Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got into painting?
I started drawing and painting at a very early age (around age 4). Creating art was just something that I always gravitated towards. I had a passion for it and it was encouraged by my family, friends and teachers as I grew older. I eventually went to college for illustration. I have been painting professionally since graduating in 2001.
How did the first idea of your ‘gentle creatures’ come about? Were you looking for a unique subject and style that would be very representative of your work in the future or has the image of the creatures always been in your mind?
The idea evolved organically over the years. I did not start calling them “Gentle Creatures” until 2012. The idea of finding a “style” was on my mind when I graduated college and started looking for illustration jobs. I quickly realised that I needed to go back to the way I would draw as a kid and apply the techniques that I learned from years of training. I could now bring the surreal world that lived within me to life. My hope was that if I explored my ideas further it would allow a "style" to naturally evolve. The first movie I ever saw in the theatre was E.T. Looking back now, I realise that the gentle spirit of this creature from another world had such a profound affect on me… and ultimately the type of art that I would create. I hope that my work reflects that spirit of mystery and wonderment that I experienced while watching that movie.
Your creatures are giant, yet very kind. They’re packed with human emotions and often come across vulnerable and sad, or as little children full of curiosity about the world around them. What are you trying to convey with the creatures and what do they mean to you?
As I mentioned in my previous response, I think that I am trying to capture a certain feeling of mystery and wonderment with my work. There is definitely a childlike quality mixed with a more “experienced” feeling of the true weight of the world. Some of the creatures in my world have faced a great deal, they have experienced sadness and great loss, but I always feel like there is a glimmer of hope and a celebration of happiness as well. Watching my son experience the world (he’s 2 and a half) I am constantly inspired by his curiosity… it has definitely influenced my work in such a powerful way.
The amount of details and movement you’re able to transmit into your paintings and also the feelings forecasted onto the creatures is incredible. How long on average does it take you to create one painting and what is your creative process like?
I definitely get into the details… to an obsessive level sometimes! As far as how long a piece takes, it really depends on the size and complexity of the painting. It can be anywhere from a few days to a couple months from concept to finish.
A few months back you started your ‘Daily Creature Project’. Can you tell us a bit about that and what it involves?
Around the middle of last year, my wife (who is my business manager) suggested I start creating some small drawings and offering them weekly or monthly… I said half jokingly, maybe each day? So, when the year began I set the goal of creating one unique drawing each day of the year. I would carve out a section of the day and come up with an idea and then offer it up to my collectors. I had no idea how popular this concept would become, but it has really taken off. I am now up to day 118. It has been such a challenge to not only execute the ideas, but to come up with something new and interesting each day. I love a challenge though and it has helped me to flesh out ideas for future paintings and has really kept me on my toes creatively. I hope to create a book of the entire series once the year is complete. When I look at the entire project, it is definitely overwhelming, but I literally just have to take it “one day at a time”.
One of your most popular paintings currently at caseable is the “Hopeless Wanderer“. Why do you think that is and what is the painting telling?
Interesting. That piece has definitely been one of my more popular images. I created it in 2013 for the initial “Gentle Creatures” series. I am not sure why it is so popular, but I am pleased to hear that people are responding to it.
What is the average day like in the life of Dan May?
Well, my days are generally packed from the moment I wake up, until heading off to bed. I am definitely a ‘night owl’ by nature. A typical day begins with coffee and breakfast (in the afternoon, as I am up very late), spending time with my wife and son and then digging into office work (emails, printing, packing, shipping, etc.) I take a break to have dinner with my family, try to work out and then it’s off to drawing/painting until about 4 or 5am. I work seven days a week… I love what I do! We have another son on the way this summer… so it will be interesting to see how my schedule will adjust and what things will look like after his birth. There’s always that adjustment period :)
Was there ever time when you told yourself “perhaps I should look for another job”? What were some major struggles you had to overcome as an artist to get to where you are now?
It’s funny, looking back now there were definitely many ups and downs; especially with a couple of downturns in the economy. Not the best time to be starting a career... and in the arts no less. I never really thought seriously about doing anything else. That said, I would from time to time ruminate on it early on… even though deep down I always knew that creating art is something that I dedicated my life to and there were no other options. Anytime there was a difficult patch and I would find myself in a rut, my wife was there to pull me out of it and remind me why I began this journey. Making art for a living is never an easy thing to do. The first few years of my career I never turned down a single job and I was constantly trying to work with creative people, creating material and just generally trying to focus on getting better as an artist. I still have a long way to go and many things that I would like to accomplish. I am truly thankful to have such dedicated and passionate fans of my work. Without them, this would not even be possible.
What are your future plans? Is there a certain project you’d like to undertake?
My wife and I have been working on a book of my art. It will encompass the past several years of Gentle Creatures" artwork
Tell us something about you that might surprise our readers.
Well, I do not watch tv… not for any particular reason other than I have no time. I really enjoy listening to podcasts as well as music while I paint. There are some excellent podcasts out there and it's such a great medium to get information and entertainment while painting. I am also trying to fit in more reading time... perhaps I should start streaming books?