Interview with Norm Daniels

Norm Daniels was born and raised in San Diego in Southern California. Norm is a self confessed fan of Rick Griffin, and recalls early memories of scribbling Griffin style waves on the corner of his homework.

Daniels has a technical background, he studied Architecture in college and went on to design several custom homes in the San Diego area. Rumour has it that he might have also sold the odd piece of surf art from the back of his VW bus.

From 1989 to 2005 Norm relocated his family to the landlocked High Sierras. Norm took a role as Artist/Architect for Hume Lake Christian Camps. During this time he took up sailing and painting, both of which helped him get through his withdrawal from surfing and the beach life.

In 2005 Norm returned to his home town of San Diego. After a couple of health scares he decided it was time to quit the day job and focus on his true passion, painting, amongst the people and the city he loves the most.

Norm works primarily with oil and canvas, creating stunning ocean and island artwork. He recreates iconic moments in surf history, featuring his good friend Greg Noll (RIP).

Daniels also illustrates children’s books and is well known for expressing his sense of humour through cartoons, many of which have graced the pages of Surfer Magazine.

I find Norm Daniel’s artwork captivating. The colours and style are beautiful and the hidden details often become apparent on the second or third viewing. Norm is a great guy and its fantastic to see his personality displayed in his work.

Hi Norm! How’s your day going?

I’m sitting on my deck with a warm sun just raising and feeling a bit of crisp Autumn in the air.  Perfect.  This is better than being rich.(I live in the small mountian community of Pine Valley  just east of San Diego, so the Fall here is pretty spectacular.)

Tell us a little bit about your path to artistry?

My Pop was a good cartoonist and I loved to copy his drawings.  Soon, the Mad Magazines and Dr Seuss books where stacking up and provided endless supply of ideas to feed my desire to sketch better and tell fun stories.  I studied Architectural Design and eventually was designing some pretty cool custom homes in the San Diego area.  Learning how to draw perspective, as required in Architecture, helped me to draw the shapes and space relationships needed when I began to paint on location  (“En Plein Air”) 

So, it all began with my Dad and learning Drawing Fundamentals.   I’m very grateful for that.   Thanks Dad!!

“Lip Bash and Lost Hat”. 30”x20” oil on canvas.

How do you approach the blank canvas? Do you have a creative vision and process you follow with each new piece of art?

I LOVE A BLANK CANVAS!  This is the most exciting part.  What will it become? What story can I tell? Why do I do this for a living?  Maybe it’s time to get a real job : ).    When I paint on location, then I paint the scene in front of me, or at least a portion of it. While painting in the studio, I often paint from a sketch I’ve done.  There are probably hundreds of sketches to choose from that I’ve amassed over the years.  These make for good paintings because the composition and value range is already solved so it’s pretty fun to go with that info and add the color from memory or color notes or even photo reference.  However, if it is a “fantasy” or “cartoon” style, I work from ideas or sketches, then just make it as whimsical and fun as I can, I love to suspend the lawsof gravity too, as seen my VW on the Road to Hana.

“Crowd Control”. 12”x16” oil on panel.

What medium do you use in your art?

For sketches I use three or four values of gray markers and sketching pens.   For paintings, both studio and plain air, I primarily use Oil Paint.  Occasionally for Illustrations I use acrylic and mixed media.   When I was illustrating “Everybody Surfs” for Surfer Magazine a few years ago, those where done in watercolor and colored pencil.  That gig was such a blast.  Thanks Dave Parmenter for the stories I got to work from. 

What keeps you motivated? Do you have any daily rituals that maintain your artistic flow?

Motivation comes from many sources.  Sometimes I happen upon an idea: some wonderful vista I see; or a story I read; or music I hear; or even another artists concept of a similar idea. Then the idea stews in my mind for a few days and I draw the idea several times till it becomes something that will work as a painting.  A commission is highly motivational… (YAY A PAYCHECK!).  But every day, I go into the studio, put on some music and either work on an existing painting, or find a sketch to make a freshie.   Past successful paintings inspire me to do them once again.  I keep pretty busy with commission work, but really love do new things for art shows or gallery inventory.

“Don’t Look Down” 24”x36” Oil on Canvas.

In the world of art, who do you admire?

As a surfer who SKETCHS, I always loved the brilliant style of Rick Griffin and those goofy Mad Magazine Illustrators (and curiously the humorous impossible worlds created by early Warner Brothers Cartoons).  When someone says “Hey your work reminds me of Rick Griffin” I take that as a huge complement.  As a surfer who PAINTS, it was the late Ken Auster who opened up the world of painting in the Impressionist style while on location.  I got to take a few lessons from Ken, to this day his work and style continues to influence me.  Then, of course, the great masters who inspired us all.  Dean Cornwell, and John Singer Sargent, and countless others.   And so many modern day artists whose work just blows me away.  Occasionally I get to take a painting trip with my friends Wade Koniakowski, Matt Beard,  Jeffery Yeomans and Greg Gorgas.  I always learn from so much from each of them and we have a blast painting together.  These painting excursions are a highlight of my artistic life.  

For creative people out there contemplating following a less conventional path, and dedicating time to their craft, any words of advice?


Na….just kidding.  I suppose it’s not the great a mystery. You must Sketch and Draw.  Everything I paint is built upon Drawing.  I have over 60 full sketch books.  It’s good way to track my progress and remember places or ideas.  Ken Auster used to say “Painting is Easy, SEEING is hard” so LOOK and LISTEN and learn SEE things that used to pass un-noticed.  Watch the way light filters though trees and the way it changes and illuminates various shapes.  Study the artists who’s work you admire.  And like the question implies:  “Dedicate TIME to Your Craft”

“Attack of the Surf Zombies”.  8”x10” WaterColor and colored pencil on illustration board.

How can people buy your art and find out more about you?

The best and most up to date place to see my works are on the instagram site. @normhereI do have a website: with a contact link.

I do show in various Art Festivals around San Diego, but my favorites are the annual Tiki Culture events such as Tiki Oasis in SD and Tiki Caliente in Palm Springs. And there is always painting or two in the trunk of my car I’m happy to offer on the Trunk Discount.

My email is and if you happen to be on Oahu, please visit the very fine gallery in Tabora Gallery in Waikiki in the Hilton Hawaiian Village.  It is an honor to show there along side some amazing fellow

Norm Daniels