Collaborating with a Local Legend: Dane Danner

Collaborating with a Local Legend: Dane Danner

Dane Danner + Imperfects: December 2020

Mike Lynch: As an appreciator of all things quality in the world of illustration, I have sincerely looked up to you for many years. What you have achieved as an Illustrator, particularly, is absolutely radical. Can you tell us a little bit about how you became an Illustrator? Why you chose that path?

Dane Danner: I could always draw… that was my thing I guess. Some people are good at math and some English. I was not as good at those subjects (or at least I didn’t have the energy when I was younger to apply myself to schoolwork) so I spent my time doing extra credit to make up for my shortcomings. Extra credit usually meant art projects… I also would trade drawings for stuff my parents wouldn’t buy me… or I’d sell drawings. An Illustrator is a hired gun. I was good at drawing what people wanted. But, I suppressed it. I didn’t look at comic books or graphic novels and never really knew what an illustration career was. I liked the VCJ/Powell drawings and the Jim Phillips/Santa Cruz stuff I’d seen on friends' boards, but I never really thought about what went into making production drawings happen? No one I knew made a living drawing… It seemed like more of something to do to pass the time and maybe impress someone here and there. People asked me to draw stuff all the time in H.S. I’m not sure really how they picked up on my ability? I never took art classes in high school. My elective was study hall. So I guess I became an Illustrator at a young age meeting the wants and demands of my peers. I still never really understood the difference between being an artist and an Illustrator. I thought illustration was more about the style… kinda that cartoon style that you saw in books. I even got my bachelor's degree in it and didn’t know what it was. Then I had a conversation with Robert Williams and referred to him as an Illustrator. He got pissed and stopped me in my tracks. He explained that he wasn’t an Illustrator because he operated based on his own timeline, his own ideas, and sold his work to whomever he wanted. He was an artist! I was not. I’m ok with that. I couple my drawings with graphic design to get exactly what a client wants. The joy is pulling the image out of the client's head. I‘ve told this story over and over… but it’s true. The illustration path chose me…. I could draw and could really listen to what someone wanted. I also constantly over-deliver because it’s easier than doing the whole project over. Insurance policy I guess. 

Mike Lynch: On the basis of Art, how does Skate tie in for you? Is Surf an equal part of this?

Dane Danner: Surfing is everything to me. It’s something that grabbed me very young. Everything I’ve done in my life is devoted to being in the water amongst waves. Sounds corny. You can’t surf if the ocean doesn’t cooperate, you need to have at least a small understanding of Oceanography. My wife expanded my joy of surfing by taking me snorkeling in Hawaii. We also do a lot of whale watching. The Gray Whales are going South right now, we saw them yesterday off Cardiff. I’ve worked on the sport boats too… but while I was out on the water or under it I’m still thinking about surfing. I’m still thinking about waves and how the bottom contours of the beach make the waves and how the whales can navigate through the water. This all leads to hydrodynamics and the desire to build my own boards… and then my kids came. The kids wanted it all, the water the boards, and the art on the boards. My kids are really the driving force behind my attempt at art. Skateboarding… well that's what you do when the surf is flat. I started skating after getting bad ear infections at T-Street in San Clemente. While drying out, I needed something to do that kept me in surfing shape but also sharpened my skill of standing and riding. I’m not talking about riding down the street. I needed centrifugal force and I found it in the pool… of course. The pool linked it all together and while learning, I made a pact with myself to keep skating until my kids surpassed me. I was surprised to find that not only did skating prepare my kids for surfing… but life itself. Confidence came from navigating the busy skatepark or sidewalk. Respect came from watching the elders take their runs and of course the ability to balance and get out of trouble at high rates of speed. The determination came from paying your dues, learning that nothing in life comes easy and you have to work/try to be successful, and sometimes it hurts. It has translated to everything for them, soccer, baseball and of course surfing. Surfing gave me the feelings I desired… but skateboarding brought out the diversity, the music, and the art into my life. No one gave a fuck about what you looked like at a skate spot… all that mattered was if you skated. Since resources were plentiful (unlike waves) people were a lot nicer too. 

