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Meet Award-Winning Watercolor Artist, Dan Danielson of Wheaton, IL

Updated: Nov 3, 2020


As a boy, Dan Danielson was fully aware of the “funny looks” adults gave him when they asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. Yet, he never hesitated to always enthusiastically respond, “an artist!”

Lucky for the art world today, he never wavered in that choice.

“I always enjoyed art,” he says recalling his early years growing up in Berwyn, IL when all he needed were paper, pencils, and crayons to keep himself happily entertained for hours on end.

Fast forward into adulthood where he worked until retirement in the creative world of ad agencies. Over the years, he climbed the corporate ladder to excel as either an art director or creative director – enjoying every minute.

“Each day was different – I had a great time with my career,” he says.

While a student at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, he first studied watercolor under renown watercolor artist and educator, Irving Shapiro, and something about that medium “clicked” with Dan.


“Even though I tried all types of media from gourd crafting to wood carving, I kept returning to watercolor,” he notes. “It’s fluid, dynamic, transparent. Always moving around and presenting surprises that make it so fun to work with.”

Now from his basement art studio in his Wheaton, IL home, he enjoys tackling many types of subjects. Although his favorites are always changing, he was most recently focusing on wildlife before the COVID lockdown. He’d head out to Brookfield Zoo or the Field Museum with sketchbook and camera in hand to capture the big animals like lions or elephants.

Another of his favorite artistic field trips is the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, IL, where he studies old locomotives and imagines them in action. He also finds inspiration in nature by drawing landscapes or cityscapes with towering buildings, streets lined with cars, pedestrians hurrying past, and “L” tracks buzzing above. For him, it’s all about the activity, the movement, the “vibe”.


“I try to capture the energy of the subject,” Dan explains. The steam and smoke – the motion of a powerful locomotive as it courses down the track.

“It boils down to painting the mood and the surrounding environment. You want to be able to almost hear the sounds it makes. You want your artwork to evoke feelings in the viewer. It needs to be more than just a pretty or decorative picture. You want it to express a mood or thought. Art is a language – a way to communicate with the viewer – it’s meant to be shared.”

Dan adds that watercolor is the oldest medium known to man dating back to cave paintings where ancient artists mixed animal fats with pigments and painted what they observed in their daily lives.

Over the years, Dan has amassed many accolades with his watercolor work including a recent Award of Excellence for his “Fifteen Restless Riders” at The Norris Gallery Watercolor 2020 show in St. Charles, IL and a Peoples’ Choice Award at the McCord Gallery Exhibit 2020 in Palos Park, IL. He is also a Signature Status member of the Transparent Watercolor Society of America and a Signature Status member of the Illinois Watercolor Society where he also serves on the Board.


Today, Dan enjoys an active retirement painting and teaching at DuPage Art League in Wheaton, IL and at the Peninsula School of Art in Door County, Wisconsin.

Dan observes that when it comes to watercolor, the challenge is always trying to get better mastering the medium – going with the flow -- fully embracing its fluidity and dynamics.

As for the rest of us who may feel intimidated, Dan offers these encouraging insights:

“Talent is over-rated. Much more important than talent is the desire to learn and not to get discouraged. Learn from your mistakes and don’t throw out those early works of yours – keep them. That’s how you can gauge your progress. Even if you think it’s bad – come back to it later and ask yourself WHY you don’t like it – figure that out. Take lessons. Hang out with other artists – don’t work alone. Show. Share. Discuss – get feedback – the good and the bad – that’s how we learn – that’s how we get better.”

To view more of Dan’s artwork, click:

HIGH FLYER, Watercolor, 12 X 16

FRISCO 1630, Watercolor, 12 x 16


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