Artist Series 2024 | Danny Steinman
For New York-based artist Danny Steinman, many seemingly incongruous paths—teaching science, playing music, doodling in notebooks—somehow led him to being one of the most prominent rock artists in the music scene.
He’s created art, posters, and most prominently, enamel pins for bands like Phish, Twiddle, The Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews, Slightly Stoopid, Primus, Ween and many more. And now, his vibrant art graces the topsheets of the renowned Wagner Custom Skis.
Danny Steinman stomps around his home turf.
Honored to have such a creative legend in our fold, we caught up with Steinman, who’s also an avid skier, at his home while he was on a break from creating. Here’s what he had to say.
Wagner: When did you know you were an artist?
Steinman: I’ve always known. Even as a young kid, I was in plays, I sang in the chorus and always sought creative outlets. This need for expression has always been a part of me. In terms of visual arts, I used to do lots of doodling in the margins of my notebook paper. My style was always like, OK, I need to fill this space, but not in a way that feels chaotic. This approach of “filling the space” has evolved into my signature style, though it’s become less busy as I’ve evolved. Movement, rhythm, and flow are everything to me.
KALEIDOSCOPE by Danny Steinman
Wagner: How did you turn your doodles into a career?
Steinman: I was doing a lot of writing about the music scene, and I was seeing I was getting good traction online. I thought, maybe I can take this same approach for putting my artwork out there. That was about eight years ago. I had made quite a few large pieces, and I wasn’t doing anything with them, so I decided to try internet marketing. I shared a fanart piece I did that celebrates my favorite band, Phish, in interest-groups on Facebook, and it got a huge reaction. I made some prints, and we sold a bunch, and then I just kept doing it.
Wagner: Did you have any kind of big breaks, or was it slow and steady?
Steinman: Trey Anastasio, the lead singer of Phish, is a huge inspiration to me. When I was first getting out there with my art, I interviewed one of his best friends, Phish lyricist Tom Marshall, and we struck up a friendship. I had this wonderful psychedelic drawing I did of Trey, and I showed it to Tom. He loved it. He told me that though he and Trey have an unspoken rule not to send fan art, he was so blown away with it, he was going to show it to Trey.
So, I was on my way home from teaching in the Bronx, filling up at a gas station on the Palisades Parkway, when I got this text from Tom with a screen shot from Trey. It was in all caps and said, “HOLY CRAP, THAT IS AMAZING!! I’d be honored to get a print.” Unbeknownst to Trey, with just those few words, he changed my life. That moment was so inspirational to me because it confirmed my suspicion that I was doing something special. And to have it come from someone who means so much to me, it was a huge break.
About a year after that, another big break came my way. I was still doing my fanart and gaining ground, but not working with bands officially. I was on vacation with my family in Florida when I got a message from Mihali, the singer of the meteoric jamband Twiddle, and he’s like, “Hey, man, I’m a huge fan and have been following you on Instagram. I’d love for you to come and work with my band.” I knew this was big. I walked into the room where my wife was, and sang to her, “Honey, something happened...”
Love & Peace by Danny Steinman
I’ve had some breaks, but I’ve also paid my dues. For years, I’d sell my wares at music festivals and on Shakedown, the ad hoc flea market that always manifests in the parking lot at Grateful Dead shows. It can be grueling work, and sometimes I’d sit there for hours in a booth by the porta-potty without anyone stopping by. Some days, people flocked and fawned, other days not so much. Some people would tell me they love me, and other people would trash me. This is the risk one takes when you stick your neck out creatively.
But things happen if you just keep pushing and stay genuine. I always kind of knew I had something special. I just had to find an audience to agree with it. In the end, nothing has driven my career more than my huge collector fanbase who has coalesced into a massive online community, where my artwork has served as a conduit for human connection. This will be my greatest legacy.
Peaceful by Danny Steinman
Wagner: What is it about jam bands that you find so inspiring?
Steinman: The way a jam band works is they have songs with structure, but there is always a “jam,” a stream of consciousness and free-flow improvisation that turns the song into other things. The approach to my drawing mirrors the music I work with. I create a larger image, like I’ll take a long time sketching a hummingbird, but then the “fill the space” design inside comes out much more free-flow, without a plan. That is my jam. Working in the jam band scene is very natural and organic. Everything I’m doing now is pure and non-contrived because that scene something I’ve always been a part of since high school. I have also branched out into working in the reggae scene, and my art has helped to fuel a crossover between these two thriving music scenes.
Wagner: I hear also that you’re a passionate skier?
Steinman: I grew up skiing. I was born in 1970, and in 1972, my parents bought a place in Killington, so I was on skis by the time I was 2. The first time they put me on skis, I threw them into the woods and walked down. But now, skiing is my one sport that I’m an expert at. Like music, skiing is my soul-therapy.
Shakedown by Danny Steinman
Wagner: You have two kids…Do they ever introduce you to new music?
Steinman: Well, my son is at this point where he’s like, “I don’t like music.” He’s a total athlete. But he’ll listen to drill music and hard rap. My daughter likes Lana Del Rey and she listens to ’80s music. They both love Twiddle because they grew up with it, and they also like the Beatles—I have turned them onto some different stuff. They’re a different generation, God help us.
Article by Kimberly Beekman
Kimberly Beekman is the former editor-in-chief of the late, great Skiing Magazine (RIP), and a longtime editor of SKI Magazine before that. She currently uses the title of “freelancer” as a beard to ski powder all over the world. She lives in Steamboat, Colorado, with her wonderful daughter and terrible cat.