"I find that the majority of my inspiration comes from my dreams. I usually have very vivid dreams and I remember a lot of them. So, when I sit down to draw or paint, odds are the end product is something that started out when I was sleeping. "
Daniel Reneau is a Denver-based illustrator who specializes in the dark and edgy. Known by the moniker Danielbdemented, I am happy to report that he is, in fact, a lovely person who wasn’t nearly as terrifying as his name would have you believe. With an eye for finding the beauty in the darkest of places, Daniel’s portfolio tends towards skeletal figures and incorporates elements of steampunk and science fiction. During our conversation, we discussed Halloween, weird dreams, and the influence sites like Redbubble have on the emerging artist.
Amber Lena: Your artwork definitely tends towards the macabre. Have you always had a fascination with darker themes, or did your style evolve over time?
Daniel Reneau: Well, I’ve always leaned over toward the darker side of things. All the stuff in the dark that isn’t very pleasant and a lot of people think would be best left forgotten – I’ve always been fascinated with that stuff. I like to delve into that space, take those things and then mold them into something that suits me. In fact, back in 4th grade my class was making Halloween decorations to place outside the classroom for everyone to see as they walked through the hallways. Most of the drawings were standard Halloween stuff; bats, pumpkins, witches… So when we turned in our artwork my teacher was a bit surprised by mine, because I had drawn a group of bloody, skinless monsters ripping a man apart because they wanted his skin. I had one monster wearing the man’s severed head for a hat, and the Grim Reaper sitting on a tombstone overseeing the proceedings. She still hung it up in the hall though!
Amber: Where do you find your inspiration? Do you have a favorite band, a favorite movie, or another artist that has really influenced your work?
Daniel: I find that the majority of my inspiration comes from my dreams. I usually have very vivid dreams and I remember a lot of them. So, when I sit down to draw or paint, odds are the end product is something that started out when I was sleeping. That said, there are a few artists that have inspired me quite a bit. I discovered [H.R.] Giger in high school, and his work blew my mind wide open. Another artist that really grabbed my attention and inspired me in new ways is Yukito Kishiro – he’s the creator of the manga “Battle Angel Alita.” His imagination and eye for detail is amazing. I’ve also found inspiration on the opposite side of the spectrum in the pinup work of Gil Elvgren, so for me, inspiration comes from all over the place.
Amber: While most your work contains dark themes, I also see a lot of mixing of genres: steampunk, fantasy, and even a little rockabilly influence. Then you have works like “Love Bomber” which have a brighter pop to them. Have you always dabbled in mixing genres?
Daniel: For the longest time I was rooted very deeply in dark, disturbing, gory art. I love that stuff, but right around six or seven years ago I wanted to expand my repertoire, so I just started playing around with different elements. I found that by doing that I’ve not only gained more freedom in how I approach a project, but I can take one aspect and play it against something else; if the whole image is dark and spooky that’s fine – but if I add something else to offset it, I gain a contrast of elements and another layer to whatever story it is I might be trying to tell. Of course, it’s also nice to completely mix it up every once in a while. Trying something that’s totally outside of your usual fare can open up your eyes to possibilities you’ve never contemplated. With “Love Bomber” I just decided to do a fun little pinup on a whim and I really enjoyed making it, so I plan on integrating more of that pinup feel in the future. In fact, I think my painting “Kiss of Death” is a good example of the fusion between “Love Bomber” and my natural stylistic tendencies.
"...when it comes to art, make what you're passionate about - that goes for subject matter, medium, and how you apply it. If you have a true passion for what you're doing, you'll enjoy it more and it'll show through in the finished art. It will make your art uniquely your own, and that's what will draw people to your work."
Amber: I have a particular interest in your work “Commute“. From my perspective, it’s a big commentary on the typical “9-5” job. Tell me more about it.
Daniel: Yeah, I think you’ve hit it dead-on. “Commute” is rooted in a particular man I saw crossing the street many years ago in downtown Denver. This guy was dressed in his pressed suit and tie, had his briefcase and a large, shiny watch… but when I looked at his face he was so sallow, so drained, and unhappy – like he could drop dead and everyone else would just continue to shuffle along to their next appointment. He was a suit in a sea of suits, and that’s the last thing I wanted my future to hold, so it basically served as an affirmation of what I wanted to do with my art.
Amber: What are your favorite materials/mediums to work with? If you could only use one for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
Daniel: I really love pen and ink, and it was my staple for many, many years. However, I’ve come to really enjoy working digitally (mostly in Painter) and have concentrated the majority of my time in that medium for a few years now. So, odds are if you make me choose just one…I’ll probably stick to digital. It’s just so versatile, and I feel as though I’ve only just scratched the surface of my potential in the digital realm, so I just want to keep improving.
Amber: Share one piece of advice that you’ve been given that has stuck with you over your artistic career. Any words of wisdom to pass on to someone who may be afraid to take the leap and post their work online via sites like Redbubble?
Daniel: The one big piece of advice that I’ve been given is to stick to your guns. That is, when it comes to art, make what you’re passionate about – that goes for subject matter, medium, and how you apply it. If you have a true passion for what you’re doing, you’ll enjoy it more and it’ll show through in the finished art. It will make your art uniquely your own, and that’s what will draw people to your work.
This also goes for showing your work in a public forum like Redbubble. You can’t be afraid to put yourself out there and see what happens. With sites like Redbubble you have an outlet that gives your art the opportunity to be seen by thousands upon thousands of people all around the world, that’s free exposure on a scale I never would’ve dreamed my art getting when I was in high school. For example, my painting “Dapper Cthulhu” took off through Redbubble, then was spread throughout Pinterest, Tumblr, and Facebook, and that’s something I never anticipated. For an artist, it’s an amazing opportunity to make a name for yourself, your art, and make some cash while you’re at it. The fact that there are people as far away as Australia and Germany who loved my art so much they’re wearing it on a shirt, or covering their iPhone with it – that’s absolutely amazing in my book. I only regret I didn’t join Redbubble sooner.