interview with dana tanamachi

The By & By from Dana Tanamachi on Vimeo.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months {or in a fallout shelter… in Iowa} chances are you’ve been lucky enough to come across the stunningly beautiful work of New York based designer/rock star chalk artist, Dana Tanamachi. Honestly, it’s hard not to have, considering she’s been featured on pretty much every blog and web forum known to man. Which is why when she agreed to do an interview with us we were SUPER excited!! {Of course, it probably didn’t hurt our odds that Dana happens to be Sara’s friend and former design classmate…}

Since we know from experience just how easy it is as graphic designers to find ourselves constantly computer-bound, we both deem work done by hand as hugely inspirational, and love hearing what draws others to get “back to basics.” Dana’s chalk installations are a perfect example, and we were thrilled to get the opportunity to ask her a few questions and hear more on her artistic outlook. {The fact that she kindly offered to do a custom time-lapse video for us? Well, that was pretty thrilling, too.}

{Portrait of Dana by Kelsey Foster}

Ok, so we’re dying to know {as I’m sure everyone else is} – where exactly have you been featured lately?
I’m humbled to have been recently featured on blogs such as 100 Layer Cake, Apartment Therapy, DesignWorkLife, Quipsologies, and Martha Stewart Weddings.

How does it feel to see your work receive such positive feedback?

Terrible, just terrible! No, in all seriousness it’s been incredibly encouraging. Until a couple of months ago, it had just been something that I did for fun. So, it’s great to find that people see something in it and are latching on to the idea.

How did you get started?

Over a year ago, I picked up a piece of chalk at a friends’ party and began drawing letters on her chalk wall. I started doing “wall decor” for the rest of her parties that year. It was a fun and free way to contribute to the festivities!

What’s the thing you love most about designing in this medium?
I absolutely love the ability to easily sculpt and manipulate letterforms in chalk. I can start out very loose, press a little harder to solidify the shape and just use a wet cloth to create crisp lines. I’m allowed to make mistakes and correct them as I go.

What’s the most exciting or inspiring project you’ve worked on to date?

I’m currently working on a piece for a national publication that I’m super excited about. I’ll tell you more about it in April!

What’s your ultimate career aspiration and/or dream project?

A year ago I visited the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. I was so inspired by the installations as well as the exhibits themselves. In particular, I remember old black and white photos of hand-painted signage from Japanese American-owned stores from before the war. They were just beautiful – and very unique since you don’t see a lot of signage with Japanese last names from that era. My dream project would be do an installation at the museum – re-creating the storefront signage using chalk. Since all these stores were eventually forced to shut down when Japanese American citizens were relocated to internment camps, I feel like chalk would be the perfect, ephemeral medium for the concept.

If you weren’t a graphic designer and artist, what would you do?
Since my childhood dreams of being a taxi cab driver or elevator operator are things of the past, I would have to say I’d be an old-school signpainter. I would sell everything I own, move to some far away land and do an intense apprenticeship {a la Karate Kid} with a master signwriter. Other possibilities might be a stained-glass artist or bookmaker.

Where else do you find inspiration?

Country music, Charles Spurgeon, and old type books.

Favorite things do to in your free time?
Share meals with people! Every week, my close friends and I have a “family dinner” at my place. Since I don’t get home until 7pm, they come over in the early evening to cook (how awesome is that?). Nothing beats coming home to dear friends and hot food! I also love Sunday crafternoons & conversations with two of my best friends. And especially taking long walks around Brooklyn with my boyfriend.

What’s playing on your ipod right now? Favorite song of the moment? Song or album you can’t get out of your head?
The Dodos, Beware of the Maniacs
The Morning Benders, Big Echo
Gonzalez, Solo Piano

Do you dream in color or black and white?


Favorite word?
Hapa. It’s a Hawaiian term that means half or part Asian. I was introduced to the word about a year ago and now I use it all the time to explain my ethnicity.

Favorite place?
Southern California, driving up the Pacific Coast Highway.

Best thing you’ve heard/seen/done lately?

Heard: I was in line for coffee at a Dunkin Donuts at an NYC airport recently. I saw a young mother walk by with her son who looked about 3 years old. As his gaze landed on the shelves of donuts, he just shouted “DUNKINNNN DONUUUUUTS!!!!!!!!” in the most innocently enthusiastic voice. That stuck with me for some reason. Such simple pleasures, eh?

Seen: Last week, I noticed an ad on the train saying I could take a picture of a check with my iPhone and it would directly deposit the funds into my checking account. REALLY?!

Done: Last month, my friends and I rented a cabin upstate to ring in the new year. Lots of hiking, eating and laughing!

Words of wisdom you’ve received that you would pass on to other designers and artists looking to make a name for themselves?

Self-forgetfulness. In this age of twitter, facebook, foursquare, gowalla, etc… it is tempting to become self-obsessed, constantly waiting for that next affirming comment or sharing tons of useless information about yourself. For personal health, take at least one day per week where you fast from social networking and self-promotion. Boundaries are good! Don’t spread yourself so thin. Be faithful, consistent, dedicated and loyal.

To see more of Dana’s work, visit her website here, or follow her daily on twitter.

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19 Responses to interview with dana tanamachi

  1. Guylaine November 12, 2011 at 6:59 pm #

    Wow! I just like the fact that even though this isn’t Dana’s site that she took the time to answer a comment. Makes you (Dana) an approachable person! :D

  2. Dana February 22, 2011 at 8:14 pm #

    Mike, I’d be happy to respond to your comment…

    I’ve worked at Louise’s studio for almost a year now and it’s been a wonderful experience. Previously, I worked at SpotCo here in New York, designing posters for Broadway plays and musicals. I think my aesthetic is definitely a blend of what I’ve learned at both studios. SpotCo was all about “Big! Bold! Bright! Broadway!” We had to imagine the art up on theater marquees or on billboards in Times Square.

    Working there really gave me a good sense of design history. For example one day I’d be working on artwork that needed to be “Roaring Twenties,” the next week I’d be doing something Victorian or “Groovy Sixties.” It was there that I was also exposed to a TON of typefaces through old type books, stacks of woodtype posters, and a library full of design resources. SpotCo was also a very hands-on studio. We would often take out markers and scrawl on napkins, or use paint or ink to get a desired texture.

    When I began at Louise’s studio, I found very quickly that no detail is insignificant. I had to shift gears a bit— i had been working on a very large scale, and Louise specializes in the details, the nuances. Seeing the care and attention that she gives to every part of a design is inspiring.

    Being at Louise’s studio has also been another great opportunity to learn about typefaces, typographical effects, and ornamentation common to particular styles or time periods. Whether that’s a certain type of dimensional shading, inline stroke, swash, line weight, or serif—Louise knows how to use them all so effectively. And what I learn from her, I want to implement in my own work.

  3. mebemike February 21, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Great post! Love the video and the interview.

    I’d be interested to hear about Dana’s time working at Louise Fili and the impact that has had on her design and typography.

  4. Ash February 17, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

    Wow! What a great post! I enjoyed the backstory on how she found this method of creative expression. Life is so unpredictable.

  5. Rachel P. February 17, 2011 at 6:26 pm #


  6. Nancy Stoner February 17, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    What amazing things this young lady can do with a piece of chalk! Wow!

  7. Abby W February 17, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    lovely in the most lovely of ways!

  8. Madison M. February 17, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    I’ve seen these beauties everywhere online! No idea she went to UNT. LOVE the video. pretty pretty pretty


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