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Creative maverick carves out successful niche in classic design work  

Arts and EntertainmentCreative maverick carves out successful niche in classic design work  

Dan ‘Dannö’ Drouin has built a reputation for his painstaking attention to detail and exceptionally creative high-quality design work on many projects that have involved pinstriping, lettering, gold-leafing, and sign-painting across his successful multi-decade career.  

However, ever since Drouin could remember, he has had a passion for creating art, however, he realized that his creative inclinations could be turned into a career after seeing a successful guest speaker. 

“I was eight or nine when a guest speaker came to my school. He was an artist from Disney…I was just amazed that that was a job that somebody would get paid to do. I was determined I was going to be a quote-unquote graphic artist, not even knowing what that term meant,” explained Drouin.  

Drouin stands beside one of his classic van design projects. Photo courtesy Dannö Drouin.

Drouin then became fascinated with vehicle custom painting and exterior design work which was popular in the 1970s and 1980s.    

“At some point, my dad bought a van and we started going to van shows. I didn’t pay attention [to anything except] of what was outside of the vans,’ Drouin continued. “I couldn’t understand how the murals were painted on there…because some of them were these fantasy art-type paintings which were very similar, if not copies, of some of the albums that I had like the Meatloaf’s ‘Bat Out to Hell’ album, for instance, or a Molly Hatchet album or any of Frank Frazetta fantasy art.”

Drouin then explained, “It wasn’t till a few years later when we went to a truck show and came across a guy that had taken a picture of a big tow truck. And then he went to the back sleeper portion of this big tow truck and he grabbed this tool attached to a hose and he started spraying…stuff on the back. I was just trying to figure out what he was doing. And within about 20 minutes or so I started to make out an image of this Polaroid picture that he had just taken. He was painting the outline of this image and he was now painting onto the sleeper with his airbrush gun. I just stood there for hours watching this guy until I had to go home.”

Dannö Drouin has worked on a host of complex and high-profile projects throughout the years across Ontario. Drouin is pictured here with his work for the Facebook Event project. Photo courtesy Dannö Drouin.

Drouin would eventually be accepted in the design program at Mohawk College in the late 80s which allowed him to not only learn more about designing but also helped him connect with his future mentor.

“Towards the end of the program, the head of the art department [told me] there was a fellow in town that had a sign shop and he was looking for a shop boy,” Drouin continued. “So I started work with Butch [Robinson] of Robinson Art/Sign and he said ‘I’m not paying you,’ but I didn’t care. I was fine with that [because] I wanted to be in the shop [even if it was] just to push a broom. I wanted to observe and watch. Butch explained to me, ‘If you want to make money, you have to find your own jobs, and you can bring them here and do them here. So that’s how you can make your money.’ [He] was a fantastic artist; he was extremely creative [and] extremely successful. It was a blessing to have met somebody like him [and] he became a significant part of my life.”

Drouin has built a strong repertoire of design skills in areas including pinstriping, gold leafing, and hand lettering/sign painting. Drouin is pictured here doing some design work on a vintage car. Photo courtesy Dannö Drouin.

Drouin took Robinson’s advice and started to find and foster his own client base.

“[He gave me] some tough love, but it also put me out there on the street. I was knocking on doors and getting turned down at first. But that’s just what I did and I wasn’t afraid. And I’m still to this day, I’m so grateful for that. Because if he would have just given me the gravy, I would have never ventured outside of that shop to look for work,” explained Drouin.

Drouin does a lot of pinstriping design work on cars, vans, and boats. and motorcycles. His painstaking attention to detail and quality has made him a favorite of those who appreciate his old-school approach. Photo courtesy Dannö Drouin.

With his company, Danno’s Black Heart Designs, Drouin has continued to develop his talent and build a strong portfolio of both local and corporate clientele.

“I was part of this restoration on this carousel on Toronto Island [and] it just fantastic to be a part of that process and to meet these other artists…from around the world,” Drouin said.

Drouin is pictured here in the process of doing work during the Facebook Event project. Photo courtesy Dannö Drouin.

Drouin also had a chance to work with Facebook, and like the carousel project, took him to Toronto for the high-profile work.

“I got a call to do something for Facebook for Car Week. …They didn’t know much about the car community [and] they had a very minimal idea of what they wanted done; so, I brought in a friend of mine who’s an airbrush artist, and we created this hood. Each of us spent over 100 hours on just the hood with gold-leafing and silver-leafing; making this elaborate piece of art on the hood of a Chevy pickup truck. After the show, the Facebook executives were fighting over it because they all wanted it to be in their offices,” said Drouin.

Drouin notes that he has been lucky to have been mentored by several talented and successful designers during his career. Drouin is pictured here with the late Butch Robinson who owned and operated Robinson Art/Sign for over 30 years in the Brantford, Ontario area. Photo courtesy Dannö Drouin.

However, Drouin has found the most satisfying work amongst those clients who have invested their time and efforts in their passions.

“I had a fellow that I did [some work for including gold leaf] on a boat [which] took him 22 years to build [and] he called it Sunday Mornings because he only worked on it on Sunday mornings,” Drouin continued. “[When I] was finishing up, I leaned over and looked towards him [and I noticed] he’s got a tear running down his cheek. It’s just those moments they’re worth all the hardships [and] all the difficult days of trying to survive…those are the most fantastic moments. It’s one thing to go work for Facebook; that’s great. But really to touch somebody’s life in that way with what I’ve been blessed with. That’s really where it’s at.”

This picture is a close-up of the lettering/design work that Drouin did on his client’s boat ‘Sunday Mornings.’ Photo courtesy Dannö Drouin.

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