By Diane Ballard
Danny Wilson is Tennessee through and through. Born in Tennessee and educated at UT Knoxville, he lives here with his family and works here, even though his talent as an illustrator would likely win him a niche in a larger market.
Wilson’s business is in Knoxville, but many of his projects are for firms in New York, Chicago, and Atlanta. So it was a coup for Tennessee Alumnus when he agreed to produce a map of Tennessee, highlighting distinctive places and things—most of them with UT connections.
“I woke up at five in the morning, scared to death thinking about all the elements the Alumnus staff asked me to include,” he laughs. He approached the project methodically, first outlining the state, then sketching in the major cities and adding elements like the state flag and the tulip poplar, the state tree.
“Then I relaxed. I could see it was going to work,” he says. “This was really fun to do.”
Wilson draws using a Wacom Digital Tablet with a pressure-sensitive stylus, which he says is “quicker and cleaner” than the old way—“I seldom use real paints any more.”
The Elizabethton native earned his fine arts degree from UT Knoxville in 1984. He says being a student at Knoxville was “like a dream come true” after growing up watching Vol football.
One of Wilson’s largest and most recognizable pieces was the Vols’ Power T superimposed on a starburst that was on the back of the Neyland Stadium Jumbotron until last fall. Wilson says that as a lifelong UT fan, having his work displayed at the stadium made him very proud. Another of his large-scale illustrations is the graphic that adorns UT’s Kraken supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a splashy orange and blue rendering of the sea creature for which the computer is named.
Most of Wilson’s recent work has been in event marketing. He prepares artistic renderings of exhibits for marketing firms that pitch ideas to promote products or services—“like for Coke Zero,” Wilson explains.
“Many of these exhibits are staged out of tractor trailers. The drawings help the firms make a sale. I got into this when Whittle Communications was in Knoxville and had an events division. After Whittle closed, the people who worked there scattered all over the country, and they still call me with their business. There aren’t very many illustrators who do this type of thing.”
He’s flattered that people in big cities contact him for illustrations, “but people in New York are no different from people in Tennessee. They appreciate you and come back to you if you do good work and meet deadlines.”
Wilson’s wife, Jennifer, also has her own business as a speech pathologist. The couple has four children.
At age 47, Wilson says he’s lucky. “Drawing was all I ever wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to make a living at it until I got to college. I’m blessed to be able to draw pictures for a living.”
See more of Wilson’s work at dannywilsonart.blogspot.com.