In his latest book, God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State, Lawrence Wright turned his critical reporter’s eye towards the state he calls home, exploring Texas politics, the border, art, and the state’s changing demographics. But to illustrate the Lone Star state, Wright relied on an outsider. California-based David Danz created black-and-white illustrations that are placed throughout the book, depicting emblematic Texan scenes from a Mount Rushmore with Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush to feral hogs encroaching on the Capitol building. Danz also illustrated a detailed map of Texas, including the major highways and icons best representing each city (an art installation stands for Marfa; Dallas-Fort Worth gets an air traffic control tower and plane). Texas Monthly talked to Danza about his style of illustration, how an outsider can depict Texas, and his collaboration with Wright.
Texas Monthly: How would you describe your illustration style?
David Danz: I work in a medium of scratchboard, and with scratchboard you can do a variety of different styles. I would say mine is more of a wood-cut, wood-engraving look, but sometimes I do really bold black and white high contrast stuff and sometimes I have to do finer stuff like pen and ink. The stuff that I did for God Save Texas was middle-of-the-road: not too fine, but not really bold either, and some things are more graphic than others.
TM: You have a wide variety of clients, but they’re mostly brands. How did you get involved with making the book?
DD: I got a call from Lawrence’s editor in New York. She said, I’m working with Lawrence Wright, he’s a Pulitzer Prize writer, and we think your work would be great for this book he’s doing on Texas, are you interested? I wrote back right away.
TM: How did the collaboration with Wright work?
DD: When I finished a chapter, I would draw some ideas and send them to [the editor] and she would send them to Lawrence. He had some really great ideas. The bird on the wire with the bluebonnets [at the beginning of the book] was his.
TM: As a Californian, how did you prepare for illustrating Texas and all its idiosyncrasies?
DD: Ten years ago I got hired by H-E-B. They were doing a 40th anniversary ice cream, and wanted to have some Texas scenes like the Alamo and the Rio Grande in a collage that wrapped around the ice cream package. I never did get to see what the finished package.
My son moved to Texas about three years ago, so that was the first time that I went to Texas. I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful Texas was. I think of it just as a dry, hot, desert state. You just grow up thinking Texas is cowboys and barbecue. When my son moved to Helotes, we went to H-E-B and I couldn’t believe it, it was just the greatest thing in the world. So when Lawrence was referencing H-E-B in the book, I knew exactly what he was talking about.
TM: The map that bookends the book has so many great details—the windmill, the upturned Cadillacs at The Cadillac Ranch, and just about every major city is represented. How did you create that?
DD: It had to reference all the places Lawrence had referenced in the book. I was given certain towns and certain highways. A lot of those places, like Marfa, I’d never been to, but it was fun reading about them in the book. It was a matter of reading a lot about these different towns and trying to come up with an image that could represent a little spot illustration for each. On the map where it says “Texas” there’s a cowboy hat on one side and a rope and then there’s a ribbon and a beret. That’s supposed to be the progressive versus the old side. I tried to go with uplifting images otherwise, with the windmill, the state bird, and some kind of a balloon festival. I was really happy with the way that turned out.
TM: There’s a lot of portrait work in the book, including Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Speaker of the House Joe Straus. What was it like drawing (mostly) men you’re unfamiliar with?
DD: It was different. I didn’t know who these guys are so I had to look at photographs and come up with it. Most of the work I do is food and packaging, but I enjoy [portraiture] and it’s nice to be not locked into one thing.
TM: Did any images present any particular challenges?
DD: The Border Patrol one was kind of tough because the images had a lot to communicate in a little tiny space. The figures are silhouetted so you can’t see their faces, and I used several different sources.
TM: Do you have a particular illustration that’s stayed with you?
DD: I think my favorite one was for the Turn on the Radio chapter, which had the two bicyclists and the guy riding the horse. The book talks about [Wright] and his buddy [Stephen Harrigan] riding bikes. At first, I thought man, that’s going to be hard, because you want to show a more progressive Texas going in a certain direction and than the other Texas going in another direction, but it turned out really well. When I went Texas to visit my son and I met Lawrence for the first time, I framed that image and gave it to him.