Danny Gregory

05/28/15

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A few years ago, I discovered the work of Danny Gregory, artist, author and teacher of amazing talent and energy.  If you aren’t familiar with Danny or his fantastic array of words and pictures, you can find his website/blog here. He as written many best-selling books on art and creativity, is an avid sketchbook keeper, and runs an online art school. Before becoming a full time artist & author, Danny worked in advertising as a creative director.

I am continually impressed by Danny’s enthusiasm & commitment to encouraging us (all of us) to find the creative potential that lurks in every corner of our beings. I absolutely love his latest work, Art Before Breakfast, a funny & easy to access book designed for aspiring artists who want to draw but are struggling to find the time or inspiration. In the book, he offers 5– to 10–minute exercises to into any schedule, even at the breakfast table!

This week I present to you the ever-inspiring Danny Gregory in my Interview with People I Admire Series!

 

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Lisa: Danny, when did you start making art and how long have you been at it? When did you start writing books about making art?

Danny: Well, I have had two stretches of being an artist.  The first started when I was about 18 months old.  I was very productive — worked in many media, drew, painted, sculpted, danced, sang, composed, wrote books, plays, poems, had a major retrospective on my grandmother’s fridge. Then, when I was, oh, about eleven, I retired. When I was in my mid-thirties, I started again, but for very different reasons. My son had just been born when my wife was in a terrible accident and was left paralyzed. In a desperate search for meaning in a world that suddenly seemed pointless, I found an urge to draw. I began by drawing the things around me — cups, bagels, toilets — and soon discovered they were all beautiful. I haven’t stopped drawing since.

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Lisa: What an amazing story! Danny, one of the things I love most about your new book is that you address the elephant in the room right off the bat – and that is the fact that most people feel like they don’t have time to be creative or make art. But what you argue is that spending what little time you have being creative (even if it’s in line at the doctor’s office) will make your life richer, more interesting and you’ll be more present with yourself and the world around you. Talk about why it really matters that we spend time being creative, even though we are busy people.

Danny: The world is chaotic. It’s an endless barrage of experiences and input that can be overwhelming. Art gives it order. Making stuff makes it make sense. By putting a frame around our experiences, by choosing things to highlight, by writing down stories, we carve a path through the chaos. We explore and define what matters to us. We share that perspective with others, giving them a way of looking the world, and joining us all together.  How can we be too busy to do that for a few minutes a day? What’s more important? Your Facebook update? Real Housewives? The halftime score?

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Lisa: Tell us about the idea of making art before breakfast.

Danny: My life is as jam-packed as anyone’s. I have career, a family, New York City, two small dogs with small bladders, and very little time to call my own.  So I thought I’d try setting my alarm a half hour earlier, just to see if I could use that time as Me Time. Sure, I was cranky at first when the alarm went off, but I discovered that this half hour, when the world is still at bay, impacted all the hours that followed. I would listen to music, look through old yearbooks, study my son’s turtle, let my dogs wander wherever they wanted in the park and just try to see the morning as they did. And I opened my journal, recording these special moments in words and pictures as they unfolded.

This idea, of making art before breakfast, was a revelation to me. Not that you have literally to wake up early, but that taking a few minutes here or there that would otherwise be taken up by the demands of others, was really important to me. In my latest book, I suggest to people that they take a few of these moments between moments— while they wait for the kettle to boil or the spin cycle to conclude or the commercials to end or the elevator to arrive — and pull out a sketchbook and draw for a minute or two, instead of drumming their fingers, picking their noses, or checking their email.

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Lisa: One think you and I have in common is that we tell people NOT to follow the rules in art-making. Why, in your opinion, is it important not to pay attention to the rules?

Danny: There are a number of reasons.  First, creative people question assumptions. That’s how we cause change. And change is vital, now more than ever, because the world is full of new problems and we have to find better ways. That’s another reason art and creativity matter so much and why we can’t limit ourselves with what has been.

I also think it’s ridiculous to worry about rules when you’re making art.  The “Law” of perspective is open to interpretation. You can paint with your fingers, you can draw in books, you can write with a chocolate bar, you can draw the President with a mullet or a machete or a six-foot-prehensile trunk if you want.
I meet a lot of people who are terrified of being creative. Terrified by something stupid a second grade teacher once said, by wasting expensive blank paper, by drawing a wonky line or singing off-key. Who cares? No one is watching. Break the rules.  The art police are too busy guarding the billion dollar auction at Sothebys to care if you screw up a drawing of your cat.

{Danny draws with his dog!}

Lisa: Okay, yet another thing I love about your new book is that your activities get people to look at the world in ways they wouldn’t normally and then draw the unexpected – for example, looking at & drawing the details in a piece of toast, at shadows & reflections, etc. You must have had so much fun coming up with these activities! Which of the activities in your book is your favorite and why?

Danny: I love drawing toast. I did it this morning. It reminds me of when I drew maps as a kid and I pretend I’m in a spacesuit wandering through a vast, uncharted terrain of sourdough. I also loved painting with condiments.  Recording my ten favorite breakfast foods. Drawing on a treadmill at the gym. And copying a six-year-old’s painting of a monster as if were a master drawing.

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Lisa: So often people say, “I want to draw, but I don’t know what to draw” and your book is also chock full of ideas for things to draw. What do you hope your book shows the average person who wants to be more creative but isn’t sure where to start?

Danny: Start now.  You don’t need to take a weekend watercolor workshop or sign up for sketching at the Y on Tuesday evenings or buy another bulging bagful of markers at Dick Blick. Just pick up a damned pen and draw whatever is in front of you, even your computer as you read this blog post! Go on. Yes, I’m talking to you.

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Lisa: Tell us where people can find you online if they want to learn more from you?

Danny: They can visit my website. I’m usually there after breakfast.

Lisa: And you can get Danny’s latest book here or wherever books are sold! Thank you Danny! Always a pleasure.

Have a great Thursday, friends!

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