Friday, April 15, 2016

Creative Chat: Jon Daniels

It's time for another creative chat! This month's focus is sketching and drawing, and Jon Daniels has graciously agreed to let me throw a ton of questions at him. Jon is a very talented artist, as well as an art teacher, husband, pug daddy, and vegan, who just so happened to graduate from the same tiny high school I did--he just graduated with way more artistic talent!
1// First, can you introduce yourself?
I’ve been married to my wife and fellow art teacher for 6 years.  I’ve been teaching for 5.  I’m a pug daddy of two, Garth (7), Gertie (2).  I enjoy all things art related.  I love traveling to different places.  I’m a big fan of food.  Eating is probably what keeps me sane most nights after exhausting days at school!  A while back I happened upon a quote from the Dalai Lama.  Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them.”  Since reading that quote, I have really tried to live my life that way.  I fail many times of course, but most importantly I keep trying.

2// When did you become interested in art, and how long have you been creating?

My interest in art stems as far back as I can remember.  My parents used to own a café that I spent many nights in after school and I have distinct memories of my mother teaching me how to draw animals on the paper from the guest check books.  I always WANTED to draw and TRIED to draw, but surprisingly the ability to do so didn’t really kick in until much later in life when I was in college. I’m disappointed in myself for not keeping any of the drawings from when I was younger.

3// How did you learn drawing as a medium? Were there any specific resources that you used?

I suppose you could say I had the smallest amount of natural talent, but honestly, I think I just had an eye for design or good taste in art and I always tried my best to imitate what I saw.  Throughout high school I loved art and the look of realistic drawing, but since I could never live up to my own expectations when it came to drawing, I became way more interested in sculpture.  Three dimensional art allowed me to form the shapes and contours using my hands rather than a pencil.  In retrospect, that whole process probably helped me to become a better drawer and artist altogether. When I was in college I took a drawing class to fill my schedule and it required me to actually draw.  After I fumbled through a few drawings it was evident that I could actually draw.  A few positive comments from a critique gave me that extra boost I needed to keep going and one of my drawings actually won an award during my freshman year. 
4// What are your sources of artistic inspiration and who are your art heroes?
Apart from all of the online resources, which are probably the sources I utilize the most, I frequent many local galleries and regularly attend First Fridays with the Arts.  I have also kept in touch with many of my university professors, who are still producing amazing works of art.  Most importantly, 90 percent of my friend base is made up of people who have some form of art related careers.  Having discussions and critiques with them and seeing the work they produce really inspires me to push myself and to create artwork that challenges my abilities.  As I have gotten older, my art heroes have switched from more widely known artists such as Warhol and Dali to contemporary artist many people may not be as familiar with such as Oriol Angrill Jorda and Joel Daniel Phillips, both of which you should check out on Instagram!
5// How would you describe your drawing style?
I suppose I would fall under realistic.  I have obsessed over becoming a photo-realist for so long that I am almost to the point where I can no longer create a drawing that doesn’t have some element of realism.   I tend to be my worst critic and always hear that little voice inside my head telling me I’m simply not good enough.  If I am not at least trying to obtain some bit of realism in a drawing it feels like I am not trying hard enough and that, in my mind, translates as bad art.  Oddly enough when looking at artwork from other artists, aesthetically, I am usually drawn to the non-realistic styles.

6// What are your favorite things to draw? Do you find yourself pulled toward consistent themes, or are you always exploring new and different things?

