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I love art. And I love my family. I don’t know if I could be happy without both art and family being center of the wheel around which I spin.
Until I was a dad I didn’t know that being an artist helped me be a better dad and that being a father would act as the catalyst for my career.
Thirty-five years ago I was having a great time — making art and a decent living. I have made my living and paid my bills with my art since I was 19 years old.
I was a Caricature artist by night (and weekends) and working as an illustrator and Art Director for a small agency during the week.
The love of my life, Cindy and I had always wanted to have a large family. We felt like the dynamics of kids raised in large families are different and produce remarkable people. We planned on 3. We ended up with 5. What can I say? I am a very creative guy. Some say procreative!
Being an artist isn’t something I can just turn off and on. It’s who I am. It’s how I see and react to the world. I have always embraced it with openness, curiosity and a desire to learn and grow.
First, I’m not a disciplinarian. Kids running wild around my drawing table were met with amusement and laughter. When we needed discipline, I was much more likely to have a conversation with my kids than to punish them. Get them thinking.
As for structure? I don’t know how they got through without it. We allowed a lot of freedom. One summer, I had the bright idea that I would go to the East Coast and draw at a friends concession on the boardwalk in Wildwood and Atlantic City. A working vacation! So we bought a very used and very cheap pop up camper. Loaded up our full-sized custom van and all 7 of us, and Pogo the dog, headed off for 2 months to see the U.S.A.
We headed to Tennessee and I spoke to an artist’s group there. We stayed with a friend in the Poconos and I drew at a project there and a Bar Mitzvah in Philadelphia. Then we settled into a campground in Wildwood and I went to work as an artist. It was an adventure for all of us. If I had a traditional job my kids may not have had this experience.
I’m not a disciplinarian. Kids running wild around my drawing table were met with amusement and laughter.
We did our best, and made up for our deficit as parents with unconditional love. There was plenty of love. Mostly because my wife is a saint. She would read to them. Play with them. Cook with them …
When we decided to have kids, I knew that I was an artist and that wasn’t going to change but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t a starving artist. Well, it’s more like I didn’t want to have children that would go without. It pushed me to try new ideas. As the kids grew older I started thinking about college. I wanted them to get a good start in life without being crushed by debt. We made a living, but pretty much lived job to job. Commission to commission. It wasn’t easy.
One night in 1989 I saw an amazing artist, Denny Dent on the Late Show with David Letterman and I flipped out. He was painting in a style I had never seen before. “ Cindy!” I yelled, “Look at this guy! He has invented a new kind of rock and roll!”
As the internet became a part of our lives, I saw a few other speed painters online. I thought, “I am going to do this!”
I rehearsed every spare minute for 9 months. I soon got on a variety stage show in Atlantic City for 3 weeks as the closing act. They shot video and made that available after the event. This was 2007. YouTube was the new big thing. The first iPhone had just come out. It had a YouTube button. YouTube was hungry for content. And I caught the wave.
My daughter was 14. She loved the video. So she put 2 videos up for me. Then I noticed she had put them up on her site. So I made my own site and reposted them. I had 150 views in the first month. And 100 of them were from me checking it all the time. Then the phone started ringing. People told me I had 10,000 views. We were dumbfounded! The next day it was 30,000! It was a million by the end of that week after percolating for a month! It launched my career.
I’ve now been to 29 countries and raised 3 million dollars for charity auctioning off my paintings at galas. I have performed for billionaires, world leaders and fortune 500 companies. I’ve been featured on Carson Daly, Ellen, Jimmy Fallon, The Super Bowl Pre Game Show, CBS Early Show, Japanese TV and more.
It has not been easy. For my kids or me at times. My youngest son was 10 when this tipping point happened. He expressed how much he missed me. He needed me. So I focused on spending as much time as I could when I was home with my youngest. I bought 2 dirt bikes and we started learning to ride in the nearby National Forest on the weekends when I was home. We are now very close.
The bottom line is simple. All you need is love. Love is all you need. I love what I do and I love my family. Both are better because of the other. And I am blessed to be surrounded by these people and to have this career.
Performance painter and event entertainer Dan Dunn has painted for people and organizations all over the world.