"Illiberality" by Portland artist Daniel Haile. Courtesy of the artist

Finding joy in the process

Portland illustrator Daniel Haile has his own idea of success

Daniel Haile is a Portland-based illustrator. He often uses graphite, Micron pens, Prismacolor markers and India ink, among other mixed media, to create his work. Haile is from Baldwin Park, California, but has been living in Portland since 1995 and considers himself an honorary native Portlander.

He illustrates pieces that allow him to feel free while striving to capture momentum in his surrealist art. Haile has been drawing since the age of four, shortly after he learned to hold a pencil. Haile’s goal is that people feel grounded when engaging with his art. 

One of his techniques is to take several photos of a model and combine them to create a foundation that will serve as inspiration for his pieces, which are often surrealist portraits. His first inspiration came from paintings by Norman Rockwell, hung up in a restaurant he used to attend with his family during his childhood.

He has since been inspired by Rembrandt, Barry Windsor-Smith, Will Eisner, Reagan Lodge and Kadir Nelson. “[Kadir Nelson] gained my attention after his work was published in the New Yorker,” Haile said. “It gave me encouragement to create more art of my own.” Even though these artists vary stylistically, they share a love of narrative storytelling, which Haile finds incredibly inspiring.

Haile is also inspired by the Baroque period, and names the drama, lighting and color associated with that epoch as valuable resources. “Every time I create, I feel so alive,” Haile said. “It’s like meditating. But it all depends on [whether or not] you feel invested and you know you’re creating something that brings you joy.”

Haile’s an active member of the Black Lives Matter movement in Portland; he painted a mural of the clenched fist for the Community Cycling Center─a symbol with roots in early 20th century European anti-fascist movements and the Black Power movement that has recently become a visual shorthand for Black Lives Matter. 

He interprets the movement’s fight for equality as symbolic for what makes us Americans. “We need to be heard [after] 500 years of being oppressed,” Haile said. “We want to break free from that and fight for what we believe in.” 

Haile said he is proud of Portland for standing up for what is right, while also emphasizing this will be an endless battle. 

As a Black man living in Portland, Haile said he’s faced many forms of discrimination on a daily basis, even at work.

One of the biggest career challenges he’s faced has been finding a gallery interested in his pieces, as many galleries won’t accept him. He has been told many times that his work is “too urban” to be presented at galleries. He feels that Portland, as a city, is among the whitest and most passive-aggressive. Nonetheless, his work has been presented at three galleries in Portland: Splendorporium, High Low Art Space and Side Street Art Gallery.

At High Low Art Space, he displayed his first solo exhibit, including 16 of his works, many of which ended up being purchased. “It was the best experience I’ve ever had,” he said. The success of that event led to his exhibit at Side Street Gallery, which Haile described as a huge learning experience.

Even though Haile is still looking for another gallery to showcase his work, his idea of success exists outside those boundaries. To Haile, success is achieving creative freedom and creating something that can speak to others.

Portland illustrator Daniel Haile. Courtesy of the artist