In our Inspiration Fuel series, we interview writers, artists, entrepreneurs, musicians, and everyday heroes to learn how they manage the ebbs and flows of motivation and inspiration in the pursuit of their life’s callings.
I first discovered Daren Thomas Magee's work in a boutique in the small mountain town of Buena Vista, Colorado. I remember thinking the shop owner was some kind of curating genius. Her walls were decorated in art prints that were all wildly different in style – but consistently amazing.
Some had super-cool vintage-looking typography. Some were minimalist organic block prints, while others had intricate geometric patterning. Some seemed to emerge out of a mystical or primordial symbolism, and others had this kind of sleek Stanley Kubrick-y sci-fi thing going on.
Then I looked closer and realized they were all by the same artist: Daren Thomas Magee. I looked him up, found his site, Real Fun, Wow!, and spent the next few hours disappearing deeper and deeper into his extraordinary catalog.
For this edition of Inspiration Fuel, I reached out to Daren for some insight into the origins of his unique talent, how he approaches the creative process, and what he does to keep the juices flowing. The answers he gave were just like my first encounter with his work in that Buena Vista shop: an unexpected delight.
For our readers who have not yet had the pleasure of coming across you or your unbelievably diverse work yet, how would you introduce yourself and describe the art that you make?
I am an artist and illustrator based in Ojai, California. I sort of fell ass backwards into being a professional artist. After years of aimless wandering, doing menial jobs that served me in no way, I got to my wits end and began spending all of my free time honing my craft as an illustrator.
Very quickly, it became all I wanted to do. Quicker than that, it became something that people were paying me for. Six years later I am getting interviewed by fine folks like yourselves!
I am glad that you saw my diversity in style as something appealing, because I, sometimes, get a little frustrated with my broad spectrum of styles, feeling like it’s too broad and not focused enough.
I suppose that speaks to my broad range of inspiration. I love type work; I love symmetry; I love minimalism; I love illustration, and so with all of those loves, I try my hand at creating work with all of those styles in mind. They speak to whatever mood I find myself in that day. I never know what style is going to be the one that gets a voice.
So, to your question of "how would you describe the art you make," I guess I wouldn’t. I prefer to leave that to the people who stumble across it in random shops, in random places I’ve never been myself.
What are some all-time favorite pieces or projects that you’ve worked on?
I briefly had "muralist" on my resume. It's something that I don’t advertise anymore because it’s such hard work and really nerve wracking. But in my brief time as a muralist, I made some pieces that I feel proud of. The sheer scale of the work is something that stands out as a real accomplishment.
"Don't talk about it, be about it."
A few years ago, I had one of my designs licensed by Penguin books for their Sci-Fi paperback series. My image was used for Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. My friend pointed out that it's something that you may find a tattered copy of in a used book store someday and that filled me with such joy.
I’ve read interviews where you talk about how, before starting Real Fun, Wow!, you worked in non-creative jobs that drained you of energy and kept you from pursuing your creative outlets, so you committed to drawing every single day, no matter what. I’m sure that the feeling of being too drained for creativity is familiar to many of our readers. Why do you think that making that commitment helped give you back the energy that you had been lacking?
I think as individuals, and more importantly, as sovereign adults, we may often not take into consideration that all of our choices are up to us. No one is there holding us accountable for our commitment and choices other than ourselves.
So, saying you’re going to do something, is very far away from actually doing it. One of my favorite quotes I’ve ever heard was from the late Christopher Wallace (The Notorious B.I.G). He said, "Don’t talk about it, be about it."
When I made the promise to myself that I was going to draw something every single day, that promise was to me, and no one else. If, on the second day, I stopped drawing, it was unlikely that anyone would have said a word about it. But since I was the one holding myself to it, I was more inclined to keep that promise. I didn’t want to let myself down.
Now that you do work in a creative profession, with business things like taxes and bills to worry about, has your relationship to the art changed? Have you had to find new outlets that are all “play” and no “work”?
100%. Before it was a business, it was pure creation, with no expectation. Now that it's how I provide for my family it’s warped in a way that my decision making plays heavily into it.
I have to consider so much more than I did when I was doing it as just a pure form of expression. It’s still fun, and I still love it, but there is an extra layer of pressure.
So, in the past few years I’ve begun running. Something I never would have seen for myself, but I absolutely love it.
I live within walking distance of a beautiful network of trails that I go out on everyday. I love feeling my heart pumping and feeling my body in motion. It’s been a vital part of keeping my mental health in line.
This May, a few weeks after my 39th birthday, I will be running my first half-marathon, and next year, for my 40th birthday, I plan to run my first full marathon. I never in a million years would have guessed that would be something I would be doing, but I am into it!
There’s a lot of talk about “flow” states, but many artists say that even a good creative session feels like hard work. For you, what does the ideal creative state feel like?
Being able to be "free" of any mental constraints, which is extremely rare for me.
Since I do create with the aim of turning it into something to profit from, I take the audience into consideration far too often. I rarely create for myself.
I don’t know if I’ve experienced it in my career, but I think the ideal creative state would be creating without the audience in mind. Creating solely with the objective of expressing myself, not considering if this is going to be something people "like." I hope to get there someday!
I’ve heard you talk about the importance of intuition in your creative process. Do you believe our relationship to our own intuition is something that can be strengthened, or is it just part of who we are? Another way to say this: Are people, by nature, either intuitive or non-intuitive? And, bonus question: If you do think it’s possible to strengthen intuition, how do you do it?
Ooh, that’s a big question. I’ve not given it too much thought, so pardon this off-the-cuff response, which I suppose is demonstrating intuition in some way.
I do believe we are inherently intuitive, but I believe our environment, how we grew up, the traumas we’ve suffered and the defenses we’ve built up because of that clouds our intuition.
I believe that you can strengthen your intuition, I’m not sure exactly how, but I do believe that you often have the answer you’re looking for before you seek it outside of yourself. It’s that "gut feeling" you hear so much about.
I suppose living as cleanly as possible and not clouding your mind and body is a good way to ensure that the channel of intuition remains intact.
There are lots of us who struggle to maintain enthusiasm for the work or projects that we love, even if we feel a calling to pursue them. What advice would you give for dealing with dark days when there’s just no motivation to be found?
This is something I suffer a lot.
Having chosen a creative path I find there can be a feeling of pressure to be in a constant state of creation. I think it’s vitally important to embrace those "dark days" where there is no motivation.
Go for a hike; hang with a friend; find something that is the furthest from what you’re feeling the lack of motivation with. It’s ok to not feel motivated to work!
We’re not here to work all the time. I’m not sure what we’re here for exactly, but I can almost guarantee that it has nothing to do with deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise.
And, finally, how do you take your coffee?
We’re always on the lookout for more artists, creatives, entrepreneurs, and everyday heroes to interview for our Inspiration Fuel series. If someone you know is pursuing their life’s calling in a way that inspires you, tell us about them by emailing: email@example.com.
All images courtesy of Daren Thomas Magee. Portrait photo by @wearemattandjess.