For Dan Smith, whose caricatures, portraits and fine art pieces have graced the walls of Tampa Bay homes and businesses and the pages of its newspapers for 50 years, no face is safe. His caricatures are more than an uncanny likeness, they are a hilarious personality profile in ink and paper. A Dan Smith caricature may tease his subject, but always in a spirit of fun and fairness. His work amazes with its depth of creativity and craft. The work really speaks for itself.
Artist in the making
Dan first started capturing faces on the blackboard of his childhood home in working-class Sydney, Ohio where his mother requested a drawing every day before he left for school. As a young man, Dan employed his raw talent to paint a self-portrait, which won him admittance to the Art Academy of Cincinnati. He found his biggest challenge in a daily figure-drawing class that helped him hone his skill. He delighted in the creative training and discovery, finally grasping the complexity of Cubism in his final year. After art school, Dan spent his Army service in San Antonio, Texas drawing recruitment posters and caricatures of the troops. Later, an advertising agency employed him to design the Whirlpool Corp. pavilion for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. He began painting portraits of prominent families around Cincinnati, but business prospects drew him to Florida in 1967 with his wife and young family. He set up shop in hotels, restaurants (anyone remember the old Kapok Tree?) and on cruise ships taking commissions for pastel portraits and caricatures.
The way Dan captures the persona and character of celebrities has always been his standout talent. The arched eyebrow of the quizzical Jim Parsons, pursed lips of a scheming Leonardo Dicaprio, or gaping maw of Mick Jagger let you know you are in on the joke. When Dan depicts Jack Nicholson taking a long drag on his signature cigar, you smell the smoke. The steamy stare of actress Scarlett Johansson will make you blush. Dan’s hilarious rendition of comedian Jay Leno has been reprinted in 80,000 textbooks in France. From your first glimpse of the knowing grin of Tampa Bay’s own original “Crabby Bill” icon, you smell the salt air and taste the fresh crab before you walk in the door. It’s little wonder his body of work has attracted the praise of his peers through several awards from the International Society of Caricature Artists, including the prestigious “Silver Nosey” award in 1998.
Life of the party
When Dan set up his easel at a party or in a hotel lounge, he quickly became surrounded with admirers. His gentle wit put his subjects at ease and kept his audience amused. It was not uncommon for Dan to turn around and notice many a famous face gazing over his shoulder from pro athletes to U.S. astronauts. He’s drawn and won over some of the toughest subjects a caricature artist can face: teenage girls at numerous Grad Night parties in his career. Dan later employed his observational humor to another tough job with lots of critics: creating a weekly editorial cartoon for the Tampa Bay newspapers. While not all readers agreed with his jokes, none could dispute his cartooning talent.
The natural beauty that is Florida’s Gulf Coast inspired hundreds of fine art landscapes and small watercolors from Dan’s paintbrush. He brought gorgeous sunsets, comedic pelicans and simple beach scenes to life in vivid color and detail. His acrylic and pastel portraits are treasures in many homes. Some of his favorite masterpieces are of his five lovely daughters and their children. With five grandsons and four granddaughters, he never runs out of subjects. It’s hard to imagine an art form Dan has not tried. In his 9th decade, Dan uses his iPad exclusively for all of his cartoons and caricatures. “I enjoy drawing now more than I ever did,” he says.
Love and Laughter Spoken Here
Dan now devotes all of his creative energy to creating cartoons that illustrate concepts from A Course in Miracles. The self-study spiritual course guides its students toward love and peace through forgiveness. Dan takes concepts highlighted in its daily lessons and depicts in simple cartoon drawings ideas that could take hundreds of words to explain. He wants study groups to use his cartoons to spark discussions and explore the healing truths to be found in them. “I want to get these things that I accept and believe and benefitted from out there so they can benefit others. This is a way I can do it. Other people have other things, but I have cartoons.” A common Course in Miracles saying is “Love and laughter spoken here.” For Dan, that is a language he knows well.