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“I think what I’m good at is being funny,” says Jennifer Daniel. She gives this matter-of-fact self-description when asked whether she has any big plans in the works—say, a book or a gallery show. She thinks about it and says no, that she wants to stick with what she’s good at: being amusing.
Her sense of humor pops up in the pages of The New York Times, where she works as a freelance art director and illustrator, and in her hobbies, such as her obsessive buying and creating of websites and their URLs. Her main site’s URL is a hilarious meta-mouthful that spells out every part of the address (see above).
Raised in Leawood, Kansas, Daniel went to the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, and she had her big “aha” moment when Nicholas Blechman came to speak. “He was the first person I had seen who did both illustration and design, and I fell in love with his work,” she says. After taking a class with Blechman, she went on to work as an intern at his New York office, which he shared with Christophe Niemann. In 2004, when Blechman became the art director of the New York Times Op-Ed page, he invited her to work with him, and she moved to New York permanently.
Many of her images are spray-painted stencils, a technique she picked up in college. “I had no illustration background,” she says. “I just tried to have fun.” In her work, stencils have surfaced as fashion logos on paper bags for an article about counterfeit purses and as pointed commentary in her work for Utne Reader.
“Most of my projects are collaborations,” she says—and most of them involve a bit of her trademark pluck. Daniel’s stinging visual humor works because it’s what makes her illustrations stay with the reader, long after the paper is gone. As 2008 NVA Seth Labenz, who nominated Daniel, says, “She draws like a butterfly and communicates like a bee.”