In the Studio with Dan Leo.


Ireland based multi-disciplinary artist Dan Leo had a realisation a few years ago – he didn’t have to paint things in the ‘correct colour‘. From that point on, Dan has been prolific in his practice working on varying scales, producing large urban murals, studio paintings and limited and open run digital prints.

Might sound like an obvious one, but for me at the time it kicked off a whole new approach. I’d even say that’s when I properly started as an artist and everything before that was practice”.

Dan loves to depict animals in his bold, graphic, highly coloured, cartoonish style; ducks, rabbits, cats, swans, deer, apes, dinosaurs, birds, frogs – the list is endless. He aims to paint each animal in the simplest manner possible, capturing their essence in a very direct way.

There are so many species, shapes, sizes, colours, looks, and feelings that can come from the animal world that there is a never ending source of inspiration to pull from. On the flip side I am particularly disinterested in drawing or painting inanimate human made objects and people themselves. Animals have and can equally convey emotion if necessary and the variety is almost overwhelming”.

In the Studio with Dan Leo.
Left: Duck | Open Edition Print | VIEW – Right: Rabbit | Open Edition Print | VIEW

Dan credits his graphic style to influences from childhood and the steady consumption of obscure cultures, 90’s cartoons, music and street art movements.

The one thing that has remained in my work throughout the years has been the use of heavy linework. This, I think, is a result of the influence of 90s cartoons on me as a child and my love for graphics and logos, particularly American Sports logos. Pretty much everything else has evolved slowly but surely. I have been reducing the amount of unnecessary details and seem to be on the ‘less is more’ path. When I look at work from a year or two ago all I can see are the redundant little details! The main evolution has been the shift away from organic ‘flowy’ imagery to more correct mathematical designs. That’s not to say that minimalistic imagery can’t also have flow“.

In the Studio with Dan Leo.
Dan in his studio.

Dan’s studio in rural Ireland is split between two spaces, reflecting the duality in his creative practice. His first inside space features two desks; one for digital design work and the other for painting with a brush, as well as housing a large Ren & Stimpy collection and a guitar for clearing his head. The second space is outside, where he works in spray paint.

Colour is normally the starting point for Dan’s work.

“I tend to have a very vague blurry image in my head of what I’m going to paint, mainly just the colours and tone. I’ll use a particular colour scheme for a period of five or six months then subconsciously it will change. In general, I like using bright contrasting colours, lots of fluro if I can these days. I’ve been using the colours on the packaging of a lot of 90’s toys as inspiration lately. Colour inspiration can come from anywhere really”.

From here, Dan uses reference material to figure out which animal best fits the colours in his head. He works initially on thumbnail sketches that are refined with a Lightbox before he takes the image into Adobe Illustrator. At this stage, the artwork develops more spontaneously.

In the Studio with Dan Leo.
Deer Mural WIP

“If the design is for a wall, I’ll print out the image with a grid on top and apply it to the wall, or just use photoshop on my phone to impose the design onto a photo of the bare wall and start painting. If it’s a canvas painting, I’ll print out the linework alone and use transfer paper to put the lines down and go from there. I use spray paint for these as well as liquid acrylics. Spray paint was immediately appealing due to how fast you could complete a painting“.

When is comes to experimenting with medium and style, Dan is open minded. He has studied animation and has enjoyed working in resin in the past, producing small-scale sculptures.

“If you could pause time and not have to worry about jobs and project deadlines that would be great. I often look at photorealism and wonder if I would be able to do it, but then that’s not the kind of art I’m into so would it just be an attempt to prove something to myself? And who’s got time for that?! As good as it is to explore, it’s also important to know your strengths and funnel what naturally wants to come out”.

Dan’s first Scottish mural Heron located just off Byres Road at the entrance to Ruthven Lane.

So it looks like we can anticipate more colourful prints and murals in 2022. And if you can’t wait, you can check out Dan’s full gallery collection here.

Thank you so much to Dan for taking the time to talk to us and sharing some insight into his practice, studio environment and mural life!