Sunday, April 17, 2011


Dan's keynote:

After many technical difficulties caused by Oliver the AV guy (just kidding, Oliver!!!!) Dan showed us a quick music video montage of his work. And then we all started crying. Because Dan is a giant ball of heart, talent, goodness and inspiration.

Since most of us have a goal, a Point B, Dan talked about his goals both personal and professional. And hopes what he's learned along the way will help us reach ours.

He describes himself as a very unconfident person in an overconfident shell. Early on in his career he really didn't have much of a support group. Dan's felt like he's always working harder than other people just to keep up, and he wonders if we ever feel like that, too.

Early Dan life:
Growing up an only child, Dan often stayed home with books if his mother was feeling ill. And all that time alone with books, especially those about drawing, made Dan a pretty talented little artist.

Point B #1
(become a storyteller)

Dan was all set to be a dentist! But one day at college, he took a short cut through a job fair and saw that there were actually jobs where you MADE ARTY BOOKS. After some initial surprise and ambivalence, Dan's family got on board and Dan enrolled at Art Center College of Design.

Dan went to school with Peter Brown. We're so sorry, Dan! No really, they were some of the only illustrators there interested in pursuing children's book illustration and banded together. David Shannon started the kidlit art classes at ACCD that Dan was in. Dan received a frank critique from David, "Kid you don't have what it takes. Yet." David thought Dan needed to find his own style and be true to himself as an artist.

Dan sez: Trying to find a style vs. letting the style find you. Don't try too hard, have fun, let go and be prepared for it to take time.

His first trip to NY: Went while in school, so he could get critiques on his current level of work, and use that feedback to direct the rest of his studies at ACCD.

Dan sez: Go to New York and just look at the publisher's building. Knowing where your portfolio samples and postcards go gets you connected and energized to your goal of getting published.

Point B #2
(earn a living while continuing to grow)

Dan wanted to prove to family that going to art school wasn't a mistake. First jobs after college were video games, six years of video game art. Thankless job, lots of manhandling, says Dan, but it was hard to beat having a steady income.
On the side he did freelance art like the Macy's Day Parade poster and ad art.

Dan wanted to make a children's illustration portfolio and did so by painting every night after work. He excused himself from any kind of photo reference and said to himself, "I'm not going to stop working on a painting until I'm happy enough with that painting to hang it on my wall."
With that devotion to just doing the work, with each portfolio piece, Dan got faster, and faster, and faster with his painting skills and drafting skills.

Dan sez: Do the blue collar thing, work hard on your portfolio.

With this work ethic, Dan won the Don Freeman Grant!

Point B
(land a book deal)
SCBWI! Dan went to his first LA conference in 2003. Kadir Nelson reviewed his portfolio and Arthur Levine was a portfolio judge. At the end of the day Arthur Levine came over and said "I'm Arthur Levine and I'd like to give you a two book deal."

And that is where we will leave things for now. I bet you a billion donuts or dollars that Dan will be headlining another SCBWI conference or doing award acceptance speeches soon, and you will want to go hear his story in person.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Ah, what a great memory, and what a great guy! Thanks to all who helped put on the fabulous SCBWI WWA conference. (Thanks for the post too. I was busy weeping and clapping instead of taking notes.)