Meet the Artist: Dan Bergren

By George Nadeau

Dan Bergren has contributed stunning artwork to several of our trading card sets. You can find his hand-drawn cards in The Walking Dead Season Two, Batman The Legend and Downton Abbey Collectible Cards (which released last month.) In the next couple months, look for more of Dan's artwork in The Walking Dead Season Three and The Hobbit trading card sets; previews can be found in this blog entry. To keep up with all of his projects, follow Dan on Facebook, Instagram, DA, and on his blog. Now, here's more about one of our favorite artists:

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Orange County, California, just a few miles from Disneyland. In fact, the house I grew up in faced directly toward the park, and was located between the same two streets that border its north and south sides. So even though my parents couldn't afford to take me and my siblings there much at all, we could still see the fireworks shows right over the house across the street.

Do you have a formal education in art?

Not exactly. I was a band geek in high school, so naturally when I graduated my interest was still in music. I spent a couple of semesters at Cal State Long Beach as a music education major. That meant that my parents sunk unbelievable sums of money into the CSU system, so that I could enroll in all of the required music courses, plus several other courses that I frankly had little or no interest in. That all burned me out pretty quickly. So my priorities soon turned to playing hockey with my friends, getting a "real job", and then later to the vague, seemingly unattainable notion of becoming a professional artist. I did enroll in a few beginner's drawing and painting classes at Cypress College, more as a means of finding inspiration and direction in my art ambitions, but nothing I would really call a formal education. I would watch art instruction shows on TV (there wasn't any internet to speak of back then) like Bob Ross's Joy of Painting, I'd wander through art galleries in local malls, and practice what I had picked up here and there whenever I could. So for the most part I consider myself to be basically self-taught. 

When did you decide to become an artist?

In a way, I think I've kind of always been an artist. When I was little I would constantly be in my room with a pad and pencil, trying to reproduce my favorite cartoon characters. I had the walls and doors of my room papered with intricately detailed action poses and schematics of Voltron, Robotech mechs, ships, human characters, creatures, even a few characters I had dreamed up myself. I loved it whenever I would get to draw things in grade school, even if it was for a science report or something. I remember a cover drawing I did for a report on the red-tailed hawk in the sixth grade. I had just copied it from a photo in an encyclopedia my parents had, but my teacher was amazed at how detailed and realistic it was. As I recall, he gave me a pretty good grade just for the artwork. As far as an actual moment that I decided to become an artist, that's a little fuzzy, but I would say it was most likely on Christmas Eve 1994. 

Who are your biggest artistic influences?

As a Christmas present in 1994, somebody gave me an art calendar by the sea life painter Christian Riese Lassen, and I was completely blown away by how beautiful and elaborate and colorful his work was. I was already pretty fascinated with marine animals and the oceans, but that artwork was what finally inspired me to set out toward making a name for myself in the art world. I wanted to create images that were every bit as awe-inspiring as Lassen's were for me. Some other artists whose work has helped to keep my sense of awe inspired are Drew Struzan, Jerry Vanderstelt, Randy Martinez, Adam Hughes, Jim Lee, and Olivia Berardinis, just to name a few.

What’s your typical process for creating your artwork?

The first step is figuring out exactly what kind of look I want the work to have. Do I want it to be photo-realistic? More of a comic style? Kind of a rough pencil sketch feel? Full color, monochromatic, black and white? Next step is to find suitable reference material. Sometimes I can work out certain elements of a drawing or painting without photo reference, but nine times out of ten it comes out much better if I can see the actual details, lighting and proportions of what I'm reproducing. I generally do a light pencil sketch of the basic composition, then darker shades, and finally begin adding color over that. When I'm coloring I normally will work layer upon layer to build up the various colors and shades from light to dark. I find that layering single, transparent colors over one another, rather than pre-mixing colors, creates a more luminous, translucent effect. Light can pass through the individual layers - sort of like a prism - rather than just bouncing off the surface of a single, opaque layer of paint. It's a technique I got very comfortable with doing my sea life art.

