Illustrator and Cartoonist: Dani Pendergast ’13

Posted by Pine Crest School on March 23, 2022 at 10:10 AM

Dani Pendergast ’13 is a freelance illustrator and cartoonist. After graduating from Pine Crest, she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration from Syracuse University, ultimately deciding to stay and earn her Master of Fine Arts degree while building her portfolio and making the leap to work full time as an illustrator.

Now living in Boston, Massachusetts, Dani is currently working on a graphic novel and various illustration gigs. Shortly after her illustration, “Unity,” a project created for Apple to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day went live, we had the opportunity to speak with Dani and learn more about what attracted her to illustration and what inspires her work.

Can you share a bit about your background with me? Where is your family from?

Dani Pendergast (DP): I grew up in Parkland, Florida, in a biracial household. My family is European and Nigerian.

How did you become interested in art? Is it something you have always loved or did something inspire you to explore it?

DP: I've always loved to draw. When I was growing up, drawing was the only hobby I gravitated to consistently. I figured out early on that I had the disposition for drawing and decided to pursue it more seriously. As a kid, I was obsessed with animated films, especially Studio Ghibli, and their style has influenced my work today.


Looking at your website, you have a very beautiful, colorful, and diverse aesthetic. How do your culture and heritage influence your art?

DP: Thank you! In my opinion, my background doesn’t influence the aesthetics as much as it influences the subject matter. My style has become a mix of everything that resonates with me, such as vintage band posters, art nouveau, fashion, anime, nature, a long list of artists, and vibrant color palettes. On the other hand, my concepts are often inspired by my own personal experiences. As a biracial person, those experiences show through in my personal and professional work.


As a woman of color, how do you challenge stereotypes and promote sensitivity and inclusion in your work?

DP: Seeing a lack of representation in the media while growing up was frustrating, and representation was something I wanted more of. As an artist, I think it's essential to know how to draw different types of bodies and people, so creating diverse characters in my drawings is something I am mindful of.



Diversity and representation are problematic issues in almost every industry. How do you address those challenges in your personal experiences and in your work?

DP: I’ve noticed a more considerable effort within the illustration community for art directors to hire more Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) creators. Still, I’ve also seen trends where Black artists tend to get work around February and find it difficult to get work throughout the rest of the year. I encourage art directors to actively seek BIPOC creators and hire them to illustrate topics other than those that are about race. Most of my peers and I frequently create work about our experiences; however, we have other unique, interesting, and weird interests that we would love to explore too!

What medium do you primarily work with? What do you love about being an artist and creator?

DP: For my professional work, I use ProCreate exclusively on my iPad. It's a powerful program that I adore and highly recommend. I enjoy the freedom of working in digital media, especially when choosing a color palette for my illustrations, which is usually the most time-consuming part of my process. I haven't worked with traditional media in a while, but I would love to find the time to paint again. My medium of choice is acrylic gouache with colored pencils and gel pens.

The Hermit

We first learned about your work after your collaboration with AppleTV went live. How did that project come about? What was it like working with Apple? How did you decide what you were going to create for this project?

DP: I’m not sure how the incredible team at AppleTV found me — although I suspect it was through my social media accounts. It was very unexpected, though! When they left me a voicemail and told me they were from Apple, I immediately thought I had missed a Genius Bar appointment.

Working with Apple was amazing and very similar to my usual jobs, except with more people on board and more frequent check-ins. They wanted me to create a long illustration that could be used on their social media platforms and app to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We discussed a general direction and theme and reviewed images they found that inspired them. I took what we discussed into consideration and created three different sketches, which I then presented and let them choose from. The image I created as the final illustration ended up being a combination of two of the sketches I drew.


Can you share with us a bit more about the piece?

“Unity” draws inspiration from the iconic photographs of clasped hands from the protests during the civil rights movement. I was inspired to illustrate the act of coming together for positive change.

Who are some of the people you’ve turned to for support, inspiration, or mentorship throughout your professional career?

DP: As a creative — especially an illustrator — my most significant support has been from my peers and my education. I feel I was adequately prepared for what to expect as a professional illustrator, so I haven't needed too much professional assistance. There are two great resources for professional illustrators that we have direct access to. The first is a collective of art directors that anonymously answer career specific questions through a website called The second is a book called the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook, which has a ton of useful information about art pricing, legal guidance, and professional help.

What I had not anticipated was how lonely freelance illustration can be. COVID doesn't help, but I spend my workdays drawing and answering emails at home, which can get a little lonely. I have a group of other artists in a virtual studio on Discord to draw and share what we're working on together. In this climate, it takes extra effort to make sure I don’t always feel so isolated.

How do you feel Pine Crest helped prepare you for what you are doing now? Is there a teacher who stands out in your mind?

DP: During my time at Pine Crest, I was fortunate to take classes in ballet, choir, sculpture and various other art classes. Having a variety of creative courses exposed me to the foundations of art and creative thinking. My mind immediately goes to Ms. Megan O’Brien. I was in her Biology and Marine Biology classes so she didn’t prep me for art school, but she was a teacher who I felt genuinely cared about my individual growth. She helped me become more confident in myself and my work. She was a fantastic teacher and one I kept in mind when I structured my classes at Syracuse University during my last year of grad school.

What advice would you offer to students/young people who may be facing challenges similar to those you’ve faced?

DP: First, I would love to be a resource for any young creatives who have questions about illustration or art school. That being said, find a community of other students or other people like you, in person or on social media. I’ve found that Twitter is a great resource for finding other like-minded people for advice and support.

What is next for you?

The best part about being a freelance illustrator is that I don’t always know who or when someone will contact me for a job opportunity. It can be stressful at times, but I find it to be really exciting, and that fluidity allows my career path to constantly evolve. As for my immediate future, the graphic novel I’m working on now is my biggest project to date and will keep me occupied for several months. In the future, I would love to do more personal work.


Since speaking with Dani, she and fellow alumnus Alex Ross ’11 published a children's book titled “The Social Chameleon.” In December 2021, Dani’s collaboration with best-selling author Leigh Bardugo was announced on Good Morning America. Bardugo’s graphic novel, referenced in her interview, “Demon in the Wood” was illustrated by Dani and will be available in September 2022.

Learn more about Dani on her website,


Topics: Alumni Newsletter, Alumni, Fine Arts, 2022