Vans x JD: Meet Dan Whitehouse, Graphic Artist And Illustrator…

This spring, Vans and JD caught up with three mega-talented creatives, who are featured in the latest campaign. Chopping it up and getting their perspective on what it takes to be a full-time creative, these candid accounts will give you some inspo and help you out if you’re looking to turn your creativity into a career, or simply want to be inspired into getting back to what you love doing!

Here’s what Dan (AKA Super Freak) — a Birmingham-based illustrator whose known for his modern take on retro-style cartoons — had to say on how he started out, his inspiration, his unique style and now calling himself a ‘full-time artist’, as well as his advice for aspiring creatives who are just starting out in the game.

So, Dan tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, how you got started?

It goes way back to being a kid. My dad was really into art — more fine art than graphic illustration, but he did these whacky doodles that I loved. He had this folder — I’ll always remember it; it had Mickey Mouse on the front cover, and in there were really great drawings from his secondary school. I just used to sit and copy them, trace over them, and that was what inspired me.

I did art all through school, then college, then graphic design at uni, and I kept doing illustration while on the course. When I finished uni, I had this portfolio of illustration, not graphics, so I found finding a job as a graphic designer was tricky, but it was a blessing in disguise because by the time I’d finished the course it wasn’t really what I wanted to do anyway. So I knuckled down with the illustration and I’m here today shooting because of it.

What inspires your creations?

Old school, retro cartoons from the ’50s. I love them! Especially Mickey Mouse, all Walt Disney. It’s quite present in my artwork, but I’m also trying to find ways of creating a new style that I love.

Music is a big one too. Early on in my “illustration career”, music was a big part of the concepts in my work. I’d often illustrate the lyrics, and just go from there.

How does where you live (Birmingham) inspire you?

It’s interesting because the area I live in is so industrial, which is very much the opposite of the work I create. I think to some degree, the bold colours and big characters I use is my way of creating a contrast to my environment – but I love Birmingham just the way it is.

What’s your favourite medium to work with?

A computer and graphics tablet, which a lot of people will be shocked by, but you can do so much with digital mediums. It’s so easy to replicate those old-school comic styles on a computer, you’ve got so much scope to develop, keep changing and progress the work – BUT, and I don’t mean to backtrack, my favourite medium right now is acrylic paint. I’ve rediscovered it, and it’s inspired me to do a lot more, to challenge myself and give my eyeballs a rest!

What challenges you? How do you overcome creative blocks?

Working alone is such a big thing. That’s why I love meeting up with my mate (Arthur) to make music, every other day. I play guitar, and we have built this supergroup (working title.. The Bozos!) of just insanely talented friends. It’s amazing to have a break from the artwork and allow your brain to reset — that’s how I combat creative blocks. If I’m sitting at home by myself looking at a screen, I’m not going to be inspired, but as soon as you step out and interact with human beings, that’s where the crazy good ideas come out.

What’s a typical week like for you?

My weeks vary. Half working on commissions and clients, and the other half doing music and socialising. I got mega bogged down with taking too much stuff on, so it’s really important to have a life. There has to be a balance. I was painting last night til’ 3, but I did that because I love it — I’m driven to do the work.

What does the future hold for you?

I’d like to get more into painting; transition from illustrator to artist. I want to push my characters and style even further, so it can stand alone just as a piece of art, you know, to create work just to create — without an agenda, just having fun with it. I’d also love to have my own clothing label, taking my work and adapting it to suit the market and what people are craving. I feel my work right now is inclusive and I’d love to continue that, ultimately creating a fashion brand for anyone and everyone.

What advice would you give to aspiring young artists?

It’s scary. It was hard to get support from people surrounding me early on. When you’re a kid, family and friends will often just see drawing as a pastime, and you can see their struggle in how you would be able to turn it into a career, but it’s so worth it — you just have to stick at it. And eventually, it will pay off and you will skyrocket!

What does ‘Off The Wall’ mean to you?

Out of the ordinary — doing things a bit differently. Vans gave me the opportunity to just run wild in an abandoned warehouse and just be free to create. Let’s get wild and wacky!

Get the lowdown on Hel Covell here, and shop all things Vans, including Dan’s looks, over at JD now!

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