If you regularly peruse the New York Times, follow Major League Soccer, or drink fancy craft beer, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Daniel Sulzberg’s artwork. “I’ve been lucky enough to try my hand at almost all of the different facets of illustration,” explains the Santa Barbara–based illustrator. “I really like collaborating and working with different clients.”
A proud native of Danville, California, Sulzberg is filled with gratitude for his childhood years and the role that his hometown, for which his studio is named, has played in his career. “I think that always being that kid, ‘Dan from Danville,’ was just how people remembered me,” said Sulzberg, whose company is called Danvillage Illustration. “I created my own little world there. I would always be inventing stories and using the town as a place to set up all of my stories. Danvillage is my own version of Danville in my head.”
While working as a screenwriter for several years in Los Angeles on Smallville, a TV series inspired by the iconic DC Comics character Superman, Sulzberg found himself constantly sketching cartoon doodles and was encouraged by a writing partner to explore different avenues. “We started to put together ideas for an animated series, and we ended up selling one to DreamWorks, which was really exciting,” he revealed.
Even though the series wasn’t greenlit by the studio, Sulzberg ascribed the experience as a pivotal moment for his career. “I realized how much I love creating characters and different worlds,” he said.
Sulzberg’s lively and whimsical illustrations are influenced by three fixtures of his childhood: Saturday-morning cartoons, Nintendo games, and comic books. “The funny thing is that I’ve actually worked in all three of those worlds and I didn’t even notice,” he said, referring to his time as a creative director for Red Bull, as a concept artist for video game production company Pandemic Studios, and as a screenwriter on Smallville, respectively.
He also hopes that his artwork reflects a positive message about the importance of diversity and inclusion, which he hopes to instill in his two young children. “I like to draw a melting pot of characters that are different colors and shapes and sizes because that’s the kind of world that I want to live in and the kind of world that I want to project to my kids,” said Sulzberg. “I feel like California embodies these values, and I’m proud of that. I want to share that in my work as much as I can.”
Having lived in both Northern and Southern California, Sulzberg believes that he’s found the best of both worlds in Santa Barbara: the beachy, easygoing vibes of Los Angeles and the creative, “more exciting” feel of the Bay Area. When his wife, who attended graduate school at UCSB, was hired by the university, they decided to raise their family away from the hustle and bustle of the entertainment industry.
“We thought about where we wanted our son to grow up, and we definitely didn’t want him to grow up in L.A.,” explained Sulzberg. “I wanted him to have the same small-town experience that I had, where everybody knows each other. We absolutely love it here in Santa Barbara.”
For many parents, including Sulzberg and his wife, 2020 proved challenging to navigate at times. “I learned so much throughout the past year that has been life-changing for me and my family,” he said. “These are lessons that I want to pass down to my kids and that we don’t ever want to forget, whether it’s Black Lives Matter or climate change or just inclusion in general.”
Spurred to action by the groundbreaking moments of activism and social justice occurring across the world, Sulzberg decided to create a children’s book called Smile Now. The illustrated collection features 31 life lessons that he hopes can spark meaningful conversations between parents and their children.
Originally meant just for his two kids, Smile Now started as a personal project as part of Inktober, an annual challenge that encourages artists to put ink to paper every day throughout the month of October. “Illustrators are given prompts to draw for each day, and most people just do the prompts that they’re given,” said Sulzberg. “But I started to draw for [my kids] and had no intention of turning my drawings into a book.”
After realizing that his book was a worthwhile way to give back to his community, Smile Now was made available as a free download in support of CALM, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children and families who have suffered from physical and psychological trauma. “A lot of people really stepped up and donated to the cause,” said Sulzberg. (Donations can go through this site.)
Sulzberg, who has a children’s graphic novel in the works, has already worked on projects for several prominent clients, including a “Kick Childhood Cancer” campaign for Major League Soccer and the beer can label art for breweries such as San Francisco Brewing Company and Goleta’s own Captain Fatty’s. But he hopes that the best is yet to come.
“The big goal for me is to publish children’s books through a major publisher or to create an animated series,” said Sulzberg. “I have a bucket list of clients and brands that keeps me going because you just want to aspire to those levels and keep creating.”
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