Profile: Dan Seese
Fort Collins, Colorado
Posted on Tuesday, August 30th, 2016
Dan Seese Studios
550 sq. ft.
I started doing some hand-lettered signs and murals in the early ’70s, but got out of it for quite a few years. Later I was out of work in between jobs and I decided that making signs was what I really enjoyed doing best. I looked around for work in sign shops, but couldn’t find anything. I ended up opening my own shop. That was in 1986.
When it comes to formal training in sign making, I’ve never had any. I’ve always had to figure the work out, learning as I go. Design-wise, I’ve borrowed ideas and inspiration from others—folks like Mark Oatis, Bill Hueg, Noel Weber, Shane Durnford and so many others.
I work out of a studio behind our home. I couldn’t really do it without Chris, my wife. She takes care of all the bookkeeping and keeps things running smoothly. That lets me focus on getting the work done. She’ll give me her opinion on something that I’m working on and I can run ideas past her.
Make it memorable
I’m not a fine artist—I’m a commercial artist. I try to make something that will help a business develop a successful image. It’s so important that a sign says more than just the name of the business. It should communicate the feel of the business, and be memorable.
I guess I’m driven to some extent by trying to do that, and trying to succeed in getting the sign to look as I envisioned it. You know how it is—you finish a sign, take a look at it and think, “I should have… I wish I had… I shouldn’t have…” this or that, or your eye goes to some imperfection. I guess that’s what drives you to do better.
Almost all of my work comes from referrals or repeat business. I don’t do any marketing. I sometimes refer people to my website to see examples of my work. It often strengthens their confidence. It helps them know that whatever I do with them will be done with artistic sensibilities and excellent craftsmanship, meaning it will be professional.
My website is the work of Shane Durnford. He’s unbelievable. He has a certain sense of simplicity and an ability to work with colors and simple shapes that just amazes me. His work is always so beautiful, both his signs and his web design.
A little dimension, a little gold leaf
My work is mostly 3D signs, glass signs and murals. Sometimes I do all the 3D work in house, and other times I’ll outsource the CNC work. I don’t do digital printing, because I prefer the tactile aspect of the business. I’m fine with technology—I just prefer to focus on doing what I like doing best. When a situation calls for digital printing, I outsource it.
I really enjoy the glass signs, though I don’t get as much of that as I’d like. In the mid-80s, I wandered into Mark Oatis’s shop in Denver to apply for a job. I had read an article on Bill Hueg in SignCraft that mentioned him working with Mark. I knew nothing about the Letterheads.
Mark took the time to look at my portfolio, show me around the shop and encourage me in the craft. Since then, both Mark and Bill have become good friends. I’m forever indebted to them for the things I’ve learned by working with them, for the ways they’ve expanded my horizons, and for the ways they’ve just generously shared their lives with me.
It was Bill who told me I ought to go to one of Rick Glawson’s California Conclaves. That was quite an experience. I had no idea that gold leaf windows were being done like that anymore. The beauty that you can get with gold leaf on glass is really unique. I started learning more about doing gold leaf on glass, and looking for opportunities to sell it. I went to every Conclave until Rick died in 2003.
I like doing murals, too, when they come along, which is occasionally. The work seems to come in groups, though—murals for a while, then gold windows, then who knows what.
While gold leaf windows may be my favorite, ultimately it’s the variety that keeps it all fresh. There’s always something different to work on. I like that.
As for the future of the shop, I don’t really have a game plan for it. I’ve never really had a plan like that—I just enjoy doing the work I get to do. That’s somewhat to my shame, I guess. I have friends who are retired and who ask when I plan to retire. But I don’t really think that’s for me. I like what I do, and I think I’ll just keep doing that.
When you get to this point in life you no longer think that life is some never-ending horizon ahead. It changes your perspective on your work and your business. Your work takes on a bit of a different purpose. It’s good to be doing something you still enjoy doing.