Artist Interview - Danny Hawk

Every artist has their own unique background, style, experiences, techniques, and perspective. We can all learn from each other, be inspired by one another, and continue to share the joy of art.  Here is what artist Danny Hawk had to say:


Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Danny Hawk and I am an artist and urban sketcher currently living in Berlin, Germany. I grew up in Ohio but moved to Germany in 2012 after graduating from university and have been here in Germany ever since.

Why do you do what you do?

My artistic journey wasn’t always a straight trajectory. While I spent a lot of time drawing and painting in high school and even considered studying art at university, I decided to pursue a different passion of mine - foreign languages - and art, unfortunately, got pushed to the side. In fact, I went ten whole years without drawing a single thing! Then, a few years ago, I discovered urban sketching by chance and was immediately hooked. I’ve always loved traveling, and urban sketching gave me the perfect way to take in my experiences. Now, I can’t imagine going a single week without drawing or painting!


What inspires your art?

As an urban sketcher, I’m always inspired by getting outside of my own four walls and sketching on location. While there’s certainly something to be said for studio work, I love having the ability to live in the here and now through sketching outdoors. After all, there’s automatically a story behind every sketch, drawing, or painting I do on location; I remember what I was thinking, the people I met, and how I was feeling.

How and when did you get into art?

Art was always important to me growing up, but it wasn’t until I learned about urban sketching roughly four years ago that I found my true passion for drawing and painting. At the time, I was living in Frankfurt am Main, and after going to my first urban sketchers meet up, I simply couldn’t put my pen and paintbrush down!


How has your practice changed over time?

In high school, I spent a lot of time doing meticulous pencil drawings. I liked the precision I could get with pencils, which I why I never really fell in love with painting as a kid. In fact, I hated painting with watercolors since I felt like it was impossible to hide any mistakes and make the paint do what I wanted. It wasn’t until I started urban sketching that I discovered the beauty of using ink and watercolor as a medium. I love the way I can use line work to get crisp, precise details, and then let the watercolor do its own thing by being playful and vibrant!


What’s your favorite piece of art that you’ve created? Why?

It’s never easy narrowing down my artwork to one favorite piece since so many of my drawings have a special story to tell. However, one of my favorite drawings is of the Rathaus, or town hall, in Munich. I did this sketch on a warm August day in 2019 right before the German national urban sketchers meet up in nearby Augsburg.

To be honest, after a few minutes of drawing, I felt like giving up. It was such a challenge to get the proportions right, and so many people kept coming up to look at what I was drawing. Eventually, I told myself that I didn’t know when I would be back in Munich again, so I tuned out the crowds and kept at it. I think that can be applied to art in general: So many people think it’s pure talent, but I’m convinced that with some motivation, endurance, and perseverance, we all have it in us to be creative - even if things seem challenging at first.


What’s the best piece of art advice you’ve been given?

I can’t quite remember who said it, but I remember hearing someone say that they learn more from their bad paintings than their good ones. I think this is important to keep in mind since so often we have a vision in our head that doesn’t translate to paper. However, by being open to mistakes and experimentation, we’re able to learn and grow as artists.


What’s one art tip/technique you can share with us that you find really helpful?

One of the things I talk a lot about in my workshops is viewing things in tonal values - that is, breaking our subjects down into light, middle and dark tones. I feel that there’s often a tendency to leave out tonal values and even layers when painting with watercolors, which often renders the final painting somewhat flat. Also, I always recommend mixing your paints rather than taking them directly out of the tubes. The end result is much more lively, and it gets you looking and thinking about the colors around you much more!

Do you have any secret tips or techniques you use to salvage a piece when you make a mistake?

When I make mistakes, I try not to get too hung up about them. For instance, if I’m out doing an urban sketch and make a mistake with my linework, I know I’ll go over the drawing later with watercolors and the viewer might not even be able to see the mistake when everything is finished. Also, I try to integrate mistakes into my artwork. For example, if I make a certain part of my painting too dark, then I’ll go back and darken other areas until everything is more harmonious.


What is your favorite type of paper? Why?

Since I do ink and watercolor artwork, it’s important for me to have a paper that is not only easy to draw on but also holds up watercolor quite well. Often, that means working on a paper that is at least 200 gsm but also doesn’t have too much texture so that I can sketch on it smoothly with a fountain pen.

What art materials could you not live without?

I absolutely love drawing with a fountain pen. Prior to urban sketching, I was unfamiliar with fountain pens and, whenever using waterproof ink, I’d turn to fine liners. However, I love the way the ink flows out of a fountain pen, how you can change the color of your ink if you’d like, and even how you can purchase different nib sizes to vary the thickness of your lines.


What types of colors are you drawn to for your art and why?

Since I like to integrate nature into a lot of my ink and watercolor drawings, I’m a big fan of green tones. Currently, I use sap green as a base color and then add hints of yellow, brown, and/or blue to my wash to get the exact type of green that I want. For some reason, it’s always therapeutic to mix shades of green. So if I see some trees or shrubbery next to my sketching subject, I’ll most likely try to include them in my drawing.


Who are your biggest influences (or who were when you started doing art)?

I actually learned about urban sketching through a YouTube video with Liz Steel, an architect and urban sketcher from Australia. I immediately fell in love with her travel sketchbooks, her loose, and playful sketching style, and the way she went about capturing her life - even daily moments - in her drawings. I also found Danny Gregory to be very inspiring, especially his message that you don’t always need to make a masterpiece, nor do you need to have the perfect sketching subject, to start being creative.


What’s the most common art-related question you get from your followers?

A lot of people ask me how to find their own style, to which I often answer: You don’t find your style; your style finds you. When I first started urban sketching, I wanted to be loose and playful with my artwork. But after a while, I realized that so much of your personality flows into your art. Personally, I’m drawn to details and I can easily sit at one location for a while taking in my surroundings. So it seemed contradictory to go against this innate interest in details and be quick and abstract. That’s why I always recommend that people experiment, have fun, and draw what they are naturally attracted to. But most importantly, stay true to yourself.


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