The DART Interview: Grace Danico

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday August 22, 2019

Peggy Roalf: Which came first, the brush or the pen?

Grace Danico: The pen. It's the tool I've been using the longest! I started writing and drawing at a young age, and the pen has been my trusty companion throughout life. I've actually graduated to using brush pens these days, so it's the best of both worlds. 

PR: I noticed that you often make lettering an integral part of your illustration work. Where did your interest in hand lettering originate? Please tell the readers why this has become an important focus of your work.

GD: My interest in hand lettering came from my background in writing. Words can be interpreted in so many ways, and letters have personality. Hand lettering offers the chance to create these personalities.

PR: Along similar lines, where did your interest in archiving originate? As producers of hundreds of thousands of sheets of artwork, illustrators reading DART will be surely very interested in your answer!

GD: My interest in archiving came from my background working in libraries, as well as the passing of my father. When he left his collection of belongings behind, I wanted to learn about the best practices in preserving them to honor his legacy. At the time I applied to library school, I worked as a Policies & Procedures Specialist at Virgin America (RIP) as well as an Illustration Editor for the mid-century modern and contemporary design blog Grain Edit. Working in these roles made me think about the legacies and stories that artists and businesses leave behind through their work.

My goal in studying library science and archiving was to learn the best practices in organizing physical and digital materials so they can be of use to future generations. At the last ICON, I taught a workshop called “Be Your Own Archivist: A How-ToGuide,” which teaches illustrators how to make archiving a part of their illustration practice. Knowing what’s in one’s collection, saving materials that have intrinsic value, attaching metadata to files, having an organized file system, and keeping multiple backups are just some of the things illustrators can do to ensure their legacy and work can be enjoyed by people in the future. 


PR: In a recent interview you mentioned that you did not go to an art school. Where did the impetus to shift from the written word to the drawn thought originate, and what did you have to do to enable this major career shift? 

GD: In my heart, ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to draw. My immigrant parents didn’t think this was a practical career choice, so I pursued a degree in English. With this degree, I worked for an airline writing policies and procedures while simultaneously writing for a design and illustration blog that focused on mid-century modern and contemporary work. The shift from the written word to the drawn thought originated once I moved to New York for graduate studies inlibrary science and archiving. I ended up sharing a studio with some friends I met from the blog, and they encouraged me to pursue illustration instead of just writing about it. The rest is history.

PR: When you have a work problem to solve, or a creative hurdle to overcome, to what is your process of discovery?

GD: I try to envision the final result and make a plan on how to accomplish it. My discovery process involves research, writing, and a lot of doodling.

PR: As Secretary/Treasurer of ICON!!/The Illustration Conference, coming up next summer in Kansas City, please share with the readers your favorite thing about the next edition of this legendary event.

GD: I am very excited for the diverse programming and workshops we’ll be having in Kansas City. The speakers and workshop nominations thus far have been out of this world, and I can’t wait to see how everything comes together next year. 

PR: Please describe your work process—is most of your work done directly, or do you also use digital media? 

GD: It’s a mix. I often draw in my sketchbook or iPad to get the ink flowing. Depending on the project, I will either work directly on paper, then color digitally or work entirely digitally. When working on editorial pieces, my sketches are pretty detailed as I work close to final as possible. 

PR: What are some of your creative inspirations—artists, music, literature, culture in general—that you draw from in your work?

GD: Where to begin! I’m primarily inspired by music, and curate a playlist called Take Care. I’m currently listening to a lot of Japanese pop, international, disco, funk, and post-disco electronic music. I’m obsessed with plants and love the album Plantasia by Mort Garson. I enjoy reading non-fiction books and watching documentaries about music, comedy, and food.

PR: Do you keep a sketchbook? If yes, how does that contribute to your work process? If yes, does this figure in with your travels?

GD: I do! I usually jot down ideas and draw little bits and pieces and often refer to them for personal work. I also use my sketchbook to get started on commissions, sketching ideas and concepts before diving into a final. Keeping a sketchbook is an essential part of my travels, whether it's going somewhere in the city or traveling outside of the country. I use it as a diary of sorts, documenting daily adventures and excursions, which I eventually turn into travel zines.

PR: Where do you live and how does that place contribute to your creative work?

GD: I currently live in sunny Los Angeles, and previously lived in Brooklyn and San Francisco. Because there’s so much sun here, I feel like my work is eternally optimistic and colorful.

PR: Please describe your workspace and how it contributes to the illustrator’s basic condition of working alone.

GD: I share my home studio/office with my partner. He works from an animation studio by day, so I’m left working alone. I previously worked in an office, and do miss the social aspect of it. At the same time, nothing beats being surrounded by the things that spark joy in my life.  

PR: How do you know when the art is finished—or when to stop working on it?

GD: This is the artist's dilemma! Something in my gut usually tells me to stop, and I move onto another activity. When I get this feeling, I put down the tool that I’m using or close my laptop. Then, after some time has passed (usually 5 hours later or the following day), I take a look and see if I still feel the same. If I do, then it’s done.

PR: Do you use photographic reference materials very much? If yes, how do you avoid the pitfalls that can arise when working from reference?

GD: Not too much, though I started using it somewhat recently to reference light and shadow.

PR: If you could live and work anywhere, where would that be—and why?

GD: I would love to live and work in Japan. It’s a beautiful country with a rich history and culture that appreciates the past. I have always loved their art, food, music, films, and would love to spend some time in the countryside.

PR: What would be your dream job—the one thing you have always hoped for in an assignment? 

GD: I would love to design a record album cover or illustrate a children’s book!
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