 

Mike Lynch: Being a Father is easily the most epic thing I have personally accomplished; I think we both share in this sentiment, yea? Do you find it fulfilling to share your work with your kids? If so, how do you approach this matter?

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Dane Danner: Yea. I just wanted to make some buds! If it wasn’t for their mom they would probably be mean as shit too… haha. I ended up with two boys which are cool. It would have been nice to have a girl in that mix because I think the world is wide open for girls right now. I run stuff by my kid all the time. I always show them the process because they should know that everything worth doing has a process. You have to struggle and sometimes you fail before you get good at something… it’s all about the doing. My skillsets have all bled into one. Working on cars and doing bodywork has helped my surfboard building as well my graphic design and vice versa. There is no need to stop doing one thing because you got into another. I think that’s what’s wrong with society today. People change up what they are into too often and go all-in on their new interests, instead of building on their talent and growth. The world would be more diverse if everyone just did themselves rather than trying to fit some sort of mold. My sharing process with the kids goes something like this… hey, I’m gonna fix a ding in this board. Do you want to watch… or no? Well, it wasn’t a question! After that kind of harsh exchange, it’s up to me to make it fun and teach. Kids… they don’t really know what they want right? But in all seriousness, it pays to keep an eye on what they like. As a designer I’ll take every advantage I can get.

Mike Lynch: With the strange state that the world is in, where do you find your balance? Where did you find your balance in years past as compared to now, 2020? Has this affected your Art or driven your mentality to create? 

Dane Danner: Well there is definitely a lot of work out there right now. People are reinventing themselves and companies are finding new ways to operate, because of that, they need art and design work. In my opinion, 2020 has shaken everything loose. It’s provided the motivation to learn new or expand skills and some time to rest and reevaluate. Being creative and cooped up for months can be a blessing and a curse. I know that I got my project car up and running after sitting for 15 years. I also have read a ton, tried to get better at making boards that perform based on specific conditions, as well as sharpening my design/illustration skills by learning new methods. In my experience, I felt fortunate that during 2020 people slowed down enough to collaborate and help one other grow. 2020 was an opportunity for talented people to move up on the board. That first round of unemployment was pretty fair money wise in my opinion and gave people the means to exhale for a while… also I think sheltering in place brought some quality of life back. I know we took a look at our environment and got organized a bit. Seeing your house in the middle of the day is a trip with… different light, different perspective. The only thing I find that helps a creative block is to clean up and get organized! Maybe Covid -19 helped facilitate this condition. The bottom line is the client's needs and budget drives my creativity… so as long as I have a job to do I’ll always be creating. That goes for my wife and kids too… they are always wanting me to make the stuff. 

Mike Lynch: To collab with THE Dane Danner on a Skate has been an actual dream come true for me – thank you for this opportunity Dude. On that note, what does collab mean to you? Do you enjoy collaborations with other artists and brand concepts? Further, where does the inspo for our collab originate? 

 

Dane Danner: Ok well this project was actually art. I wanted to barter with you instead of a payday. Your board building skills against my skateboard graphics. That helped to kill the ‘gun for hire’ feel of illustration work. The 10’0 longboard you made me is great! I don’t ride them often and could never afford a brand new one! Some guy ran into me the first day I rode it! No big deal, I took it home and patched it up. Also, you were pretty cool with me coming up with the concept, color-way, and general purpose of the board. I ride 169s so the board width was determined early on. I always liked the scalloped outline of the Aaron Murray boards and your outline brings that to light without outright copying anything. I took a hacksaw to the nose and moved the front truck. Then we tested it. And Watson reproduced it nicely. This is how a board should be made. I think this was my first collaboration ever for a skateboard? My name is on it and we truly collaborated on it during its entire path. I could only hope it sells out so we could maybe do another colorway? As far as the actual content goes and what it meant to me personally, well… I’ve always liked the idea of a spiritual force regulating paradise. My version of paradise would be a lush tropical location rich in waves and hospitality. Paradise is usually held in check by an opposing force such as a volcano that has the power to completely wipe everything off the map. Because of this, the people in paradise live every day like it was their last, and foreigners are welcomed. The only problem of extending this type of welcome to outsiders is their own outside ways. Greed. I’m of course speaking of Hawaii and more specifically Aloha. I have been fortunate to travel to Hawaii many times and I have seen what the outsiders have done to the land and people. The Hawaiians have given until there was nothing left to give. These special people have many legends and traditions. On the darker side is the legend of the Night Marchers. It’s about ancient Hawaiian warriors who appear and night and seeing them means your demise. I had a friend growing up who spoke horribly about the Hawaiian people. He would visit his parent's golf course condo and surf the main spots. He always had stories about confrontations in the water with the local Hawaiians. The spirit of Aloha was not awash on him and he somehow rationalized his residence with rights to waves. I imaging a regatta of warriors paddling through the lineup regulating visitors who do not reciprocate the spirit of Aloha and instead overstay their welcome. It is said that Aloha is free and so are the beatings.

