Danielle Kroll is an artist and illustrator living in Brooklyn. You can find her work at hellodaniellekroll.com and on Instagram at @daniellekroll.
Who are you and what do you do professionally?
I’m Danielle Kroll and I’m a working artist, illustrator, and designer. I do mostly commissioned illustrations and design work, along with my own personal work
And where do you call home?
Right now, Brooklyn. I live in Greenpoint, which is this great Polish neighborhood on the north side of the borough. I like it a lot, but it was kind of hard to get settled, I’ve been here almost 3 years.
How did you get into illustration and design?
I went to Tyler School of Art in Philly. There I was able to sample pretty much every form of art that piqued my interest. I loved my serigraphy (silk screen) classes and I started playing around with illustration a bit there, but my parents didn’t want me to major in something that wasn’t “practical,” so I went into graphic design instead. The program at Tyler had a big emphasis on making your own imagery, which led to hand done type and illustration. After I graduated, I started working at Anthropologie right out of school, which is where I’d say I developed my style. During that time, I was doing freelance illustration on the side until there was enough work to focus exclusively on my freelance projects. Now I’m out on my own.
Anthropologie is pretty well known for their handmade/DIY approach to design. How did that jive with a graphic design degree?
It’s funny, because when I was applying for jobs towards the end of school, I just couldn’t find design firms with a similar aesthetic to my tastes. I was into that hand done, vintage look and feel, while everything in the market was sleek and web 2.0, so I didn’t fit in anywhere.
Do you feel like that experience helped hone your craft?
I’d say Anthro helped make my work more marketable by helping me figure out my target audience. I’m an artist, but I also need to make a living, so I have to think about who these people are who might want to buy it. Thankfully, my design preferences and my clients/customers tend to overlap.
What are some recent [project] favorites?
I did illustration for a children’s book that just came out called Nature’s Day. It documents how nature changes throughout the seasons so it’s cut up into 4 sections. It was a non-fiction children’s book so I got to do a lot of interesting research (ponds, forest scene, farms, animals, plant life, etc.). It was a lot of work, but the final product was great. I always love when my projects come out in the real world because I’ve been done with them long enough to no longer be sick of the artwork. Then when you see it released it’s all fresh and new again and you can appreciate the amount of work and creativity you put into that project.
Do you have a favorite setting, subject, or experience that you prefer to capture in your illustrations or art?
Generally, I tend to lean towards a tropical feeling in my work. Whether that’s using bright colors or foliage or flowers. I always like to sneak a bird in when I can.
Tell us about your relationship to nature. So much of your work seems inspired by the natural world: the outdoors, wildlife, flora and fauna…?
It’s always been a big part of my life. And I’m a big believer in taking time to get out and away from people. Those are the opportunities to think about yourself and your work without distraction. Growing up my parents had a river and woods in our backyard where my brother and I would play. We’d catch crayfish, climb a lot of trees, and get a lot of ticks. Oh, and I went to Girl Scout camp, which was actual camping, not the prissy stereotyped idea of Girl Scouts. Actual wilderness camp.
On that note, you did a series where you layered your art and illustration over photos of the John Muir Trail – how’d that project come about?
When I was hiking the trail, my mind would do a lot of wandering. Parts of the trail were harder to find than others, so I’d have thoughts like “this should be a rainbow trail so I don’t lose it” and stuff like that. My photos from the trip were so beautiful and it’s not like they needed additional artwork to make the scenery better, but I felt like I wanted to document some of the visions that cycled through my imagination while we were hiking.
One doesn’t just decide to hike portions of the Pacific Crest Trail (unless you’re Cheryl Strayed). How’d that particular trip come about??
My friend Jenny was going to hike the John Muir Trail by herself and mentioned it to me in March of that year. I was thinking at that time about leaving my current job, so I decided I’d use the trip as an opportunity to make my exit. It was the first long-distance backpacking trip I ever took and there was tons of planning. I had to buy all my gear and plan out what we wanted to eat and ship out packs to our resupply points. It was all stuff I hadn’t done before, so there was definitely some nervousness about the unknown. All in, we were gone for 3.5 weeks.
I’m a big believer in taking time to get out and away from people. Those are the opportunities to think about yourself and your work without distraction.
