Dan Christofferson | Big Cartel

1/14/2013 | Amy Tibbals
Marcus MacDonald

Dan Christofferson is a locally-raised artist and proud Salt Lake missionary; that is to say, he's got an unwavering dedication to 'selling' SLC as the creative and cultural hub that we are. It's a task he says is getting easier, due, likely, to his masterful storytelling [everyone loves an avid hand talker]. We wanted to chat with Dan about his part in Big Cartel. As luck would have it, company founders Matt Wigham and Eric Turner volunteered to join the interview, as well. Psh...we're not nervous.

Big Cartel has created an online community filled with crafters, innovators and motivated individuals; artists who want to expand their reach and make work feel a lot less like work. Stated most simply, 'its where artists set up shop' - a complete, online forum enabling them to design a customizable store to sell their stuff. All told, these guys are creating an opportunity for hundreds of thousands of other business to be whatever it is they want to be. In Dan's words, “long-lasting success comes from being able to stand alone”. That said, the platform that Big Cartel provides for clientele incites a sense of business camaraderie, rather than competition, and it's amplified by the inspiring success stories of fellow artists.

We're thrilled about Big Cartel's success, quite frankly. Their own progress is resulting in the same for countless others. But we're curious...why would a company with skyrocketing internet popularity, and the ability to base the operation anywhere, choose to be here in Salt Lake?  Keep reading and be illuminated...

We're inspired by your connection to our local community, and stoked on your business model that allows creative folks to be independent. At first glance, these appear to be competing ideas, yet you spoke of bridging the gap via your involvement with local creative events [like Craft Lake City]. Can you enlighten me on how you pull these two ideas together? I think the best way to bridge that gap is by introducing artists to one another. Artists are inherently good at cataloging and saving pertinent information that will help power their craft. When an artist is inspired by the story of another, they get more motivated to get out there and get theirs. Building a "community" of "independent" artists sounds like a contradiction, but as long as artists continue to grow from interactions with, and stories from other artists, we'll continue to help build that bridge.

You mentioned embracing Salt Lake history, and you clearly do so in your art, work and speaking engagements [i.e. your AIGA-conference tarot card design or the Salt Lake tattoo on your neck]. To that end, you've talked about the geography of our city, including our wide streets and grid layout. We're intrigued...how do you embrace this aspect of Salt Lake? The history of our fair city is so apparent in all of these often-overlooked characteristics. We have such wide streets [due to the planners wanting to be able to turn around, mid street, with a horse-drawn carriage], which push back the buildings, giving us nice, wide sidewalks. That alone will forever keep our city from being a bustling metropolis with people walking on top of each other. The feeling is just instantly different. When I talk to visitors, I get excited to explain how the city is mapped out. Once they grasp the simplicity of the grid, they can feel instantly comfortable here, and she [SLC] can become their city that much more quickly.

What are you learning? I'm learning to be better at my process, to organize thoughts, sketches, and ideas to create more and better work. I'm learning to risk more in my pieces, to paint over something I just painted, even if it's pretty GOOD...in the hope that I'll make it pretty GREAT the second time around.

What are you teaching? I'm not sure. I'm very passionate about artists in my community using their unique heritage as an amazing advantage in the drive to create original work. I'm trying to be an evangelist for the concept that artists CAN and DO make a living off of their work; it can start small and grow into something that can change and drive the culture of future generations.

What catches your eye on the street? Like other artists, I love seeing color where it shouldn't be, or an advertisement changed just enough that it takes a moment to realize it's art and not commerce. I also love seeing bits of architecture that feel foreign in this city, i.e. the "Martine" brownstone, or Exchange Place.

Where do you feel safe? I haven't really found a spot in this city where I don't feel safe. Motorcycle rides at night, downtown, are pretty unrivaled.

Do you have a favorite room in your house? I'd probably have to say my bedroom. I love sleeping, and am absolutely not a morning person. A quiet, slow morning in bed with the blinds open can't be beat.

Describe your favorite place you’ve ever lived. It would have to be the American Towers high rise on Broadway. I lived there for about 4 years, and I still miss it. It's a weird mix of hotel and 80's, wallstreet, American-Psycho decadence. A pool, full-time security guards and, of course, the famous, rooftop hot tub. It was a great place to fall in love with living in the city. It did, however, make it impossible for me to sleep without some sort of noise or streetlight outside my window.

Describe your ideal work space. Plenty of aprons, nice light, close to my house, a well-curated Pandora playlist and a couple friends popping by every once in a while [I essentially just described my new studio!].

How do you see Salt Lake in 10 years, and what part do you see yourself playing in what you see? I see Salt Lake slowly becoming the envy of other major art and culture cities. We have the amazing freedom to make what we want of this city. A small scene, not much national art influence or support, and a highly-motivated community. We can't be stopped, and we can build exactly what we want. We've done one good pass in our "sketchbook" as a city. Now we're back to the first page, and starting to rework the drawings we've composed, filling in the gaps of the city and binding it together.

Big tip of our COLLECTIVE hat to Matt Wigham [founder/CEO], Eric Turner [founder/creative director], and Dan Christofferson [in-house artist/missionary/invaluable member of the Salt Lake Creative Mafia] for clever minds and inspired work.

Big Cartel | Dan Christofferson PechaKucha Speech


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