Dan Andreasen, creator of the Oliver + S paper dolls, began his career as a sculptor and illustrator for American Greetings Corp. Over the past 25 years, he has illustrated more than 35 picture books. His illustrations have also been used to advertise iconic American products ranging from Orville Redenbacher to Harley Davidson.
This is something that our customers wouldn’t necessarily know, but your original illustrations for Oliver + S are really small in scale. How are you able to achieve so much detail in such a small space?
Good glasses, I guess! I usually work to size. When I illustrate a season for Oliver + S, the whole thing (a paper doll and five outfits) fits on an 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper.
My first job was working for American Greetings as an in-house illustrator and in their studio. I just got used to working small like that. It’s the way we did things. If I’m doing a book jacket, I’ll sometimes do that at 150 to 200 % of the reproduction size. But for most of my illustrations I work to size.
How did you get your start as an illustrator?
I was 19 years old when I was hired at American Greetings Corp. Back in 1980, I was at Kent State working on a fine art major. I decided to go look for a job, and I went to American Greetings with my portfolio.
When I was waiting for my turn to go in to interview, the receptionist took a phone call, and I heard her say she was sorry but there were no artist positions available—unless you can sculpt. Of course, my portfolio was filled with all two-dimensional work. When my turn came, I went in and showed my portfolio. The interviewer asked me what deep in my heart I wanted to do, and I said I wanted to sculpt. So they sent me home with a block of clay and told me to make something. I did. And I got the job.
I spent my first few years there using dental tools to sculpt figurine and picture frame prototypes. They would be shipped overseas to be mass produced. After a couple years of that I moved into the conventional design department.
Did you learn anything interesting from working in three dimensions?
I learned that I really wanted to paint, not sculpt!
I worked through the 1980s at American Greetings, and at the end of the 1980s I hooked up with an agent in New York who started giving me publishing work. So I started working for myself. I did two American Girl series—first the Felicity then the Samantha books.
When you illustrated the American Girl books, you based some of your work on your own children, didn’t you? What did they think about that at the time?
Anybody who hangs around my studio long enough ends up in one of my books.
My kids grew up with that. My oldest daughter is 22 now. Felicity’s younger sister and brother were my kids. Later when I did the Samantha books, I used my daughter as the model for Samantha and her best friend for Nellie. My youngest is five now, and she’s my new model.
I work with professional and neighborhood models too. When I hire someone to model for me, I pay them. So when my kids would pose for me, I would give them a few dollars. It was a real job for them, and they’ve always been good sports about it. When my oldest was in kindergarten, her teacher asked her what kind of work her dad did, and she said, “He colors.” As far back as their memories go, I was always working in my home studio.