The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be the Artist You Truly Are


My guide to discovering and increasing your creativity. It’s over two hundred pages of essays, ideas, and watercolors. Here’s a peek inside.

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I got the first note from someone who has bought my new book at Barnes and Noble today and I realized it is high time I shared some more details about the book with everyone. First of all, I have put together a crude little gallery with a few representative spreads from the book, generally one from each chapter.

Next I’d like to share some opinions from people who’ve gotten their hands on it. I hope to do this less in the spirit of self-congratulation (though I am quite proud of this book) and more to just let people know what the whole things is about and hope fully to inspire some readership.

Let me also say something quite important up front. I have written this book and kept this website going for years now for a simple reason. Re-awakening my creativity and sense of myself as an artist changed my life and helped me to deal with the most horrible thing that has ever happened to me: the day Patti was run over by a subway train and her resultant paraplegia. I am not exaggerating when I say that Art became much of the reason for me to carry on with my life.

I believe that we are all born creative and that, at some point in most people’s childhoods, they lose the urge, but not the ability, to make art. This is a tragic loss. Through the history of our species, ordinary people have always made paintings, sung songs, decorated their homes, expressed themselves in a hundred ways. Today, however, we are increasingly creatures who expect others to provide us with entertainment and culture. We take for granted that creativity is the domain of professionals. We are convinced that if we cannot be perfect, we should not try.

What a loss. I believe fervently in the spirit of amateurism. I know in my heart that it is far better to do an inaccurate, clumsy drawing than not do one at all. It is better to sing off-key than be mute. A scorched home cooked meal is far more nourishing for the soul than a frozen dinner. And I want to rekindle that spirit in whomever I can.

I make a decent living at my job. So I don’t do drawings and watercolors and write essays about creativity or even publish books in order to make money. I do it because I feel that it is important to encourage others (and simultaneously myself) to give oneself permission to be the artists that we all truly are.

My book is called The Creative License but of course, I can’t issue such a license. I can’t give anyone permission to be themselves. All I can do is provide examples, suggestions, encouragement and hope that magic happens.

One of my first readers seems to be getting this. Tonight, after reading just a chapter she writes:

After only the first 11 pages, I feel like you are a voyeur in my life. You said it very well when you talked about people who just have to create. (When I see something beautiful, ugly, interesting–whatever, I don’t just want to look it–I want to get it down on paper and recreate it). But you really struck a nerve talking about those of us who put that creativity into a box and try to keep it there for whatever reason (Will my kids really want those journals that I fill when I’m gone?–yeah, they probably will.) “So with the very first chapter you have looked deep into the heart of people who know they are creative, but stifle it, and the people who are afraid to find out that they are creative. And that encompasses pretty much everyone! I realize that the title of the book is “…giving yourself permission…” but the “familiar” tone that you use to expose those thoughts about creativity almost make it feel like it’s OK for the permission to come from an outside source–the author–someone who has a grip on the understanding of the creative process. “

I hope her enthusiasm doesn’t wane and that the ensuing chapters continue to fuel her creativity and lead her to new places.

Finally, here is a very generous review from one of my favorite artists, my watercolor teacher and mentor, Roz Stendahl, one she recently posted to the Everyday Matters group:

“I was fortunate to be able to read the proofs of Danny’s new book, “Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be the Artist You Truly Are.” First a disclaimer for those of you on the list who don’t remember my name from my infrequent posts. Danny is a pal. We’ve corresponded, chatted on the phone, he’s visited, we have drawn together. You could stop reading this email right now because of that, expecting a bias.

But I also am a life long journaler and I teach visual journaling at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts so I read almost all the books that come out in this field. I want to provide up to date recommendations for my students.

I think these things put me in an interesting position to tell you something: reading this book is just like spending time with Danny. His sense of humor comes through. He is silly and playful, wry and sarcastic by turns, but always engaging. Something is always popping out of his brain. He’s gathered all this up and put it in a book. And he wants to encourage you to draw and tap into your creativity.

There are a lot of books on creativity on the market. Some of them try cheerleading and cajoling, some encourage you through psychology, and others practically shame you into picking up your art materials. Danny’s approach is different. Like the great pitch man he is, he creates an analogy (creative license is like a driving license) and then joyfully explains and expands until you want in. The nice thing about this approach is that you don’t end up with two dozen vegematics in your attic like Opus. You’ll end up with a visual journal that records what’s important to you and you’ll be more connected to your life.

Danny’s book is organized in such a manner that it can be read straight through or dipped into. There’s an introduction which establishes the groundwork for you to view yourself as a creative being. The driving license analogy is introduced here.

This is followed by nine chapters which deal with everything from how to draw (giving you instructions for exercises to get you up and running today) to shock (getting out of a rut), resistance (going on), and identity (self acceptance as an artist). (And lots more.)

Each chapter is further divided into smaller sections, often only a page spread or two, dealing with some aspect of the chapter topic. These sub sections read like brief meditations, parables, or pep talks.

I feel this type of organization is one of the best aspects of the book. It allows the reader to come back to the book for small tune ups so he can get back on the road (keeping with the driving metaphor).

Throughout the book Danny provides his readers with suggestion upon suggestion of things they might want to draw, examine, think about, or respond to. If you are new to drawing, visual journaling, or doing creative activities in your life, this book will help you realize how you’ve been a creative being all along. Now’s the time to reengage your life, dreams, and creative self. Danny’s book will give you enough gas to get you a fair ways down the road and the insight to be able to spot refilling stations.