If you don’t mind I’d like to talk a little story… I always have a story and usually wake up in the morning with a wisecrack that I intend to unload on someone during the day. 

Last year I sat out at Honolua bay in a daze. What I know now is I probably had Covid-19 but refused to let my sickness in paradise hamper my vacation. I climbed out of bed after sleeping for two days straight and drove to the bay. The surf was overhead and crowded. I got changed near my car and prepared to climb down the cliff. After securing my rental car key around the small loop in my board shorts, I proceeded to slam my fingers in the car door. So severely was this mistake, that I had to untie the car key with one hand to unlock the door in order to free my fingers. Upon opening the car door my smashed finger erupted in blood. In a pained daze, I played it cool and closed the car door, secured my key, and climbed down the cliff. Although the water didn’t take the pain away, I immediately felt better surrounded by it. Chumming my way to the point I bobbed around trying to remember where to line up. I have surfed Honolua many times before but never made the entire wave from the top. It’s a tough wave to navigate especially on your backhand. After about an hour of trying to get one and hooting at others taking off, my turn came. A set rolled through which left me and a local Hawaiian at the top of the point alone. Everyone else had gotten a wave and were making the long paddle back out. As I’m sure you are thinking, there was one last wave and the local guy sitting further out nodded at me to go. That was the first wave I have ever made all the way past the cave and into the channel. It took me a while to make it back up the point to thank him. I paddled straight up to him and told him he made my trip. He smiled and said something like ‘o, you’re on vacation?’ I bobbed around for another hour next to my new friend and got another good wave. Then I went in tired from being sick and injured. Thankful to have experienced Aloha. It took 9 months for my fingernail to grow back. A constant reminder of that amazing wave I was given at Honolua Bay. 

Back to your question...Collaboration means that a company is bringing me forward to help my career as well as sell their product. The only way to truly grow is to prop others up around you. I enjoy collaborations because it is an opportunity to express myself through my work without being directed. Being able to sync up with brands that I actually align with is very satisfying. Inspiration comes from whatever feelings I have in the moment or ideas I have that I haven’t previously used.

Mike Lynch: From both an abstract and a literal perspective, what does Imperfection mean to you? 

Dane Danner: That's easy... the finest things are made by hand. You can be rich beyond your wildest dreams… and I’m not talking monetarily rich! I’m talking about the kind of wealth where the individual creates something that no one else in the world has. It’s easy… and not so easy. As a kid, I was always making my own stuff because I couldn’t afford the latest and greatest. People would ask… where did you get that? When I made something better than what could be purchased, people wanted it. But the human hand is only so precise. It’s inevitable that an imperfection in my work would rear its head. Why do surfboards have pin lines? It’s a cover-up… it’s not an embellishment… it’s a mistake. So why does it cost extra? Because the imperfection made for a unique opportunity and that esthetic is now regarded as fine detail. The only way we can be unique in this world is because of flaws. Why is that patina or barn find ‘properly aged’ look so in right now in the hotrod and custom world? Well, because a paint job is now $15K. Fifteen thousand dollars is enough money to make someone reevaluate a project. Maybe go with the old thing looking … well old? Nothing is more unique than the panels of a pre-74 vehicle kissed by the sun and aged properly. These things are imperfect. In an age where everything is made to be disposable, it’s the time tested methods from yesteryear that made things last. These things are created by hand and if you look closely each one is unique and each one is imperfect. 

 


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