Dan Reed is everything I wanted to be when I grew up. He paints our “love affair” with the 1950’s and captures it’s allure by painting classic automobiles. I so wanted to use the word “cars” but I thought it uncouth; it’s like calling the Venus De Milo a lawn ornament.
I grew up in the “car culture.” My dad was and still is a big “motorhead.” I was more interested in getting from one place to another. Ironically it was my dad that brought Dan and I together. My dad saw this awesome painting, which happened to be Dan’s, and they became Facebook friends. When I happened to need a Christmas present for my dad; it was a match made in Heaven. What followed shortly after was a very enjoyable lunch at the Peanut Bar.
Now one does not have to be Freud to see my envy towards Dan. Dan masters perspective and has a view of the world that would make you think that he is three feet tall. Not at all, rather it’s the angle of his reference photos that best capture the beautiful curves of a classic automobile. He only paints the cars he has seen so it becomes a personal connection. Maybe it is a stealing from childhood memories and an affinity for the automobile he still shares with his dad. Which is why his dad frequently visits him at work. If Dan isn’t at his home studio, he can be found at many of the invitational auto shows. It’s a busy season and a niche market that he has successfully navigated through. He can tell it better than I can.
How did you get started making art?
I don’t know. (Laughs) I guess like most of us, I started when I was a kid. I wasn’t good at sports…the only thing I was really into was art and music and by the time I reached college, it was the only thing I could even contemplate.
Did you receive any formal art training? Where and what did you major in?
My only formal training was at West Chester University as an art major. I was specifically a graphic design major but when I actually started taking things like pottery and sculpting, I found out I had a better knack at painting than graphic design. So, that’s the route I wound up going. I switched over about halfway through my college years.
Can you describe your work in general for the readers?
Most recently, especially in the last ten years, I really started billing myself as an automotive fine artist because that’s my craft. My interest in classic and antique automobiles goes back as far as my interest in art. So it was really a natural progression.
I paint all in acrylics.
Why did you start painting cars?
Gus Sermas (his art professor) told me I should (laughs). It’s funny cause the graphic design instructor that I had at the time came over my shoulder one day while I was in between classes, doing my own painting and said, “You’re not going to make money painting cars.” Sermas is the one who told me to paint what you know.
What are your thoughts on perfection?
I don’t know if I’m a perfectionist. This is a good question because I really don’t know the answer. It’s so subjective. It’s nice when people comment on my work and I think as an outsider, a lot of people put me into that category when it comes to the detail. A lot of people say, “Oh my gosh, I feel like I could walk into that canvas, open the door and sit in that car.” But it’s not something I’m necessarily conscious of. When I put paint to canvas, I find myself more recently trying to get away from some of the real minute detail and I think Sermas is still in the back of my head saying, “Use a bigger brush…put more paint on the canvas.” I tend to start a canvas that way. I throw the paint on and one great thing I like about acrylics is that it dries in ten minutes so I can put a second layer on.
Tell me about some of your favorite techniques?
For the automotive type artwork there has to be a certain amount of tightness. Unlike the backgrounds in my paintings that aren’t drawn in, the car is. One of my techniques is the good old fashioned, find the vanishing points, get the perspective right and I lay the canvas flat on a large work table so my vanishing point may be out several inches from the canvas itself. That technique allows me to get the car in proportion because if it looks out of proportion, people spot that a mile away. These car guys are going to know if I painted a ’37 Packard. They’ll know if the fenders aren’t right or if the headlights aren’t in the right position. So I’m a stickler when it comes to the automobiles specifically for them to be correct, proportionately, the perspective and accurate in every last detail of the automobile.
How do you decide when an artwork is done?
Usually that happens pretty easily. I always leave it up on the easel for at least a day; step away from it, get some other stuff done then come back to it and there’s always something when you come back to it fresh. Usually it is things like highlights which with the automotive work really makes it pop off the canvas.
Name two influential automotive artists?
Ken Eberts and Tom Hale
What inspires you?
A lot of things. Naturally I’m inspired by some of the automobiles I see at a show. I always have my camera. I always get a chance to run out and catch things that spark my interest but inspiration can come from the weirdest places. Like a painting that was inspired by a trip to a nursery that my wife drug me out to. I wanted to be in the studio. It was one of those rare sunny days in the middle of the summer where there was very low humidity so there was really no haze. The nursery was on an old farm and I was standing a few feet away from this barn and I had my sunglasses on. My wife’s looking for plants and I happen to look up and the sun is shining down on the metal roof of this barn and it was so bright against the sky that the sky was really a dark blue as you looked straight up at it. I felt like, “Come on let’s go. I gotta get out of here. I have to get back to the studio.” I got back and sketched it out really quickly just so I wouldn’t forget the idea; a brightly sunlit building against a dark, dark blue sky. I eventually used that concept for one of my paintings. People love it. It’s a hot selling print and I sold the original to someone down in Texas.
Do you have any habits or morning routines you do before going to the easel?
Yeah, I usually make a pot of coffee. Email and Facebook are the first two things that I check in the morning as I drink my cup of coffee. My routine pretty much conforms to my wife’s schedule.
What are you eating right now?
A roast beef sandwich.
What is your favorite food?
It would have to be pasta. I do most of the cooking. One of my favorite things was my grandmother’s chicken cutlet. My grandmother on my mom’s side is Italian so she gave me her recipe for it and I make it at least once a week.
What does home mean to you?
Well, that’s where my studio is. One thing I noticed, working twelve years at a corporate 9-5 job, is that I couldn’t wait for vacation time. Eight years ago when I transitioned to doing art work full time, and I left the corporate world; I don’t appreciate vacation time. My wife works at a tough job and she loves vacations. Our main vacation is taking two weeks off in October, right around our wedding anniversary. She can’t wait. Not that I don’t want to go. I appreciate the time off because we get to do some fun things together but it’s tough not to walk into that studio and want to do something. So I’m perfectly content to have the studio be part of the house but it’s tough to not go in there all the time.
Off the top of my head it was probably when I was selling one of my paintings for a record amount…at auction.
What was your mother right about?
I gotta hand it to her, she was right about a lot of things.
Money is OK, but it isn’t what life is about. What is it about?
I’m happiest when I am creating. When I get an idea in my head, I can’t wait to work it out.
Where did you grow up?
In Chester County, Glenmoore.
What is the last book you read?
Now that I had totally lived my “Sliding Door” (movie reference) moment, I came to terms with the path that I had chosen and realized that I had forgot that I needed to write about the restaurant at which we were eating. After all, these are lunch interviews.
Jim Kramer’s Peanut Bar has an allure and hype combined with good prices, a friendly staff and your standard bar fare that really make it interesting. It’s history in and of itself is very cool. Since Dan’s paintings have that vintage flair, we might as well eat at a place that has the same vibe.
We finished our beers which were a Fraziskaner and a Victory Prima Pils. We talked some more about our similarities and then our differences. The more people you know, the smaller the world becomes. We discussed our college professors and both had the exact same experience in reference to how we became artists. Despite the fact that we went to different universities and had different professors, we were told to focus on graphic design because we would never make it as painters. Maybe that was the best part of the meal, the sweetness of success.
Dan Reed’s prints can be seen here.