Illustration Friday Interview – Danny Gregory

I just posted a new IF interview with Danny Gregory. Danny is the author and illustrator of several books including EveryDay Matters and The Creative License. His work and his writing inspired a creative community called EveryDay Matters to rise up, pay attention and draw everything in sight. Cool stuff.

Hope you dig it!


Danny Gregory is an author, illustrator, creative director, copywriter and teacher. His books include Everyday Matters: a memoir (lauded by R. Crumb, Chris Ware, Ronald Searle and hailed as one of the best of the Year by Comics Journal; available in hardcover, paperback and even a Korean edition); The Creative License: Giving yourself permission to be the artist you truly are (one of the bestselling art instruction and inspiration of the last year) Hello World: a life in ham radio; E; Change Your Underwear Twice a Week: lessons from the golden age of classroom filmstrips.

Danny has illustrated books for Workman and F+W. His illustrations regularly appear in the New York Times, Black Book, Print, HOW, More, LA Weekly and other publications. He is also a contributing artist to The Morning News. He is an award-winning creative director who has created advertising campaigns for Chase, Crayola, American Express, IBM, Ford Motor Company, Burger King, AT&T and many others.

Danny was born in London, grew up in Pakistan, Australia and Israel, is a summa cum laude graduate of Princeton University and lives in Greenwich Village with his wife and son. Every day, thousands visit his website,, for discussions about art and creativity and a regular dose of his watercolor journals.

How did you get started in the illustration field?

I guess I just stumbled into it. My third book, Everyday Matters, was the story of how I learned to draw. Various people saw it and contacted me about doing drawings for them. One was an editor at the NY Times, another was the publisher of the Morning News. Then as my website,, developed, various people got in touch with me to do drawings for them. So I guess it just happened, not very organized or systematic, I’m afraid.

How did you find your style? Has it changed since you started?

I think my technical abilities have improved and I have more facility with drawing but my style is so much based on just looking at some thing and drawing it. I envy illustrators who have a refined look or technique but when I try to do something more polished or stylized it gets very constipated and ordinary and people complain.

What is your process when working with clients? Can you run us through a typical job? What is your creative process?

I generally get an email or phone call describing the general problem the art director is trying to solve. I have a knack for presenting complex information in an interesting way. Sometimes that might mean doing some research, journalistic work really, even interviewing people, observing them, traveling around a bit I take some pictures with my digital camera, gather up some reference from books or magazines or, reluctantly, Google (the images are usually so awful. Next I’ll do a few drawings and write some text. I do the former on hot press watercolor paper with a Rapidograph, working directly in ink. I scan them into my mac and blow them up, rearrange them, until I feel like the composition is working. I’ll place the words I’ve written in my personal font for position. Then I’ll redraw everything to a similar scale, letter the words with a dip pen and ink, and start painting in watercolors. I’ll fire off a PDF to my client, await comments. Then, if necessary I make adjustments in Photoshop and InDesign. I generally can’t create my art on the computer but it’s helpful for pasteup and cleanup work.

How do you market/promote your work?

I find my website is very helpful. Thousands of people, many in design field visit my site regularly and that’s been pretty productive. I update it a lot and encourage links to other peopleâ??s sites. Itâ??s a bit like gardening, always weeding, pruning, watering, I’ve tried doing some elaborate blind mailings, generally sending out copies of my books to art directors, but it’s not been terribly successful. I am not a full-time illustrator or I’d be a lot more panicky and industrious.

Do you have a rep? Why/why not?

I have a literary agent but not a rep. I’ve thought about it but I don’t know how much work Iâ??d get so I wonder if it would be worth a rep’s time. Probably a self-defeating attitude but there you have it. If anyone reading this is a rep and have time to talk, I’d love to chat.

What was one of your favorite assignments?

