Meet the Featured Art Artist

This year’s featured art is by Dan Grissom. Read our interview with Dan to learn more about the artist and work behind the featured art piece.

Tell us about yourself, your artistic background/career, where you are from and where you live now.
I grew up in very rural Louisiana. I was always drawing or doing something art related while growing up and decided to pursue a degree in graphic design. Once settled into college, I got more into the studio art classes and ended up going on to pursue a Master’s Degree in Studio Art (focusing on painting and printmaking) after getting a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Communication.

After grad school in East Texas, I moved to Austin in the Summer of 2006 because I had friends who lived here and I was also playing in some bands and it seemed like a good place to be for that. I worked as a designer at a sign shop for a few years and then got a job at the now defunct Sanctuary Printshop. There I learned more about screen printing and got my start designing screen printed posters, but I still hadn’t fully embraced illustration as my path. After a few years at Sanctuary, I left and got a job printing for Tim Doyle, who is also an Armadillo Christmas Bazaar Artist. Nakatomi, Tim’s print shop, tends to print posters that lean more toward hand drawn illustration and less toward traditional design and vector illustration, which is more what I’d previously focused on. Printing for lots of great illustrators at Nakatomi and seeing their work up close inspired me to get back into drawing more. I thought it might be a good thing in my tool kit as a designer. I took to it pretty quickly. For the next few years I created my own art prints and took on as much freelance illustration work as possible while still printing at Nakatomi. I tried doing a few craft shows and art markets to sell my prints and those went pretty well. At a certain point, I crunched the numbers and realized I could make enough with selling my prints and doing some freelance illustration work and that I didn’t really need to have a day job anymore. And without a day job, I could focus way more on my own work. So in the Spring of 2017, I left my job at Nakatomi and began the often wonderful and occasionally terrifying journey of being a self-employed artist. I have a fully operational screen printing and letterpress studio in my two-car garage in south Austin. I call that studio Biscuit Press and have now employed my friend Robert Steel to help with the printing of my posters as well as take on outside print work for other artists and designers.

What was your favorite part to create in the featured art piece?
When I was thinking about the direction I wanted to take the featured art this year, I thought about having some baby armadillos in there as well instead of just the adult armadillo often seen in the past. I did this not only because baby armadillos are pretty cute, but also because the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar is very much a family environment. Not only are there always lots of people there with their families, but I’ve also met so many people for whom the Armadillo is a family tradition. So many people tell me stories about coming to the Armadillo with their parents growing up and now they are bringing their kids to see all the art and music. So when I was researching armadillos and specifically baby armadillos, I learned that 9-banded armadillos almost always have identical quadruplets. I love that little piece of trivia, and since I’m a stickler for details like that, I had to include four baby armadillos.

Tell us about your history with the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar.
My first real taste of the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar was when I was working as a printer for Tim Doyle at Nakatomi. The first year he was a part of the Armadillo, I worked his booth for a good bit of the show. Then when I started focusing on my own prints and doing similar shows I always had the Armadillo in the back of my mind as something I’d like to try myself once I felt like I had enough work to present and was ready. I knew from working Tim’s booth that it was a big commitment, but I wanted to give it a shot at some point. Then in 2017, since I didn’t have my day job anymore and could handle the commitment, I applied and got in. 2020 will be my fourth year. It’s a great show run by great people, so I’m really happy to be a part of it.

Tell us about the first dollar you made selling your art.
It wasn’t a dollar, but the first piece of art I sold was to my Grandfather. I was maybe around 4 years old and I had told him I was going to be an artist when I grew up and he said he wanted to be my first customer. So I drew him two little drawings of flowers and he gave me a quarter for each of them. My Grandmother still has those two little drawings framed in her room.

If you were to work in any other medium, what would it be?
All of the above. I constantly see the work of other artists working in other mediums and want to try everything. I just bought the house I live in, so I’m currently thinking about trying my hand at some custom mosaic tile pieces and maybe even some stained glass pieces. I still paint sometimes as well, but one thing that really appeals to me about printmaking is that I think it sort of democratizes art in a way. Screen printing, in particular is sort of a mid-point between fine art and commercial printing. All of my colors are mixed by hand and every color layer is printed by hand, but since printmakers are making multiples, we can generally keep the price of our prints a bit lower than many other mediums. I came from a working class family so I really like that I can keep my art accessible to people from similar backgrounds. I’ve had many people buy my work and tell me it’s the first piece of art they’ve ever bought and that makes me feel great.

How did you get started creating posters?
I’m a musician as well, so my early posters were for the bands I was playing in. Mostly printed on copy machines that I had access to. Then as I started honing my skills with design, illustration, and printmaking, the possibilities opened up quite a bit. After creating posters for my own bands and working as a designer, I started getting hired by friends’ bands to create posters for them. Then the more I learned about the world of screen printed posters and the more I worked as a printer, the more I developed my own style. At this point I was still just thinking of myself as a designer and maybe a commercial illustrator, but eventually I started trying to create my own illustrations that could exist as art prints rather than being commercial projects for bands or businesses. Once I starting thinking about things in that way, my career really opened up. I’m now at the point where I’m taking on less freelance work and focusing on my own prints instead.

Is there any wisdom you would like to pass on to emerging artists?
I think my advice to emerging artists would also be my advice to everyone. Be very careful about debt. One of the biggest hurdles I had in trying to transition to being a full-time artist was that I had a big chunk of credit card debt from when I was in college and just out of college. Having that debt hanging over me made everything way more difficult when I started looking into becoming a self-employed artist. I’m out from under that now and life is much easier.