Illustrator Daniel Shepard on Growing Up an Artist Amidst Mexican Skate Culture
Interview by Jose Elea
Born and raised in León, Mexico, Daniel Shepard is a graphic designer and illustrator now based in Brooklyn, NY. Heavily influenced by music and the skateboarding culture of both his past and current home, Dani has established an intricate and eerie style that includes veiny eyeballs and delicate garish hands. Known to tattoo his drawings, Dani met friend Jose Elea thanks to a daring DM from Elea inquiring about a stick n’ poke. Elea came to his apartment on a hot New York Summer day with a six pack of cold Modelos, and they’ve been friends ever since. Read below as the friends talk inspirations, identity, and Daniel’s upcoming show “Road Rider” at Colony Studios, this Friday October 19th.
Jose Elea: Let’s start with some questions from back in your day… Tell me a little about you. Where are you from?
Daniel Shepard: I’m from Mexico. The state is called Guanajuato, and the city where I’m from is León. It’s a small town in the middle of Mexico. It’s well known because they make leather for, you name it, shoes, bags, stuff like that.
Elea: What was your upbringing, growing up in León?
Shepard: It wasn’t that extraordinary but thanks to my brother I was introduced to extreme sports and that’s how I started getting into skateboarding when I was like twelve.
Elea: What was that like?
Shepard: It was a lot of fun, it was a fad that a lot of kids started to pick up. It was a trend that came during the time and a lot of my school friends started skating so I was like, “Yeah, I want to do it too!” and my best friend and brother started skating too so it was natural for me to start following their steps.
Elea: Did you have skater hair?
Shepard: Ha, nah the worst fad ever. I had like choppy hair.
Elea: Ha, that’s pretty funny… were you pretty good at skateboarding?
Shepard: Nah, I mean… it took a while I guess… I mean I don’t consider myself that good. I just consider myself comfortable and can at least do the tricks I want. It was kind of difficult because there was no skate parks around and if there were, they were closed down super quick. There were no spots around where you could really skate, no skate parks. Even all the spots in León are like hammered, like do or die.
Elea: You started skating pretty young but what led to you creating art?
Shepard: I mean, I was skating but I was never drawing… I think it wasn’t until high school, but looking at all the videos and magazines, stuff like that, that’s when art got stuck in my mind and then I started drawing for fun and then took it more seriously. I don’t know, it was weird… but my mom paints so that helped.
Elea: What kind of painting does your mom do?
Shepard: She likes to paint with oils. Mostly fruits and stuff like that, she’s really good.
Elea: That's fucking awesome. You are the complete opposite. You drawing eyeballs and stuff.
Shepard: Haha yeah, eyeballs!
Elea: So you said all these magazines inspired you. What kind of magazines were they?
Shepard: I think it was like skate magazines. Just looking at brands is cool because you get exposed to different kind of styles. Like Zero Skateboards. They have very dark imagery and you see that in their brand and videos. And then you check other brands and you get a whole different creative aspect. And it’s cool because they use different music and animation. A lot of different things.
Elea: So, your art show “Road Riders”… What was the inspiration behind that?
Shepard: Well it all started because I wanted to pay tribute to skateboarding. Because when I was skating, I was never doing anything about it, I was just skating to have fun. But now that I’m pursuing art as a career, as a path I want to showcase all those memories that are in the back of my mind. Like when I was traveling with my friends, taking photos, filming videos, I just want to capture that in my drawings.
Elea: What’s one of your favorite moments or one of your favorite pieces that you ended up creating?
Shepard: There was this pool in León that was filled with water. We heard people talking about [it] and asked around and ended up in this empty lot. We started draining the pool with buckets. We got a small crew of like six, a twelve pack, some brooms, some buckets, and started draining the fucking pool. The cool surprise was that it had round edges so we got to skate it. I’d never in my life skated in a pool. It was a very rad moment just being with these homies, just having fun.
Elea: That’s fucking awesome man… So you’re having your having your show October 19th at Colony Studios?
Shepard: Yeah, they’re really good friends of mine. It’s funny because I was roaming the streets one day and I bumped into Tania and Iovany and told them about my projects and they were like, “Why don’t you do it here?” and I was like “Well, OK”. They support a lot of artists, and it was a special opportunity to showcase this whole project so, why not?
Elea: Tell me about the zine.
Shepard: The zine is a compilation of the entire Road Riders artwork. And its cool because I’ve got some guys in California, Tiny Splendor, a small print and retail shop. They support a ton of artists and showcase art in conventions... like my work was showcased in Tokyo!
Elea: How did you end up with your style of art?
Shepard: Well I guess skateboarding taught me… I was just trying to emulate like… I mean with skateboarding you don’t know shit, you don’t know how to do tricks so you start looking at videos and learn from them. And I think that kind of mindset helped me learn. I started emulating Jim Phillip. He’s my hero. He was doing the most bad ass graphics at his time. He’s the one I look up to. But I do give art my own twist, my own experiences, but it’s definitely influenced by the 70s and 80s.
Elea: What do you want people to get out of your work?
Shepard: Just trying to immerse in the skateboarding world in a way… I don’t know, I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything. I'm just trying to showcase what’s going through my mind. I work in a restaurant part time and there’s this client who is a surfer and a skateboarder, and he saw the zine of us draining the pool of water. And he got the connection and he was like “Dude that’s totally me, that’s fucking cool man,” and that was very rad to see someone get the feeling being able to kick it with the homies draining the pool of dirty ass water and skating it.
Elea: How has New York inspired your work?
Shepard: It has exposed me to a lot of real work, [which] has pushed me to be better… I think this city offers a lot visually. Sometimes I just grab my board and get lost in the city, or grab my bike. The other day I took my bike with my sister and brother to the Bronx and it was a cool experience because it was a new part of New York I’d never seen.
Elea: Do you still skate? How do you stay inspired?
Shepard: Hell yeah man, I mean I try to skate often. I like to cruise around just to get that feeling of rolling. I love to hit the city and dodge cars and pedestrians.
Elea: As an artist have you ever felt like giving up?
Shepard: Haha all the time man. Sometimes you feel so lost, but [it’s] worth pursuing. There’s always up and downs... there won't ever be a steady flow of happiness and you just gotta keep on going. But at the same time I don’t know what else I’d be doing if I wasn’t doing this.
Elea: What’s your American Dream? What does that mean to you?
Shepard: Fuck man… My dream is to do what I want. Illustrate for bands, do what I love. That’s my American Dream. I'm not here to make money, I’m here to create. For me this project, the road is like the whole world. Skateboarding is like a big family. No matter where you go, if you have a board you have an instant connection. It just takes a few seconds of skating at a park and you connect with people. Language doesn't even matter.