Meet Daniel Shaffer. Daniel is an illustrator living and working in Baltimore, MD. Daniel is know for his colorful illustrations and narrative images. His work has been shown in various galleries and recognized by the Society of Illustrators. Daniel has participated in the BOSS RUSH!, Guts, and upcoming COSMOS projects with Light Grey Art Lab, and we are thrilled to showcase his artwork! You can read all about his expriences, resources, and thougts on illustration. You can also see more of Daniel's artwork on his website and blog here!
Hi Daniel. Could you tell me about yourself?
I grew up in a city called Decatur which rests right outside of Atlanta, GA. I have really fond memories of Decatur and the neighborhood I grew up in. Decatur is lush with vegetation and tall oak trees and it smells really beautiful during the Spring and Fall. As a kid I was always using my imagination to become dinosaurs and animals, and I was interested in drawing and painting from imagination. I pretty much knew I wanted to be an artist when I was in Elementary school. After high school I attended the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) for four years and got my BFA last May. It took me a year in college to figure out that I wanted to become an illustrator.
You recently participated in the BOSS RUSH Exhibition, and much of your artwork in inspired by video games and media. Could you talk a little about your inspiration- are you attracted to the characters, story lines, bad guys, etc?
The BOSS RUSH! Exhibition was actually a turning point for me stylistically. I think once I graduated from college, I felt like I had a ticking clock behind me to get jobs so I started making a mad flurry of work. During this time I made a massive amount of experimental illustrations with shifting subject matter and style. At one point I was working completely flat and was pretty inspired by Joan Cornella's comics. I have always enjoyed gross humor so it was fun to paint a lot of butts and blood. What I really love though is color and atmosphere. I decided that my love for video games would be a good conduit for creating illustrations that pushed those two themes. When I saw the BOSS RUSH! call for artists I jumped on the opportunity because I thought it would be a good way to push myself to create a more polished piece than the illustrations I had been making prior. From there I decided to continue making movie and game related pieces because I knew that the passion was already there so all I had to do was create the image that I wanted.
Majora's Mask for BOSS RUSH!
Your work includes lots of playful characters, humorous scenarios, and dramatic moments. Could you talk a little about storytelling and image making. What is most compelling to you when creating artwork?
I grew up watching cartoons and anime so I was exposed to a lot of different ways to tell a story through images. Studio Ghibli had a really big impact on me as a developing artist and as a growing boy. The movie Princess Mononoke was a treasure trove of inspiration. In the third grade my friend rented the movie at a sleep over and I watched it for the first time. I don't think my mom would have been too happy that I had watched such a violent movie, but I couldn't stop thinking about it- I felt like it was one of the greatest creations known to man. I remember running as fast as I could through the little forest behind my school pretending I was running with wolves. So much of the world was unknown to me so I had to make up what I believed could be true. I think that's what's so compelling about making artwork. You get to create whatever you want in your own way.
What is your favorite piece/project to date? What do you want to work on more?
I think my favorite piece that I've made was my tribute to Princess Mononoke. Not because it's dedicated to Princess Mononoke, but because it was a piece where I felt like I had unlocked something in myself that made the piece flow really well for me. It was one of the first times that developing the composition, colors, and lighting felt really natural to me and I just kind of knew what needed to be done. I definitely would like to continue doing tribute pieces, but I would also like to start working on my own children's book.
For the Guts Exhibition, you were tasked with investigating the insides of something. Could you tell us about that project, what you uncovered, and what you wanted to share?
For the Guts Exhibition I decided to choose the mythological Cosmic Turtle as my subject matter. Commonly in the mythology surrounding this creature, the turtle is swimming in space while holding a flat earth on its back that is being supported by four white elephants. Terry Pratchett actually wrote a series called Discworld that takes place on the earth that is supported by a cosmic turtle. I have yet to read the series, but it sounds really interesting. I decided to put a twist on the myth by making the action take place within the shell of a turtle creature instead of on top. I liked the idea of the shell creating a micro system of entities and foliage, while also protecting an entire universe which is represented by the white orb in the center. I thought this provided an interesting concept that could indicate an infinite number of cosmic turtles holding an infinite number of universes and how fragile this system is. It's scary and interesting to think about how the death of one Cosmic turtle could affect all the others that lie within it.
Protecting Life (Cosmic Turtle) for the Guts Exhibition
Could you describe your creative community? Locally or online? What things do you look for in a community?
At the moment I am still living in Baltimore right next to the MICA campus. I live in an apartment with artist and friend Matt Rockefeller. A lot of this past year has been dedicated to Matt and I working alongside each other in our in home studio. We often give each other feedback on the projects we're working on and also take breaks to go outside or play through different video games. At the end of June I am going to be moving back home in Decatur, GA to save some money. I will have lived in Baltimore for 5 years so the shift back home will be an interesting change for me. Community is still a concept that I'm learning about and take for granted. I was born with a chemical imbalance that makes my anxiety levels sky rocket pretty easily so I typically maintain a pretty small group of friends so that I'm not over stimulated. With that said, I think I need to be surrounded by an artistic community/atmosphere that share some of my core values in life. It also helps if my community is surrounded by lots of vegetation and animals! I would much prefer my view of the sky to be blocked by trees than blocked by buildings.
As an young illustrator, what is the most valuable piece of information/advise you have received?
I'm not sure if anyone ever specifically told this to me or if I just decided it was good advice on my own, but I would say the most valuable advice for me has been to just keep making work. I have only grown after making hundreds of things. The journey is often difficult and can sometimes feel hopeless, but I have found that as long as I keep producing work I will grow and improve as an artist.
What are some of your biggest sources of inspiration? (books, media, places, games, people, etc.)
As I mentioned before, Studio Ghibli has had a profound influence on me. Beyond that I would also say that Calvin and Hobbes influenced my thinking about the world. I was introduced to Calvin and Hobbes as a little kid. My dad bought me one of the compilation books that has lots of comics in it and I was immediately hooked. I really love how Bill Watterson writes his characters. There is something that is just so charming about the world that Calvin and Hobbes live in. It always makes me happy to read his comics.
What projects do you have in the works? What direction do you see yourself going in the next year to two? Any dream projects?
I'm in a transition period at the moment, so I don't have any specific projects in the works. I have been working on a collection of zines with my friends Boya Sun and Matt Rockefeller that will have the work of a bunch of different artists in them. The title of the collection is Bloom, and it won't be finished for a while due to the number of zines and artists we're working with. There will be more information about that in the future though. As for my direction, I would say that I want to head into book publishing in some form. I also want to do editorial work, so I'll be building up clientele to work with in the coming months. In the future I would like to work on my own children's book. I have wanted to do that since I was a little kid. I'll be working on a story in the near future!
You can find more of his work on his website, blog, and the Cosmic Tuttle piece on the Light Grey shop here! The Guts Exhibition will be on display and online through May 15th.