I recently did a cover for HOW magazine that was about illustration. It was interestingly self-reflexive. Probably my favorite assignment was either Dogs in Coats or Christmas in China Town for the NY Times because I got to do a lot of fun research. Or was it the trip I got to take with my wife to do 60 ink wash drawings of Paris for a book for F+W? My weirdest assignment was attending the International Sex trade show in Berlin for Print Magazine. I drew dozens of different dildoes and several porn stars.

What is the best part about what you do?

I love to draw. I love to paint. I love to solve problems. I love to work with smart people. And getting paid for it? No complaints.

Describe your work setting.

I have a crowded 1960 Swedish teak desk, with crowded pigeon holes full of junk. It is surrounded by my bookshelves and my extensive taxidermy collection. My actual work surface i less than three feet wide and a foot deep. If I need more room, I go to my stone dining table. A lot of my work is done on location, sitting on a little folding stool.

Do you have side projects you work on?

I love to work on my illustrated journals. I also write a blog and run an online group of 2500 people who also love to draw.

How do you maintain balance in your life between work and play? What do you do for fun when you’re not working?

Play? I love to work, to make things, to learn. I spend my spare time with my wife, son and dogs, usually making stuff or just horsing around. But I get up early and stay up late and try to cram as much as possible into each day.

Do you ever have creative slumps? What do you do then?

Everyone does, I guess. I donâ??t think much about hem though,. I am too busy with stuff and find that slumps are just depressing. I move onto something else, take a walk, go to a gallery, watch American Idol, take a nap, and then a solution usually shows up. I refuse to let it get me down.

What has been inspiring you lately?

I am working on a book about people’s illustrated Journals. It is so amazing to see how many ways people record their lives and it just makes me itch to draw. My son and I have been doing drawings from a new book that Burt Dodson just sent me. Itâ??s called Keys to Drawing with Imagination and it’s full of ideas that reshuffle my deck. Check it out. I have been doing a lot of drawings from mug shots and doing a lot of comic strips for the first time since I was fifteen. I have also been working small for the past few months, carrying a wee watercolor Moleskine with me and itâ??s been a great inspiration.

Any advice for others who are pursuing creative goals?

Work hard. Keep going. Be disciplined. Donâ??t listen to other people too much. Set yourself challenges. Experiment. Shut up and draw. Have fun. Be nice. Eat greens.

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Posted by penelope on 03/16/07 under Interviews

  • rama

    this guy is the coolest. over the winter holiday, he sent me an email just to say hi and, the next time i checked my messages, he’d sent me a drawing… OF ME! that he drew from a photo he found on flickr. i hope you don’t mind, he said. “mind”?! he’s danny gregory!! so cool.

  • chamki

    I think Danny Gregory is a very interesting person other than his art. A friend of mine has been able to write to him and he responded as the first comment goes. Its really nice for artists, their work and their views to be accessible to people like me who are sailing along and are hugely interested.
    Thank you Penelope, for the interview.

  • irisz

    I love IF interviews, so great to read about different artists, and it’s nice that you have a blog too!

    All the bests!

  • an9ie

    What an awesome interview! I love how Danny is able to be so honest about himself and his work – it was pretty inspirational and I feel recharged and ready to make plans again! Gonna check out his website now. Thanks so much for putting this up, guys, you’ve really made my day!

  • jane lafazio

    Fascinating interview. I’m a BIG Danny fan, but I learned a lot of stuff from this interview that I didn’t know before..And yea, he’s a great and generous guy.

  • susan riegel

    you are a fabulous inspiration. C. Morris connected me to you this summer and I have shared you with all of my students. I just taught a workshop called “Artful Journals” the other day because I felt confident enough to do it but you have helped me to stay on this path…my daughter has been journaling for many years and shes only 23, her journals are amazing art pieces but yours rang true to me in a different way. My son Jess, illustrates for his college ucsb newspaper and I would love for the two of you to connect. You are very important to my family and friends and I wanted you to know this. Thanks for being you, keep up the awesome work!! Susan

  • Gabriel Ebensoerger

    A very nurturing read. Danny if you are reading this, you are a true inspiration, thanks!

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