Norm Daniels is a surf and island themed artist and illustrator, with a unique and fun impressionistic style, working primarily with oil on canvas. Norm’s love of “plein air” painting has taken him around the world creating scenes from San Diego county landmarks, to the beauty of The Islands. Norm has long since painted historical moments of legendary big wave surfer and friend, Greg Noll, and Norm’s fun cartoons and illustrations give nod to his great sense of humor and whimsy. Many of those cartoons have been featured in Surfer Magazine and illustrations of several children’s books.
Norm was born and raised in San Diego, CA a long long time ago. Throughout his life he dabbled in the arts, painting mustaches on posters, scribbling Griffinesque waves on the corners of his homework, even occasionally selling something to the unsuspecting public out of his VW bus in-between surf sessions.
Norm studied Architecture in college and for several years he designed many custom homes in the San Diego area. From 1989 to 2005 he took his family to the High Sierras, where Norm served as Artist/Architect for Hume Lake Christian Camps. While there, he took up sailing and painting to console his longing for water and surf while stranded in the mountains.
Many paintings where a result of that longing. “I’ve been told that paintings from a tortured soul sell better.” In the summer of 2005 Norm returned to San Diego and after a series of small strokes, he quit his day job and is now enjoying the opportunity to pursue his artwork and passion full-time in the city and settings he loves.
Adelman Fine Art represents Norm Daniels in San Diego, California.
Q & A | In the Studio with Norm Daniels
AFA: What fun it must be to plein air paint! Where has been your favorite location and why?
Norm: “You are right about that, it is fun to paint on location. It would be hard to pick only one favorite, but as I consider all the wonderful places around town I often frequent with brush and canvas in hand, Point Loma at the Old Lighthouse is my favorite. This area most represents the real landscape of California (before we brought in all the palm trees and eucalyptus). I enjoy painting trees very much, but it is also fun to paint the stark vistas of Point Loma and to greet visitors that stop to watch me. I enjoy pointing at the local vegetation seeing their response to imagining the near desert landscape that was once San Diego County. Plus, there is marvelous light there that changes wonderfully during the day. It’s really nice when the fog rolls in or the sunset lights up the Lighthouse. It is a special part of San Diego.”
AFA: You’re well known to paint surf scenes, sailing themes, and also have been known to create cartoons for children’s books. What is your favorite style to paint and why?
Norm: “Toons….yep I love to paint or sketch cartoons. My dear ol’ Pop was a pretty good cartoonist and once he showed me how to make funny animals and people or to animate objects like cars or houses, I was hooked. Of course this meant that all homework assignments were turned in with little cartoons scribbled all over them. Now I paint all kinds of goofy cartoons in oil paint or 1-shot (enamel) and occasionally acrylic or water color (Don’t tell McPherson, he thinks I don’t like watercolor. : ) I always have a sketch book with me and carry three values of marking pens so I can sketch a scene or create a cartoon that pops into my noggin.”
AFA: Please tell us more about your work with architecture! Are there any buildings in San Diego we may recognize that you’ve designed?
Norm: “Most of what I designed was single-family custom homes. Many were up in Poway for the RB Mohling Construction Company. These were some beautiful “Craftsman” Style homes. While at Hume Lake Christian Camps in the Sierra, I designed some really cool “Mountain Lodge” style buildings for them. The only commercial building I can recall here in San Diego was the remodel for the IBEW (Electrical Union) building on Washington St in North Park in the early 1970’s. That was fun.”
AFA: What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your biography alone?
Norm: “I actually like Humidity.”
AFA: Are you still surfing? If so, how often?
Norm: “Not too often since having a series of small ‘lacunar’ strokes about 8 years ago. Those strokes affected my left side and balance, but I do go out in the water to body surf now and then. Once in a while my buddy Don and I will take a surf trip to some remote spot in Central America and leave the wet suits at home, and enjoy some tasty tropical waves. Good times… and I still have a few longboard moves.”
AFA: What living artist would you say you respect the most and why.
Norm: “Matt Smith of Utah for his glorious Plein Air skills and Brian Kessinger for his classic cartooning. (If you let me, I can make a long list of others.) I must add, if I may, that the reason I paint in oil and on location is due to the late Ken Auster, of Laguna Beach. His wonderful loose and gloriously juicy oil paintings inspired me to grow as a painter and to keep focus on the composition of the scene over the detail. I miss him.”
AFA: What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?
Norm: ” I imagine myself being interviewed by a late night talk show host…. it’s quite embarrassing now that I think about it. No wonder other drivers stare and point at me. But mostly…I pray.”
AFA: What is the funniest thing that has happened to you recently?
Norm: “I was painting the Hotel Del a while back. The painting was almost done when suddenly a very well fed seagull flew overhead and made it clear to me what he thought of my painting. Splat!!! Now, when you consider the wind direction, his flight speed and the fact that my canvas was upright, I am pretty impressed that he made his mark Smack Dab in the middle of the sky of my painting. Impressive! (Everyone is an Art Critic)”
AFA: What was the last gift you gave someone?
Norm: “I gave away two paintings last weekend at ArtWalk in Liberty Station. That was so fun, because the recipients where delighted and a bit overwhelmed. I also loaned out a good pen that I never got back…does that count?”
AFA: What was it about Adelman Fine Art that made you want to show in the current Water Works exhibition?
Norm: “The Adelman Gallery is a cool gallery that I first saw while doing a TV promo last year for ArtWalk Little Italy. The owners, Phylicia and Nicole are fun and happy, and they know a lot about art. When I was invited to participate in this current show, how could I possibly say no? I am stoked to be part of this show and hope to get invited back for another some day (hint hint.) Of course, I’m pretty sure the gallery will bring me back if I sell a bunch of my paintings, so please buy one or two…or more. OK you can go ahead and buy them all, I promise I will paint more.”
AFA: Norm, we understand you have celebrity fans who have observed your plein air painting. Please tell us about one of those experiences.
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Norm: “I was painting the beautiful Hanalei Bay on the North Shore of Kauai when I became aware that someone was behind me and watching me paint. I turned around and we chatted about the painting and I asked if he painted as well. Then I thought ‘hey, this guy looks familiar.’ So I asked if we had met before. He told me he did a couple movies once. I then recognized him from Thomas Crown Affair (great movie) and we chatted about art and culture and that great movie. He was ever so pleasant. As he was getting ready to take his paddle board out into the surf I asked if we could take a picture together. He held the camera. I love telling people that Pierce Brosnan is a very pleasant, humble, and funny man. I would love to paint with him some day. He lives part time in Kauai and paints often with some of the North Shore painters over there. Cool Guy.”