Artist spotlight: Ten questions with illustrator Daniel Brown

Daniel Brown is a father of two and a gifted illustrator from Southern California. He recently began uploading his work to sites like Redbubble and Society6Brown is a fan of classic cartoons and an avid retro video game collector.

His work is always imaginative and often satisfyingly nostalgic. Brown’s unique method and unrelenting attention to detail make his work one of a kind. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Brown about his inspirations and his goals as an artist. This is what he had to say:

With your Hot Topic Adventure Time submission last year, you won a stack of cash and had your design featured on shirts that are available around the world. Tell me about what went into creating “Curse of the Crown.” 

The idea came from an image I saw a few years back of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I honestly don’t remember if it was for the film, a play, or just some random fan art, but it stuck with me. The similarities between Dr. Jekyll’s and Simon Petrikov’s struggle are easy to see. Both men have good intentions but lose their way and eventually lose themselves.

Once I felt good about my concept, I put it on paper. I drew a rough sketch in pencil then scanned it into Photoshop and traced it using my tablet. After I had it all drawn out in Photoshop, I just added color. When I felt good enough about it, I posted it on Instagram in search of feedback. People seemed to dig it, so I submitted it.

Where do you feel the most inspired? 

Sometimes I’ll see a scene in a movie and it will spark an idea. Other times I’ll be playing an old video game and it will lead to something. Another way I get ideas is by binge watching Netflix. I guess you could say I feel most inspired when I’m on my living room couch.

Describe your process. How has it changed over time? 

When I first started trying to create my designs, I would go straight to Photoshop. My line work was terrible. I didn’t even own a tablet so everything was primarily done with shapes using a mouse. Needless to say, this really limited the number of concepts that I could even try to execute.

After having one of my designs get picked up by one of the smaller “daily tee” sites I decided to take it a bit more seriously and invested in a cheap tablet. After that, it was on! I’ve been slowly venturing into the world of Adobe Illustrator and improving my skills using the tablet. I’m much more free to explore different ideas and styles than I was when I first started.

How has being a father impacted your goals as a designer?

Being a dad truly is the best part of my life. All dads probably say that, but they’re liars! I mean it. My kids are the most supportive and dedicated fan base anyone could ask for. When I got the email saying that I was in the top 20 finalists for the Adventure Time contest, my kids were both right by my side. When I was announced as a winner, my kids were right there again. They were so proud of me.

I’m not sure that they’ve really changed my goals as a designer, but what they have done is free me up from the fear of not winning contests or selling art. I have two of the most loyal and hardcore fans that have ever existed regardless of what I accomplish.

What kind of projects are you working on right now? 

Right now I’m working on a design centered around the famously bad Nintendo controller, the Power Glove. The idea is to parody the famous Arm & Hammer logo but with the third party controller in the place of the hammer. Its actually a pretty simple concept and design that is taking me way longer than it should. Hopefully I’ll be finished with it within the week. It’s starting to feel like work.

After that, I have no set plans. I keep a list of ideas on my phone that I need to go through. Hopefully there’s at least one good one in there.

Brown's most recent piece, which is available right here.
Brown’s most recent piece, which is available right here.

You work on each piece for months at a time. When do you know if an illustration is ready to show off? Do they ever feel complete? 

I usually know I’m done with a project when I start hating it. I can go back to literally any design I’ve done right now and see a ton of things I can add or change. I just don’t have the drive to do it. When it starts to feel more like “work,” that’s usually a sign that the project is coming to an end. I’d rather move onto a new concept than try to perfect an old one that I’m no longer enjoying.

Nostalgia seems to be a reoccurring theme in your portfolio. Why do you think that is?

In the last 10 years, I’ve fallen into a deep nostalgia addiction. I blame my son. It started with my old action figures. He liked playing with them so I brought them all out of storage. Then it was cartoons. I wanted my kids to see all the cartoons that I loved as a kid. Next came video games. That’s when I completely fell off of the wagon. It’s hard not to be inspired by the things that brought me so much joy as a kid, especially when they still bring me joy. It was only natural that these old characters and games would find their way into my portfolio.

What other artists have inspired you? 

My number one inspiration has always been John Kricfalusi, probably best known for Ren & Stimpy. His style is so different from anything else yet manages to always look familiar. You can always spot his work even though so many people try to replicate his style. Whenever I’m drawing for fun with no plans of trying to sell the work or submit it anywhere, I always try to draw like him. I always fail but I keep trying.

Aside from him I’d have to say Ben Durfee. He’s a fellow video game collector who I met on Instagram who happened to be a designer as well. Not only does his work inspire me to improve, but Ben has personally gone out of his way to motivate me to work. Great guy with great talent.

What emotion do you hope your work evokes from viewers?

If something I create evokes any emotion from a person who doesn’t know me personally, I feel like that’s a success. My most popular design, Ooo Corner often gets comments about how happy it makes people. One girl even got it as a tattoo because it made her so happy. Hearing things like that and reading the positive comments definitely makes me feel good, but sometimes I’m surprised by the reactions that make me proud.

One person described my “Curse of the Crown” design as “the most beautifully depressing shirt I’ve ever seen.” It’s my favorite comment to date. I took a screenshot of the comment and sent it to my friends and family. That’s how stoked I was.

“Curse of the Crown.” Winner of an Adventure Time design contest hosted by Hot Topic. Illustration by Daniel Brown.

Where do you see yourself as an illustrator five years from now?

Five years from now, I imagine I’ll be right where I am now, just hopefully more skilled. I would love to see my designs get picked up by the daily sites like Teefury, Ript, Shirtpunch, but I’m content with the little income I get from my Redbubble and Society6 stores.

I just hope to have a whole bunch of new designs up by then. What really frustrates me is when I have a great idea, but I don’t have the skills to bring that idea to life exactly as I see it in my mind. I don’t know where I’ll be in five years as an illustrator, but if by then I’ve overcome that, I feel like that will be enough to consider myself successful.

  • David Wagner

    Great article! Always good to hear from Dano!