last year. It was the first project I did on such a long term basis. It’s definitely the biggest story I’ve ever written. I updated it online on a semi-regular basis for four years, and I compiled two graphic novel length volumes out of it. It was a huge challenge and learning experience that has really guided the rest of my career, so it is probably my proudest accomplishment so far.
Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
When I started out, I mainly considered myself a visual artist, but after diving into comics, making a few picture books, and even through things like blogging, I’m really enjoying writing as well. Writing a full length novel is on my bucket list of things to do. I don’t think I can ever completely walk away from drawing pictures though, so it would probably be an illustrated middle grade novel or something like that.
And as far as painting, I think it would be cool to step away from the computer for a little bit. I work digitally because it’s what I’m the fastest and most comfortable with, and with deadlines and revisions it’s just easier to stick with pixels. However, I love traditional paint. I imagine that when I’m older and closer to retirement age, I'd want to step away from the publishing industry and do fine art watercolor landscapes until I die.
Any advice to the novice illustrator?
Always have a personal project. For beginning illustrators, it’s hard to imagine having so much client work that you don’t have time for anything else, but it happens. Plus there’s life and personal motivation that challenges you. But nothing has benefited my career more than my personal projects. I always try to have a comic, book pitch, or illustration series going on in addition to the freelance.
And the next piece of advice I would give is to FINISH your projects. If you’re like me, this is really hard and you might wake up one day and find you have a lot of half-baked ideas, but nothing substantial to show for it. Make an effort to stick to your projects until the end, or at least bring it to some form of completion, even if you think it’s turning out ugly or not what you expected or you don’t get as far as you hoped. You can always fix something later, but you can’t do much with a project that’s undone. And if nothing else, it will show other people that you can follow through on a project.
What makes an illustration successful?
I think illustrations are most successful if they make me feel something. I can put up with a lot of drawing mistakes or level of painting skill or varying styles, but if I don’t feel anything - if I get bored looking at it - then to me it’s not very successful. It could be the most beautifully rendered painting in the world, but if I don’t connect with it on an emotional level, it doesn’t mean much to me.
I think it’s important for all artists to know this. No matter what skill level you are, you can be successful in this industry because you bring your own unique experience to the table. There is always going to be an artist who does it better than you, and worse than you, but only one person who can think like you and feel like you. That’s the real skill you should be bringing to an illustration.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
I am constantly absorbing art - not just illustration but also books, movies, TV, and music. I also think it's important to get away from the drawing table once in awhile and go hang out with family and friends, have other hobbies, and do other activities. Making art 24/7 is a fast road to burnout. And along the lines of what I was explaining in the previous question, it’s hard to bring your own point-of-view to your illustrations if you’re not making an effort to go experience life!
Finish this sentence. "If I weren't an illustrator I would have been a..."
Writer. That’s kinda cheating on this question because I already am one, and it’s closely associated to my illustration career. But if I lost all ability to draw, I would write. And if I couldn’t write and had to choose a job that had nothing to do with anything I’m doing now, I’d probably be doing something with technology, software, or computers.
And finally, what is the best thing on TV right now?
If you follow me on social media, you are probably aware that I am obsessed with Legend of Korra. But since that show ended, I will say my favorite show that is still on TV is Agent Carter.