Daniel Hopper is now a modern blacksmith who conjures light fixtures, furniture, and decorative items from metal, but he started his professional life as an Illustration major at CCAD, graduating in 1994.
He still leans on the skills he learned at CCAD — he says his ability to finely draw a concept helps persuade clients to go ahead with a design before having seen the finished product — in his business in the East Bay area near San Francisco.
We spoke with him recently and sent fellow CCAD alum Kelsey McClellan (Photography, 2012) to photograph Hopper and his work.
You looked at a lot of art schools. Why did CCAD stand out?
I liked the strength of the illustration and design programs at CCAD. Growing up in a small town (Edwardsville, Illinois), it wasn’t even conceivable to go to either coast. I had gone to Phillips Academy for summer school between junior and senior years, and I had a strong enough portfolio that I got a four-year scholarship.
What inspired you to move from illustration to metalwork?
My senior year at CCAD, I took a furniture design class. That’s where I found I could marry art and commerce, which we call craft. Once I got out of school and was working in an animation studio, I told myself I was going to give it five years. About three years in, I decided it wasn’t the career for me and decided to pursue something else. It took me another three years to make the transition.
I moved to San Francisco specifically to start pursuing — I didn’t know what it was going to be. I knew I wanted to do something commercial and I could make a living at. I felt I could use my design sensibilities and make things I would want to buy and hope others would want to buy, too.
How did you discover you loved working with metal?
I love metal and I love wood, but wood and I don’t have the patience for each other. You can also get more dramatic forms with metal. With blacksmithing, it’s something I could do all by myself. I could move my ideas from design to install. I was taking my design skills I had honed in school and I was starting to apply them to metal rather than drafting.
What’s one of the toughest lessons you’ve learned running your own business?
I really enjoy all aspects of the process. I even like doing the books and talking with clients and the design and the building and the install. I like taking photos and updating my website. But there’s only one of me. So I feel like a lot of things suffer if I attempt to do it all myself. What I enjoy least is trying to find which child you’re going to love less and turn over to a nanny. Now I have a bookkeeper. There’s just too much information that can go sideways.
What’s one of the most valuable things you’ve done to grow your business?
I joined Business Networking International. They’re kind of like Networking 101. The theory is all business is based on relationships. Groups meet once a week, and they encourage business between people in the group. I used it not necessarily for generating business but for understanding how to run a business. I learned marketing is not a bad word. It’s just a way to connect your work with the people who are going to love it and want to own it.