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POW Chats: Dan May Talks Process & Practices



Long-time painter, Dan May, took time out of his schedule to discuss his creative practices, processes and his recent POW release titled "After the Rain." Get the details below!

1. Hey Dan! I hear you're from Rochester, NY. Can you tell me about where you grew up specifically and what it was like for you there?

Yes, I'm originally from Rochester, NY. I spent quite a few years growing up there in a great neighborhood with a huge extended family all living in and around the area. I had a really supportive family and spent most of my days drawing/painting and enjoying the outdoors. From Rochester, I went on to college at Syracuse University, and eventually, made my way down to NYC. About half of my life was spent in New York... lots of great memories there and it was a great place to grow up! 

2. Where are you currently as we do this interview? What's the scene like for you?

I currently live in Harbor Springs, MI... it's a tiny town in Northern Michigan-- a "no stoplight", Norman Rockwell-esque town. It is very small, but filled with incredible beauty. Located right on Lake Michigan, there is no shortage of outdoor activities. Everything from skiing, biking, hiking, boating, you name it... it's all in our backyard-- literally. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever lived.  Having lived in many large cities -- New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Jacksonville -- I have met so many incredible people and have been a part of various art scenes within those cites... I would say that this area is about as far from a "scene" as you can be. I like it that way though... it's quite a serene place that is loaded with inspiration. That said, we love getting away to larger cities whenever we get a chance. The world is so big and there is so much to experience, but it's great to call northern Michigan home.

3. You're described as a narrative artist. What does that mean to you?

The work has always somewhat mirrored events in my life and the world that I observe around me. You may find elements of pain and despair within my work, but there is always a glimmer of hope. I love painting from a place of deep emotion. Even when things are going great in my personal life, I find it easy to tap into what is circulating around me... not only in my immediate life, but in the world we live in. My paintings shed light on part of a story, the images are "scenes" from a much larger narrative. Like walking into the middle of a movie, not knowing what came before or what will happen next, you are left to fill in the blanks.

The overall body of work is not necessarily sequential as in a traditional story, but the overall narrative continues to grow and evolve as I go through life. I studied illustration in college and I think that some of the storytelling elements that you find in illustrative work can be found within my paintings. It is really a blend of narrative and surreal... kind of like this rambling response, I suppose [laughs].

dan may after the rain print on wood


4. Can you tell me about your release with POW titled "After the Rain?" Where was your head at when creating that piece?

'After the Rain' was originally produced for an album cover. As I mentioned before, I tend to paint what's happening around me... so building on the world that I have been creating and coming out of a long cold winter here in northern Michigan (with spring finally in sight!), I envisioned a creature emerging after a turbulent storm... the skies are beginning to clear and he's been trough a lot, but he's looking ahead to what comes next.

5. When painting characters and creating storylines depicted in your work, what are the underlying themes you're commonly working within?

Sometimes I have no idea what will come out when I sit down to paint. I'm constantly taking in things from my surroundings. While not taking physical notes, I am processing this and turning my thoughts into imagery. I have focused a great deal on the technical side of things... trying to develop the look and "feel" of these creatures and their world. Now, I am really focusing in on their stories... their surroundings, the challenges they have faced, and what lies ahead for them. While painting, I am thinking about life, death, family, our interactions with each other and our planet... why we are here? what else is out there in the universe? In many ways, these creatures are really telling "our" stories.


6. Who are your primary influences who aren't visual artists? Any thinkers, chefs, musicians, scientists, people in general?

I wouldn't say that I have specific influences. I listen to a variety of podcasts while painting. This has been a great way to hear from some really fascinating people and listen in on many interesting discussions. Hearing other people's journeys through life is very inspiring to me. Even though we are all over the world pursuing different things, there are so many parallels that tie us all together. We all have unique stories and I love hearing them.

7. Can you describe your studio/work space?

The studio I'm in now is my favorite by far. It's located on the lower level of of our house. It's a large, quiet space where I can create well into the night and wee morning hours. I have a painting area, a computer & printing area, an area for drawing and even some space for "reflecting". Only down fall is there's a lot more to keep clean :)

8. What rituals, activities or practices do you partake in before beginning on an illustration or painting? 

Not sure that that I have any specific rituals that I partake in. But each day does include plenty of coffee, podcasts and music. I also try to include working out/getting outside into each day. Not always easy, but I try.


9. Odd question, but do you dream/ remember your dreams? If so, do tell.

It's weird. I'm not really a vivid dreamer. Sometimes I will recall bits and pieces, but nothing that makes any sense. I'm not sure what this means, but perhaps I'm working all of the imagery out during my waking hours? [laughs]

10. What creative projects do you have coming up that you're excited about?

Well, this year I started something called, 'The Daily Creature Project'. Basically, I have been carving out an hour or two each day to explore an idea or thought involving the creatures that I have been exploring. So far, it has been an incredible challenge. I wanted to find a way to work out my ideas while offering some affordable original art to my collectors (all drawings are priced under $100).

So far, the project has been very well received. I plan to continue this for the entire year and then see where I can take it from there. We have even discussed the possibility of putting a book of these together... either way, it has been a great way to keep the ideas flowing. Aside form that, my wife and I have been working on a book of my art. It will encompass the past several years of "Gentle Creatures" artwork, sketches, stories, etc. It has been in the works for a while, but we hope to bring everything together very soon. Additionally, I am working behind the scenes on some really exciting stuff that I hope to share more about in the coming months. 

11. What plans completely aside from work obligations do you have coming up that you're excited about?

Well, the biggest thing coming up for us is the birth of our second son, due this summer! We can't wait to welcome him into our family :)