If you already have a creative license and use it daily in your life, the book will still encourage you. Chances are your take on visual journals and creativity is skewed differently because you already understand your process. But a fresh view, another angle, can help you appreciate what you have and enable you to flex your creative muscles even more.

After reading the book I felt that the experience was like being swept up into a brainstorming meeting where there was a lot of laughter and enthusiasm but also serious, earnest work. I believe you’ll enjoy this book.
I’ve only seen a black and white proof, but I’ve seen many of these journal sketches in person. The book is going to be a colorful and visually entertaining book.
Danny can sell an idea and he does it clearly and with humor. I’ll be taking this book along to my journaling classes so that my students can benefit from the perspective Danny brings to the topic.
Danny didn’t ask me to write a review, but I felt compelled to because there are a lot of “creativity” books on the market and we talk about books on this list. Why buy this one? If you’ve enjoyed and found Danny’s insights on his blog helpful, if you like the supportive aspects of exchange that happen on this list, then you’ll enjoy this book which grows out of this seed. The book will speak to you in accessible ways that other creativity books might not.”

If you gotten this far, I hope you’ll check out the book. And if you do buy a copy and read it, I hope it’ll motivate you to expand your creativity. And finally, I hope you will evangelize, gently helping others to see their own creativity, helping make the world more present, more forgiving and more beautiful.Peace out. Commercial over.



I have written a new book which I’d like to share with you … for free.
The catch is that it’ll be served up in installments by the Morning News. You can read it all here.
This book is not quite my usual topic. It’s about creativity but this time about the creation of a human being. It’s a raw tale of my introduction to fatherhood.
Usually I am fairly confident in sharing my stories; this one is so personal it makes me a little nervous. A few people have read and liked it. Some say it’s funny, moving, shockingly frank.
Tell me what you say.

A Writer's Paris

monmartreDr. Eric Maisel is a psychotherapist who works exclusively with artists and has written many terrific books like The Creativity Book, Staying Sane in the Arts, Fearless Creating, Deep Writing, A Life in the Arts and other inspiring guides on the creative mind and process. Recently, Eric invited me to illustrate his new book, A Writer’s Paris, which will be published in a year or so.
On Wednesday afternoon, Patti and I will be skipping turkey and heading across the Atlantic; over the next four days, I’ll make as much progress as possible on the 30 full-page illustrations I’ve promised Eric for his book. I’ll be working in black, using a pen and ink wash.
The sketch crawl will be good preparation. I’m going from the 10K of the Met to the marathon of the sketchcrawl to the Iron Man triathlon of Paris. I’ll be dealing with possible snow flurries, temperatures in the 40s and jet lag but it will be a great adventure.

We had a terrific visit to Paris over Thanksgiving. We arrived (via Frankfurt) on Thursday morning and spent the day in a bit of a jet-lagged fog (I can’t sleep on planes) but did quite a lot of drawing. We had Thanksgiving dinner of escargots, foie gras, biftek, and lashings of bordeaux at a bistro in the Latin Quarter.
We started Friday at the Musée D’Orsay. I’ve only been there briefly before but this time we made a bee-line for the Van Goghs and Gaugins and then I spent an hour drawing the beautiful old clock in the main room. A wonderful museum.

paris-roofs I had a check list of more than thirty things to draw and, by Sunday morning, Patti had checked off about 80% of them. I had taken reference photos of the remaining subjects and will finish the project at home.
We were very lucky with the weather. One day of blue skies, two overcast, and the first raindrops fell on our cab’s windscreen as we got in to travel to the airport. The mercury hovered in the mid 40s most of the time so it was quite comfortable sitting outside most of the time. We would duck into cafés or shops for periodic refreshment.
This sort of three-day drawing trip has a lot to recommend it. We were on the go all day, saw every corner of the City, really studied the sights, and came home with a wonderful souvenir without spending much money. Though the dollar is weak, you can do a trip like this for just over a thousand bucks per person and you will remember it forever.

I drew on heavy bond either with a Rapidoliner (.25 and .50) or an Art (fountain) Pen . I then pulled out a Niji waterbrush loaded with black Dr. Martin’s transparent water colors . I colored in the darkest bits and then, while the color was still wet, I used a Niji filled with clean water to slosh things around, mixing various shades of grey right on the page or on the knee of my jeans or on the nearest surface (park bench, Rodin sculpture, whatever) using the clean brush to dilute it and then my Welsh pub towel to clean things up.
When I got home, I made photocopies of the drawings and FedExed the originals. The images I’ve posted are scans of the copies.
My aim, and I think I fell far short of it, was to emulate Ronald Searle’s 1950 Paris Sketchbook.


This book is now available on Amazon Grab a copy!

Change Your Underwear Twice a Week

My third book is the first and only history of [beep] educational filmstrips. You remember them [beep] from when you were a kid, right? No? Well maybe  this little tour will jog your memory.

The book is interesting, funny and crammed with thousands of images from rare, vintage strips. Selected by Amazon as one of the top ten humor books of the year.

Buy a copy now!

Hello World

My first book, Hello World: a  life in ham radio is a beautiful and intriguing look inside a world unknown to most of us. It’s full of hundreds of extraordinary images from around the world and was designed by the talented designer Paul Sahre.  Even if the very idea of ham radio seems odd and dull, trust me, this book will delight and inform you.

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