An illustrator and designer based out of Austin, you may have already seen Abi Daniel's work around. Besides helping to run the Bearded Lady screen print shop, HELM has been lucky enough to snag her skills as have previous clients like Lands End, Magnolia Pictures, Little Barrel and Brown, Bioware and Haute House Beauty. As our featured artist in the brick and mortar space throughout February, we wanted to get to know Abi a bit more and find out how her career kicked off.
Where are you originally from/what brought you to Austin?
I’m a native Texan, born and raised in a big family in the Houston burbs. I went to art school for illustration at MICA in Baltimore, and landed in Austin on a lark after a post-graduation road trip in the summer of 2001. The city got it’s hooks in me and I’ve been here ever since.
When and why did you start making art?
I’ve been making art since I could grab a crayon in my fat little baby fist. I was homeschooled and had many hours to fill while I waited for kids in my neighborhood to get home from school to play. I’d go through massive stacks of paper drawing characters and illustrating little narratives I’d craft to keep myself entertained. I very much lived inside a little fantasy world. As I got older I kept up with the drawing and took classes, and by the time I realized I was sadly not destined to become an olympic swimmer, I set my sights on going to art school up North. The experience of art school was like nirvana for me, and Illustration was a natural choice. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to make a living off of doing something that is so fun for me. I’m very grateful for my training and for all the projects I’ve had the opportunity to work on.
Tell us about one of your most challenging projects or favorite past projects -
I illustrated a book in 2016 written by a very good friend who also happens to be a journalist and writer. It’s called How To Be A Texan, and features something like 60 realistic graphite illustrations. It was a hefty project, but very fun and very gratifying.
What are your inspirations currently and how do they help you create?
I was captivated as a child by the dense, intricate, and often dark or morbid illustrations in old gothic fairytale books like Grimm's. Some lasting inspirations are Albrecht Dürer Arthur Rackham, artists from the Brandywine School and the Vienna Secession like Koloman Moser, Howard Pyle, and Norbertine Von Bresslern-Roth. I enjoy applying the symbolic language of fables, allegories, fairy tales, and parables to concepts I have knocking about my head. I especially like to apply these influences when I work with my burner tool on wood. I lean into detailed line-work when I use this process, and overlay that with transparent glazes of oil paint. For this particular group of pieces, I sought out some materials that would talk back to me as I worked. With the help of my friends at Harvest Lumber, I got my hands on several hefty chunks of bark-encrusted timber that are all kinds of odd organic shapes. I found myself unable to move forward with each piece until I’d allowed the knotty grain of the wood to dictate something about the imagery or composition. So each piece represents a sort of agreement that the material and I came to, together. All of these pieces illustrate a fragment or moment from a larger narrative that wrote itself in my head as I was worked on them, and I’ve inadvertently composed little paragraphs that hint at the possibility of larger stories. I may include these little snippets of words in the show.
What’s some advice you would give to someone interested in creating art as a career?
Oh man. Don’t get discouraged? Trying to turn a passion for art into a career is a big challenge, a constant struggle, and a rollercoaster. But also it is so very rewarding. Try to figure out what’s important to you and make sure that you’re willing to make the sacrifices necessary to get yourself rolling. Make sure you don’t mind being really broke sometimes. Seek out mentors. Expand your sphere of influences at every opportunity. Learn from those around you. Stay humble. Work as much as you can.
Any projects that you have in the works that you’re excited about?
I just finished artwork for a screen print that my friend Elizabeth Kovach (Salty Broad Press) is printing and releasing in Chicago. It’s a three-color print that uses transparent overlay to make five colors, and I’ve very excited to see it come off the press. I also have an as-yet unreleased beer can collaboration in the works that I’m pretty stoked on, using one of my watercolors.