Interview with Dan Nott, Class of 2008
Dan Nott is a political cartoonist, illustrator, and writer currently living in Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he majored in Political Science, Art and Journalism and completed a thesis project on the visual language of editorial cartooning. He also worked as the Graphics Production Manager and cartoonist for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, where he was awarded a Mark of Excellence Award by the Society of Professional Journalists. Dan’s work has been published on WashingtonPost.com, Fusion, Daily Kos, Medium, and others, and he currently works as an editor, illustrator and cartoonist for the creative website The Gabbler.
When did you know you wanted to study illustration and drawing in school?
I started with political science, which is always something I’ve been passionate about. I was interested by the research aspects of the field and just understanding current events, but I was turned off by the inaccessible way academics write about their research. I wanted to find a new way to present that kind of information. Some of this interest goes back to my Senior Project at NCCES, which was focused on military contractors in Iraq and how the U.S. outsourced a huge amount of the security and logistics work to private companies. I did research, wrote a paper, and illustrated cartoons about the topic. Cartoons ended up being a good way to compliment the other aspects of my project. The Senior Project was great preparation for college courses - NCCES taught me how to do research and that gave me a big advantage. And the teachers there were so supportive, and really encouraged students to be independent. I remember Ms. Clarke and Mrs. Sweeney encouraged us to choose our own research topics and direct our own assignments. It was extremely helpful to have that independence. And that might not be for everyone, but for me it was really helpful.
How did you choose your path after high school?
Picking UMASS Amherst was largely a practical decision – a place where I could go to get a good education without accumulating huge amounts of debt. It ended up working out well for me, as I was able to study the topics I wanted, and had the opportunity to spend a semester in Istanbul, Turkey. I majored in political science and also created my own double major combining political science, art, and journalism, called “Political Illustration and Journalism”. And I wrote my college thesis on the history of editorial cartooning and visual language, which was basically a continuation of my academic interests in high school.
What is a favorite part of your current job?
I actually have a bunch of jobs right now – being an artist means cobbling together a lot of different jobs in order to make a living. However my career path in art is where I want to continue. Right now I work at the Gabbler – a website dedicated to politics, satire, and illustration. I like my job because have a lot of freedom to do what I want and learn about what I want. I can essentially pick a new topic each week from news and current events, do research, and then make a comic that explains it or offers a different point of view. I guess it’s kind of like doing a Senior Project every week! It’s the same process of analyzing and adding your own voice and opinion to current events. Having that editorial freedom is great. It is hard to navigate the business side of the art world – it’s challenging to pull together an income, and it’s a constant grind. But you have to put in your time in - it’s a field that requires a lot of hard work.
What is a favorite memory of your time at Sizer/NCCES?
Besides the Senior Project, my teachers at school were really memorable. Mrs. Niemi’s English class had a huge effect on the types of literature I read now. And Ms. Clarke’s art class really had an impact on how I approach making art. The independence of the school really stuck with me – how you could do what you wanted, how it was a free environment. I joined pretty early in the school’s history as part of the 3rd graduating class, and I was only there for Div 3 (junior and senior year). I remember I interviewed with Peter Garbus, one of the school’s founders, and he said that my educational style would fit in despite not completing 7th -10th grade at the school. Even though I was only there for 2 years it had a pretty big effect on me.
What advice would you give to high school students who are unsure of what they want to do next?
Some of the most successful people that I know didn’t start on a traditional path. They didn’t get into the best schools; they transferred from community college; they took a year off. I don’t think there’s a benefit to just thinking of college as an extended high school. That might not be what you want me to say, but I would tell students to really figure out what it’s like to work. Focus on experiential and project-based learning, do internships, take dual-enrollment classes. Don’t be stressed about trying to get into the best school right away, but do focus on figuring out your plan for life. Some of my friends always knew what they want to do – I wasn’t one of those people. But I know that I want a career in art, and I’m going to keep working on it.
Dan, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed!
It was such a pleasure to talk with one of our NCCES/Sizer alumni from one of the original graduating classes. He has a really interesting educational and career path after school, and we look forward to seeing where he goes next. Check out more of Dan’s artwork on his website http://dannott.com/ or at the Gabbler.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.