I had a solo exhibition last year in which I focused on drawing mundane things from everyday life.  Dirty dishes, random objects, parts of my apartment building, anything that we, as overworked, tired and stressed out human beings would see every day, but never look twice at.  I was trying to get over my fear of not being a good enough artist so I started drawing these random things and while doing so I started to notice how beautiful each object was.  Somewhere along the line while drawing these objects I decided to draw portraits of the people whom I interact with each day.  While completing the portraits I, again, started to find the beauty in each person, especially while drawing what each one of them would classify as their imperfections.  Those imperfections are what, to me at least, made each one of them the person I know and love.  I would say that I am always exploring new themes, but at the same time I am always internally pulled in the same familiar direction.  I have been toying with a few ideas of incorporating surrealism into my work.  I also think that my heart really belongs to sculpture so I am always finding ways to incorporate 3D elements into my 2D work or vice versa. 
7// When you sit down to create, what does your process look like?
If someone were to watch me start a drawing, they would probably think that I have a mild case of OCD.  I treat the blank, white piece of paper like a delicate piece of glass.  I align each one of my drawing utensils and make sure each one of them is accounted for.  Sometimes I even ghost draw.  That’s where I hover my pencil above my paper without touching it and sketch the entire thing out before getting started. Once you make a mark there is no going back and sometimes that is the biggest obstacle to get around.
8// If you had to create a “beginner’s toolkit” for people who want to learn to draw, what would it contain?
A BIC brand mechanical pencil.  While there are a million different types of drawing pencils and other tools to help an artist out, it has always been a belief of mine that a single, mechanical pencil will suffice.  Learning to draw is more about training your brain to see what your eyes see, rather than what you THINK you see.  All of the technical parts of drawing can easily be learned later on.

 9// What advice would you give to someone just beginning to explore drawing as a means of creative expression?

Just draw.  I didn’t have the opportunity to have a positive role model in the arts telling me that it is okay to not be a perfect drawer or artist.  Most of the artwork we fall in love with isn’t perfect so why are we all worried about obtaining perfection.  Create artwork for yourself and even if you hate it, someone else, somewhere, will love it.

 10// I’ve noticed that several of my artist friends have struggled with accepting the “artist” label. Is that something that you’ve experienced? Do you feel that accepting that label comes with additional challenges or pressures?

Most definitely, yes!  There are so many preconceived notions of what an artist actually is.  Most people don’t even realize the title itself can encompass such a wide variety of medias.  As an artist who can draw, I am constantly faced with being in the awkward position of having to turn people down because they are not willing to pay enough for my services.  Most people simply do not understand how much work goes into a piece of art or better yet the type of respect that it demands.  My friends and I have somewhat of an inside joke going about how when people want something for free they always say that we can use it as a portfolio builder. That’s like us going into a service station and saying, “Hey, fix my car for free.  You can put that in your portfolio!”  It sounds ridiculous in that situation, why wouldn’t it sound ridiculous in our situation?

11// You’re also an art teacher. What has been the most challenging and rewarding aspects of teaching art for a living?

The most challenging thing about being an art teacher is the reality that so many students do not want to learn.  They don’t want to be in school at all, more less take one of my classes and do something outside of their comfort zone.   With that being said, the most rewarding part of being a teacher is seeing the look of accomplishment on their face when they create this amazing piece of artwork they never in their wildest dreams, EVER, believed that they could.  That happens like once every few years.  Haha! 

12// As a teacher, what do you hope to instill in your students?

I hope to plant the seed of creativity into each one of their minds.  I hope for them to learn how to be free-thinkers and to be able to make educated decisions.  I want them to know that it’s perfectly fine to make mistakes and that by making mistakes is in fact how you learn.  I want each of my students to leave my classroom knowing that each one of them can be an artist if they want to be, but if they choose not to be, well, that’s okay too.  I hope to instill in them a love and also a respect for art.    

 13// What are you proudest of in your creative journey?
As an artist, I am thankful to have reached a level of ability in which I never thought I would have. It is still hard for me to call myself a good artist, but I do recognize that I have come a very long way, especially in most recent years.  As a teacher, I am most proud of the students who have really latched on to what I have taught them about art.  Some of them want a career in it and other are fine keeping it as a hobby.  I think encouraging people to keep art in their lives, even as a hobby, is still a great accomplishment, especially when they tell me if it wasn’t for one of my classes they would have never been exposed to it in such a way.  I look forward to continuing my journey as both an artist and a teacher.  One of the most beautiful parts about being an artist is the ability to constantly view the world in different ways.  With an ability such as that, hopefully I will never run out of inspiration or motivation to create. 

Thanks so much for sharing your art with me Jon!

Creative Chat is a series of interviews with artists and creative I admire. Each monthly interview focuses on a different creative outlet that I'm trying for my Year of Creative Habits.  You can previous interviews here and here.

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