This month, our gallery show features Harleysville illustrator and artist Dan Fione. A freelance illustrator for more than 30 years, Fione has created art for National Geographic, TV Guide Magazine, the National Park Service and Goya, among other notable clients. His illustrations in pen and ink, acrylic and mixed media have been featured in a multitude of designs from advertising campaigns and children’s books to materials for food and medical products.
He has also taught at schools and local organizations, including the North Penn Arts Alliance and the Antonelli Institute for Graphic Design & Photography.
After participating in our Military Veterans Exhibit last summer, Fione is returning with a solo “best-of” show, spanning illustrations from his career, with an emphasis on classic drawing.
“If you know what to look for, they also show the influence of other illustrators and artists like Bob Peak’s composition and design, Franklin Booth’s line work and Daniel Green’s pastel painting,” he says.
Here, Fione shares some insight into his long and varied career.
In the beginning: “I really had zero knowledge of the profession before I went to art school, but decided very quickly that being an illustrator means having an excellent ability to draw and render while telling a story with the picture you created. In addition, it appeared to me that the best students at art school always seemed to be the illustrators.”
Never say never: “There is somewhat of a humorous story behind my pen and ink drawings. When I was a student in my first art school, the York Academy of Arts, one of the instructor’s critiques of a design and pen and ink illustration project was less then complimentary. His quote went something like, ‘While I like the overall design of your project, I would have to buy the pen and ink drawing from another illustrator.’ So I stood up and proclaimed to the entire class, ‘Once I leave school I never intend to do another pen and ink.’ Needless to say, it took me a while but I finally did take the foot out of my mouth.”
For the love of it: “I like the challenge of drawing and painting and that is exactly what illustration lets me do. Although creating illustrations means working long hours sometimes without a day off for weeks and under the pressure of deadlines, I can’t say it’s really work.
“I think, at least for me, the most satisfaction comes from the eternal frustration of knowing there are always things in a drawing or painting that could have been done better. I know that sounds like an epic conundrum, but it actually is the driving force that makes you a better illustrator today than you were yesterday.”
An unexpected tutorial: “Oddly enough, creating portraits on the boardwalk, one summer in Atlantic City and one summer in Ocean City, I not only really learned how to draw much better but I also learned what not to draw. One of the biggest lessons I learned was how to pay attention to detail and the importance of observing detail.”
Facing an ever-evolving field: “The field was already in the process of changing before I left my first art school because of the developments of photography and the printing processes but the real change came with the computer and the Internet. I can’t tell you the last time I met face to face with an art director or creative director, but one of the great advantages is that the finished art is delivered by email or on a CD — the originals stay with the illustrator.”
From commercial to fine art: In recent years, Fione’s work has included portrait commissions and a 25-foot mural for the Philadelphia chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers (he also was involved in painting a mural in conjunction with our art center at College Settlement Camp in Horsham last summer). He’s also tasked himself with the ambitious goal of creating three large-scale paintings of the ancient Roman legions.
“If you read about the life and times of the illustrators who worked during the golden age of illustration, most of them talk about creating easel paintings,” he says. “I believe that was their way of creating fine art not encumbered by the restrictions and deadlines required of most commercial illustration. All illustrators have that desire. I would like to create something that reflects in some small way my life and times.”
Advice to future illustrators: “Have a good work ethic and be professional in your appearance, working habits and presentation while constantly seeking to improve your skills. Attack your weaknesses. Never be afraid of constructive criticism. You will improve faster if you are your own worst constructive critic. Don’t be afraid to learn new techniques and new mediums. Jump in with both feet.”
“The Art and Illustration of Dan Fione” opens Aug. 26 with a reception from 5 to 7:30 p.m. in our farmhouse, 305 Horsham Road, Horsham, Pa. The exhibit runs through Sept. 21.