Michiana caricaturist catalogs memories, faces through his artwork

Acrylic paint, an assortment of markers, canvases and stacks of paper clutter the studio of an artist. The focus of the space is an easel in the corner.

Finished and unfinished paintings and drawings hang, lean, lie and sit throughout the studio. Mixed in are a microwave, an old desktop computer and a software box.

Mark Daniels is a northern Indiana artist who turns 40 this summer. His entire adult life has been dedicated to painting and drawing, which he has done at the Goshen Arts Center for the past four years.

Mark does caricatures throughout Michiana, such as at the Nappanee Apple Festival, the Mishawaka Hacienda, and the Niles-Buchanan YMCA for the Niles Library’s annual Halloween party. For the Apple Festival, he pays the fee for a booth and sells caricatures to customers. At other events, he charges a flat fee — typically $300 for two hours.

“Because they’re free for the public I am going to sit down and be working my butt off,” Mark said. “It’s my job to be entertaining in order to get them to sit down. I’ll probably make fun of them and make them laugh.”

Photo by Ann Reiff

At events like the Niles Library Halloween party, he caps the number of caricatures he draws because otherwise he would be overloaded with customers who want to commemorate their costume with a fun drawing of themselves.

To entice customers to come to his booth, Mark displays caricatures he has drawn of Thor, Anne Hathaway, and U.S Olympians such as Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. He also has a caricature of Kerri Walsh and April Ross. However, he complains about displaying it because one of them “looks too normal,” which hinders his ability to exaggerate — a key characteristic of any good caricature.

“They’re caricatures. They’re supposed to be outlandish,” Mark said. “It’s not a portrait, although in northern Indiana I get a lot of people who think they’re getting a portrait and want it to look good. I don’t really need to make them look good. They’re paying me $20, not $500.”

Next door to Mark’s studio is a gallery with only Mark’s work displayed, but instead of caricatures, his paintings line the walls.

Each painting depicts either a bird or plant, which are inspired by his wife’s career for Elkhart County Parks.

“My wife has a huge influence on what I do,” Mark said. “She’s a naturalist and leads hikes [for] kids. It’s really important that these kids learn about local flora and fauna, instead of just bears, tigers and leopards. So, I tend to celebrate local stuff that is beautiful and/or unique to here. Plus, it’s easier to find the subject matter. We don’t have tigers here.”

The paintings vary in size and are spread out around the walls. The bold colors used for each painting brighten the room. His style is “impressionistic” and he also uses broad strokes, so that each painting consists of thousands of little squares that together make up one larger object.

“The caricatures come through in the paintings that I do,” Mark said. “It’s really fun to exaggerate things. It makes them pop. It makes things move. A lot of people say my paintings have a lot of energy.”

Photo by Ann Reiff

Mark thinks a lot of this energy emits from his paintings because he has ADHD.

“It’s a blessing because I can think outside the box a lot easier, but it gets in the way a lot,” Mark said. “Focus is an issue, so I get side tracked on problems when I should really just focus on one and take care of it.”

Under each piece of art is a tag that tells the name of the painting and its price. However, there is one tag that is all alone — just a blank space on the wall. The painting that was once there was recently sold to someone in Texas.

Mark finds most of his customers through word of mouth and social media.

“I use Facebook a lot to spread the good word of my art,” he said.

Mark uses Instagram as well, but has realized that he spends way too much time on social media. In fact, he believes to be successful his business needs to be 20 percent art and the other 80 marketing. Because of this, he is open to having an agent represent him in the future. That way he can actually focus on painting.

However, he does not want to focus on it too much.

“I’ve seen way too many marriages fail because of the art world. Good people!” Mark said. “This process can take everything out of you and you can basically worship it. But I don’t think I do because I get tired of myself. I say, ‘OK Mark, I’m done with you today, let’s go home.’”

Then he does, leaving his studio just the way it is.