Weapons Declassified: Dan Christofferson

Dan Christofferson Header
Written & Designed by: Raji Purcell
Edited by: Jon Savage

After spending the latter half of my friday at Go Media helping set up for WMC, and seeing where everything was to take place, I was beyond excited. Later that Friday night the other interns and I went to the Happy Dog for the WMC Fest Mixer. Though the fest had not yet started, the creative co-mingling had taken full swing. While listening to the bands start up and enjoying a drink, I gazed over to a face I recognized from my research on the speakers. I had quickly become a huge fan of his style, and ability to skillfully execute incredible illustrations, and complex elegant designs. Beyond the crew at Go Media, I had yet to network face to face with any other professionals in my field. After taking the leap, I was immediately glad I did. Dan proved to be an incredibly humble, personable, and badass dude. I got to talk to him a while (at least until I decided to let him eat his hot dog) about what he’d be talking about and the creative process in general. Naturally after our introductions, and pre-WMC creative small talk, I was stoked to see Dan speak.

Dan Christofferson Brief

Here’s What Happened:

Dan dived into his talk right away speaking on how where he grew up, and lives influences his work so much. Also stating that Salt Lake City is a crazy place to live and grow up. How most of the far-fetched stories you hear about the area are actually pretty real.

“Most of you all probably know Salt Lake City from shows like Big Love, or Sister Wives…which is all pretty accurate.”

Dan Christofferson Tarot CardsThe first work Dan presented us was a series of Tarot Cards themed around SLC folk lore to promote AIGA’s next convention there. Each Tarot Card was meticulously researched and used Dan’s own stylized symbology to tell the story in a centralized piece. As he went through each of them explaining the insane SLC tales behind them, I realized the importance of being a good story teller. This was a core trait in Dan that he’d go on to discuss in his talk. Story telling, coupled with being able to talk about yourself has a creative or brand.

Dan Christofferson Death GuildWith that Dan started the main focus of his talk which he titled Flyer The Death Guild. Dan related an anecdote about being at a Big Cartel (where he works) meet up and overhearing a conversation in which someone was asking how they can promote their Big Cartel store. That question, and how to hustle your personal brand in general comes up a lot. Another person in the same area responded to them with the advice that they should “flyer the Death Guild”. In which Dan responded “Absolutely…you do that”. Admittedly at the time Dan did not understand that this girl was talking about a goth night club in San Francisco. The Death Guild’s lobby is always littered with flyers, and stickers promoting various DIY brands, so the connection to the advice became apparent. Its a great launch point for anyone to start their own brand or service.

“Once you decide to build a brand for yourself it has to come from an inner passion. The brands that work come from something that you would be doing if you didn’t have to make money. The stores that I see that make it [at] Big Cartel, whether they are selling or promoting; these kids live eat, and breathe, and drink, and sleep their brand. You have to develop this sense that you wear it as a second skin. You are constantly littering pieces of your brand out there, you are flyering every Death Guild you come to.”

VGBND by Dan ChristoffersonThis advice struck an immense chord with me, and ever since I’ve been trying to implement it into my life at at least 10% of the level Dan was talking about. It’s a hard thing to do, but I really do believe if you achieve this second skin, it can lead to success. This advice may seem targeted specifically to brands but in truth is easily adaptable to anyone who is running a creative service. Because once your brand is apart of you to such a large extent, it will come up in conversations with people who can push your career to the next level.

Dan Christofferson's mural at WMC 2011

Dan then moved on to talking about his ideas on never sleeping. This has less to do with how many hours of sleep you get each night, and more to do with training your mind to always be alert. Alert in the sense that you are ready to receive inspiration from anything possible around you, and that you can store and catalog that inspiration inside your mind.

“Training your mind to hear stories, see visuals, and start to build this organized catalog of images and ideas in your head, that you can start putting together in unique ways. I had a professor when I was younger that just pushed us on that. That said ‘Soak up everything you can. You don’t want to be stuck in a creative rut and be referring to somebody else’s work. Or copy other people’s styles. You want to be better at learning stories from people, and remembering dreams, and studying history, and pulling your inspiration from real world experiences.’”

Dan Christofferson TrichophagiaDan gave an anecdote about one of his own experiences cataloging inspiration. While at an orchestra concert, Dan observed a child compulsively eating his own hair. The actions of the kid were so shocking and interesting to Dan that he had no choice but to go crazy researching it when he returned home. After discovering a condition known as Pica from his research Dan had obtained enough inspiration for months of work. A great example of how little instances in life can influence you.

Dan Bee TeethThe next aspect of advice Dan discussed was the idea of littering the world with your brand. The first way of accomplishing this is in the physical sense. Whether its stickers, or street art, or business cards, its always important to have something accessible to talk about. Dan referenced an artist named Travis Miller as a great example of legally and illegally covering wherever he went with his art. “He made a really good name for himself by just always putting himself out there.” Littering the world with your brand can only go so far in the real world however—its also very important to replicate the same actions online. It’s very easy these days to approach a blog, brand, or company with the work you are doing and try to get noticed. Dan had a great opportunity when he was starting out with his own t-shirt line. Dan at the time had been creating t-shirts with crests based on the stories of scientists and their discoveries. After creating these shirts and putting them online Dan began to email blogs every day with a link, and about his brand. However Dan never heard back from anyone, which is a lot of times the case when people who are busy. However because Dan provided some content for them to use, they eventually got around to his emails. Finally a blog posted about his store and for the next 48 hours Dan sold out of every shirt he had. Going to show persistence pays off.

Dan Christofferson Lend A HandSpeaking up is one of the most important ways to be successful. “You don’t have to be that annoying kid that’s always in people’s face. But you have to be able to talk about your brand enough that when a conversation comes up it feels organic and you can talk about yourself and excite people about your brand.” This how Dan go involved at Big Cartel with his friend who founded it. Dan would have the courage to go around to various art shows and talk to people about whether or not they have their work selling online. And if they didn’t he would inform them about Big Cartel. After Dan said this I immediately thought back to Friday night when I had taken an opportunity to speak with him and how much I felt like it paid of that I did.

Listen to the Talk

As I watched every talk, I kept Garage Band open on my MacBook and recorded everything I could. The quality of the mp3 below may not be the best, but you can get an idea of what it was like from my perspective in the front row. Bootleg version!