Masters of Ink: Dan Park’s Wild and Sublime illustrations

By Jason Thibault

Dan Park is an illustrator and teacher working out of New York. His wildly colorful and raw illustrations grabbed hold of me upon discovering them. I immediately made note of his website so that I could track him down for an interview. And here we go.

What inspired you to first start drawing? Did you struggle in your formative years or did it come easy to you?

I remember drawing unflattering caricatures of teachers and classmates in order to make my friends laugh. Drawing came pretty naturally to me but the ambition for constant improvement was and is a huge struggle.

First professional work (piece / year) and maybe a quick story behind it.

My first professional work was this past year actually. It drew some portraits of business men and women for a Samsung internal annual. The process was a little boring for me and I had to please a lot of people. In the end I wasn’t too happy about the outcome.

Were you self-taught or formally educated? (or mixture of both, mentors etc…)

At an early age, I would go to the public library and read up on art history and I’d try to figure out what was so good about the famous artists out there. It’s hard to remember a day in my life when I didn’t draw, so I guess I’m always in the process self education to a certain degree. I also went to the School of Visual Arts in NY and learned a lot from the illustration chair Tom Woodruff. That was a great experience. I think I’m still learning and being influenced and inspired by everything I encounter.

Tools of the trade: Taking a quick glance over at your pens, brushes etc…what tools have you mainly been using over the last few years?

I am much more of an oil painter but I was having trouble locking down on a look (as I still am). So I decided to make all my illustrative work digital. I pick different tools in painter and I try to experiment. I usually work with scanned textures to add a less mechanical feel and then I get to work. Its pretty frustrating at times and I think I’m going to go back to either traditional paint or ink scans.

How has your toolbox evolved compared to when you first started out?

I guess I’ve honed in on the digital tools that I like.

Favorite brand of ink:

No real ink.

Type of paper:

When I do traditional, I like Arches 300 cold press sheets.

Which artists or creators do you return to for a quick boost of inspiration? Who are the masters of ink?

I look at everyone from Diego Velasquez to Paul Pope. I think the broader the inspiration, the less stagnant my work will be.

Once a client has handed off an illustration job to you, how do you first tackle the job. Could you give us a quick overview of your process?

I haven’t done that much professional work, but when I do, I usually start with research. I try to get a good understand of the subject so that I can convey what I want without the work getting too obvious or naive. Then I make some composition sketches and start on the final. My sketches tend to be pretty loose so that I can have room to explore in the final piece.

What’s currently sitting in your mp3 / CD player / turntable?

Lots and lots of hip hop, classical, folk country, and… THE MARS VOLTA.

What’s hanging on your walls and what is your favorite piece of art that you own (not created by you)?

Haha, I only have my own work on my walls. Even if I had the money to buy my favorite paintings, I think I’d start to get pissed off at the genius of others. My favorite piece that I don’t own right now is the lithograph of Edward Munch’s “Woman in Three Stages”

What’s the last novel you read and last movie that you saw that you’d recommend? Which movies and books do you always return to?

I love Hermann Hesse’s fairy tales and all of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novels (The Idiot in particular). Too many movies to talk about. “UP” made me feel all gushy inside.

Current and upcoming projects?

I’ve been taking a break from illustration in order to pursue my painting career. I wouldn’t mind doing illustration work here and there, but when I fully come back to illustration, I hope to have learned something from my paintings that can add that extra layer that I’ve been looking for.

What would you tell an aspiring artist who is working his ass off but still needs and wants to break through to the next level?

I think that it’s important to be honest in what you want to pursue, while understanding that art is ultimately for other people. It’s a tough balancing act, but I believe that making that connection with the viewer should be the goal. I think although an appreciation of self expression is valid, emphasizing its value can be confusing for young artists that are ready with a defensive response to criticism such as “I meant to do that”. I also think that the process is just as important as the result. Even if everyone else loves my work, I don’t care for it if the process was not meaningful to me. And finally, keep working your ass off.

Discover more about Dan at his website, Dan Park Studio


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