What are you currently working on? 

I'm in between sketch card sets right now, just taking time to get back to some of my artist proofs from past sets, and working on commission pieces. I've got a portrait of Boba Fett, a sea life painting, a comic book cover and several other pieces on my easel at the moment.  

If you couldn't be an artist, what would you do?

My first choice with be a musician, of course. Music was my main passion from the time I was in junior high school until I was around 20 years old, when I picked up art as a career possibility. I joined the Las Vegas Brass Band in 1999, and played with them until 2006, when I moved back to California to live with my girlfriend, Danielle. It was an inspiring time in my life, and I miss it sometimes. But I'm on to bigger and better things now.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

On the increasingly rare occasion that I do have spare time, Danielle and I spend as much of it as we can at Disneyland. We went there the first time we met in person, and it's kind of been our "happy place" ever since - one of them, anyway. Besides that, we watch a bit of TV, generally relax, play with our two dogs and several cats, and visit with friends. You might not know it to look at me, but I love to eat - it's one of my favorite things to do, even if I have to cook something myself. And I try to pick up some heavy objects and get a bit of exercise at least four or five days a week. 

What is something that most people don’t know about you?

Oh, there are a lot of things that most people don't know about me. But if I have to pick just one, I've been a member of the 501st Legion - the world's largest Star Wars costuming group - since 2007, and have my own screen-accurate clone trooper costume. I also have two Obi-Wan Kenobi costumes and a set of ODST armor from the Halo games.

Dinner party with anyone, living or dead. Who are the guests and what would you talk about?

Danielle and all our friends, Einstein, Carl Sagan, Gandhi, the Beatles, Drew Barrymore, The Monty Python crew and Hunter S. Thompson. We would make fun of bad movies.

What was your favorite Saturday morning cartoon as a child?

That's a tough one, because I really loved a lot of cartoons back then. Transformers probably tops the list, though. 

What was the best compliment you've received?

In 2008, as part of a fan project by members of The Dented Helmet, I painted a portrait of Jeremy Bulloch - who played Boba Fett in the classic Star Wars trilogy. I painted him dressed as Fett with his helmet off, standing on the Bespin landing platform in front of Boba's ship, Slave I. The painting, along with a screen-accurate Fett costume, was presented to Mr. Bulloch at a comic convention in Dallas. Later that day he donned the costume for a photo shoot, and struck the very same pose from my painting. To me that was a huge compliment, and one of my proudest moments. 

If you could eliminate one thing from your daily schedule, what would it be and why?

Daily schedule? What's that? Well, one thing I'm not fond of having to do is going out to get my mail.  Danielle and I live in a "Mother-in-law's cottage", which is a nice way of saying we live in a small house in somebody else's back yard. So six days a week I have to walk a sixty-foot gauntlet of barking, snarling, snapping teeth to get to the front gate and grab the mail. Those dogs will never learn to accept my being here.

Name your favorite song.

Like all of my favorite things, I have a lot of them. I'm a bit of a Disneyphile, and one of my favorites is "Feed The Birds" from Mary Poppins

You are marooned on an island. What five items would you like to have with you?

I know most artists might say they'd want their paints and brushes, or whatever art supplies. I'd want a compass, a big knife, a shovel, my telescope, and a comfy hammock.

Name one thing that drives you crazy.

I'm not a big fan of what some people - particularly the male variety - do in, and to, public restrooms.

Name the most famous person you've had a face to face encounter with.

George Lucas. We shared a moment of awkward eye-contact in the commissary at the Lucasfilm campus in San Francisco a couple of years ago. I had seen him in person a few other times, though. The first was when I and five other 501st clone troopers appeared on stage with him at ShoWest in Las Vegas, when he introduced The Clone Wars series.

If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?

I'd sneak past the lines on all the rides at Disneyland.

Thanks for sharing, Dan!