JT Daniels offers wisdom on building an art career

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JT Daniels offers wisdom on building an art career

Daniels poses with a neighborhood beneficiary of his latest mural off Independence and Norton

Daniels poses with a neighborhood beneficiary of his latest mural off Independence and Norton

Matthew Rogers

Daniels poses with a neighborhood beneficiary of his latest mural off Independence and Norton

Matthew Rogers

Matthew Rogers

Daniels poses with a neighborhood beneficiary of his latest mural off Independence and Norton

Matthew Rogers, Features Editor

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Park Alumni artist Jt Daniels will be featured in The Kansas City Star this month for his collaborative efforts on a city funded mural in Independence, Mo.

Since graduating in December 2011, it will be Daniel’s second feature with The Star, in addition to other various murals, shows in multiple galleries at Kansas City’s First Fridays and designing local musician’s merchandise.

Daniels says whether it’s painting food trucks, designing t-shirts, producing gallery shows or getting underpaid to paint a backdrop for a child’s birthday party – making it as an artist requires initiative.

“There’s an expectation,” says Daniels, “That you can’t be an artist and be successful, and if you do it’s a phenomenon. You can do it, you just have to be dedicated and work hard.

“People expect art students to graduate and get a 40 hour work week job that has nothing to do with art. The goal for them is to get good money and then do art in their basement as a hobbyist. I didn’t go to school for 6 or 7 years and now owe 30,000 dollars to get a regular job and become a hobbyist.

“When people say they want a real job, it means they’re not going to enjoy it, but make a lot of money. When you’re doing something you love, that’s just doing you. It sucks working for the man.”

Born in Kansas City, Kan., Daniels began drawing in Elementary school. Daniels says he hated sports but liked playing outside. In ninth grade Daniels picked up skateboarding.

“I bought a crappy skateboard from Wal-Mart,” says Daniels, “If I had one now I’d probably break it in 20 minutes.

“I was kind of a loner, and then I met some cats at school who had skateboards too. All the skaters joined the golf team. We’d skate outside until the teacher showed up, do some golf stuff, and then skated some more when the teacher left.”

“Skateboarding is adventurous. You see everything differently, you don’t see a stair set, you see something you can conquer and jump. Like art, it forces you to look at everything in a different light.”

Daniels attended the Columbus College of Art and Design during the 2004-2005 school year. He did not return his sophomore year due to financial circumstances. In 2007, he received an associate’s degree in graphic design from Kansas City Kansas Community College. Daniels says the small classroom size and studio access made him decide to enroll at Park in Fall 2009.

“If you want to be successful in general,” says Daniels, “you have to have a degree. But to be successful in art, you don’t have to have a degree. There’s a lot of artists in the US that don’t have their degree and are either famous or making it.

“An art degree helps; you’ll learn techniques and get critiqued. I have some friends that I look up to, like Donald Ross-known as Scribe- and Phil Schaefer- known as Syke- who went to the art institute. They’ll tell you it helped their technique flourish, and it helped them hone a particular style. For example, Scribe is painting murals all over the city now, and his work portrays everyday people and their emotions through murals of animal characters.

According to Daniels, school doesn’t teach artists how to network.

“When you get out you have to learn the business side,” says Daniels “You have to promote yourself. You have to figure out how to sell your work, who’s interested, what you do when you sell or don’t sell work. And you have to learn how to do taxes.

“Take advantage of free opportunities. Get magazines and books, study them and find out what you want do. Take it, and create a standard for yourself. If you always try to out achieve yourself, you’re always going get better. Don’t wait for your teacher to push you.

“It’s different than graduating from another field and going out to get a 40 hour job. It’s not a ‘put in your application here’ kind of thing. A lot of art students study for two to four years and think that when they graduate a magazine is going to call them up out of the blue.

According to Daniels, taking initiative isn’t a difficult process. He says it requires breaking out of one’s shell.

“You have to be like that dude from ShamWow,” says Daniels. “Go up to someone and shake a hand, tell them who you are and how you can help them. If people don’t know something’s for sale, they can’t buy it.

“And you have to get out of the mindset that you won’t go to someone because they’ll pay you too low. The first year after I graduated I would do anything for a price. One time I was paid 60 bucks to paint a sesame street scene for a kid’s birthday party. I was given crappy house paint from Wal-Mart and spent way too many hours on it.

“In the end it pays off if you do your best. I got calls after that, other people wanted paintings for their kids. They asked me how much the last person paid, and I said that’s between them and I, but I can give you a quote. I learned that from a used car salesmen, that’s business.

“Everyone thinks every job you do you make a million dollars. It’s not like that; I’ve had a lot of mini jobs.”

In 2012 Daniels was attending a food truck festival in Westport when he spotted a Chili truck. Daniels says after buying some Chili, he began chatting with the truck owner about similar art and similar interests. A year later, the chili salesmen connected Daniels to another food truck owner who needed a paintjob. The gig landed Daniels on The Star’s food blog.

“I help people creatively invent solutions to their problems,” says Daniels. “Often it’s visual problems. For example, I see you need business for your food truck. I see you’re truck looks terrible, and I can fix that. Let’s paint it.

“There’s some lessons I’ve learned since graduation. For one, you need to be paid for what you do. As an artist you’re also a businessmen. You shouldn’t do everything for free. You should be paid good money for good work. You get what you pay for. Don’t be scared to price stuff. You have to be really confident.

“I also learned to outsource. I can’t make t-shirts, run a blog, etc. and paint on top of that. Make friends. People think you can’t make friends because it’s a competition. We think we have to be all inclusive. That’s not true, if everyone sticks to what they do best and share opportunities. If people know you’re a giving person, they won’t try to take from you, they’ll give to you.

According to Daniels, these lessons didn’t come over night. For the first 5 months following graduation, he remained without work.

“I thought the world wanted to hire me,” says Daniels. “My wife told me to start doing a drawing or two a day. I’ve done that since 2011.

“When I first got married, my little nieces and nephews would always mix up their words. They would say ‘Amo,’ as a combination of ‘Mi Amor’ and ‘te amo’ meaning ‘my love’ and ‘I love you.’

“This summer I did a show at First Fridays comprised of the 50 best of those daily drawings. The show was based on my wife and I’s relationship. I called it, ‘Amo.’ It was probably my best show to date. On the first two Fridays about 1,300 people came through.”

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JT Daniels offers wisdom on building an art career