What was the biggest challenge about that trip? Any particularly emotional, remarkable, or memorable moments?
The beginning and the end were the hardest parts for me. Getting used to hauling a 30lb pack up elevations that I don’t normally experience was really rough. We both got a lot of blisters and lost a few toenails. We also didn’t plan properly and ended up running out of food at the end, which was a little scary. We were just eating granola bars the last few days, so we didn’t have much energy left. As far as memorable or emotional goes, when we were planning to summit Mount Whitney a hail/lightning storm rolled in and we got stuck on the side of the mountain at the junction. We decided it wouldn’t be safe to keep going up so we turned back. It was really icy and a kind stranger helped us get down and lent my friend some gloves. We split our last chocolate bar with him, which felt like the best piece of chocolate I ever had! We were practically running down the mountain to try to get to the grill before it closed that day.
Do you have plans to do it again?
I’m going to Yosemite again this summer and I’ll reconnect with my friend Jenny. But we’ll probably only do sections of the trail – just our favorite parts.
Any pro tips you’d be willing to share for doing art in the wilderness?
If you’re using watercolors, always bring paper towels or napkins. When you’re taking a break while hiking it may only be 10 minutes so chances are that your painting wouldn’t have dried yet. I like to keep a paper towel on hand to dab up the wetness. Also, it’s handy to have a camera take a picture of what you’re painting so you can finish later. My favorite time to paint while on a backpacking trip is at night with a headlamp in the tent. It’s always exciting to see what it looks like in the light of day.
Do you make a point to travel?
Oh yeah, I like to break up my routine. It’s a bit both of inspiration and a break/rest. I always have my sketchbook with me because that’s what I enjoy doing most – drawing for myself. Taking a trip is a great way to get away from your work. Turning email off is important. And when you’re hiking you don’t have a choice.
What do you love about traveling as an artist?
I think it’s great to keep your mind fresh, which means getting out of your comfort zone every now and then. I hate getting stuck in ruts, whether that means creatively in my work or in my life. I just don’t like to do the same thing everyday, so traveling always gets me excited about things again.
Any particularly noteworthy trips you’ve taken?
I’ve been on a lot of favorite trips! I drove to California last year from New Jersey and was pretty impressed with everything our country has to offer. I’ve always tended to be more interested in Europe than the US, but after that trip I really started to appreciate what’s around here more. I loved Colorado because it felt like the scenery would completely change every half an hour. I remember we found a great flower meadow and sprawled out there for an hour or so. I also recently went to Poland for the first time, which was beautiful. We went to Zakopane, which is a popular destination in the Tatry [Tatra] mountain range.
Any dream destinations you’d like to get to some day?
I’m hoping to go to Patagonia to do a backpacking trip. That’s definitely on my to-do list.
Who or What are your influences? Any meaningful books, authors, photographers, filmmakers, individuals in your life?
Stylistically, I’ve always been drawn to vintage children’s books. And I love Roger Duvoisin, Abner Graboff, Ludwig Bemelmans, and Paul Rand. I also really love Mary Blair’s work. She had a show at the Disney Museum in San Francisco that I attended last year. She used to be a concept artist and illustrator for Disney back in the day and didn’t get as much credit as she deserved. Not a lot of people know that she had lots of influence on Disney’s Cinderella and Alice In Wonderland and Peter Pan. Her work is really whimsical and the colors are just insane. The combinations she used were really different for that time and still feel modern. Timeless stuff.
What are you reading, watching, and listening to?
I’ve been reading Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino, which is a really creative, weird, and imaginative story about how the universe was made. I’ve been listening to early calypso music. My studio hasn’t put on the air yet so I’m trying to embrace the heat. When I’m working and don’t feel like listening to music I put on some David Attenborough. I’ve been really inspired by coral lately so Blue Planet has been a favorite.
What do you love/like about Chaco?
I love a brand that promotes travel!
Where can we find your work and keep track of your updates?
I’m on Instagram @daniellekroll and then there’s my website, hellodaniellekroll.com.
Any parting wisdom, advise, or thoughts?
Always try new things! I feel like all the best things in my life so far have come from doing something that feels a little uncomfortable and unusual at first.
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