Danny Gugger moved to Portland two years ago to, as he says, “regroup, focus on my own projects creatively, spend time reconnecting with nature, and start a business.” He seems to have hit the mark, establishing Mann & Kone, a branding and editorial design studio that works with clients across the country, while carving out plenty of time for surfing and motorcycle rides. Not to mention setting up a sweet apartment and a light-filled studio, both downtown. Here’s a peek inside those spaces, and thoughts from Danny on pursuing a creative career in Maine.
"Wear whatever the hell makes you feel good.
Don’t pigeonhole yourself into one aesthetic. Wear clothes that you feel personally connected to."
Pet Shop Boys
Book you could read over and over again
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Indulgence of choice
Rock n’ Roll Dogs!!!!!
Favorite spot in Maine for surfing
Haha, nice try
THE MAINERS: Your apartment is beautiful, so let’s get right into it. What’s going on with the gorgeous surfboard in your living room?
DANNY: It was a collaboration between Nick at NetoShapes, Maine Surfers Union, and myself. I gave them some guidance based on a few abstract paintings that I liked and they created a similar vibe using resin. The artwork on the underside roughly resembles a stormy winter surf break from whitewater at the bottom, wave break in the middle, and clouds up top. Nick threw what appears to be a whale’s tale in there as well. I’ve never seen a resin job that looks like that before and I’m really stoked on it. It was fun to just give some guidance and let them run with it rather than trying to control the outcome.
THE MAINERS: Kind of like surfing.
DANNY: Yeah, there’s a fluidity and grace that just feels good about it. It’s very instinctual. You’re stationary for a bit, always scanning the horizon to read the waves, then it happens all at once. You pop up then it’s nothing but focusing down the line and snap judgements about your best options based on the crashing wave.
THE MAINERS: Where does your love of surfing come from?
DANNY: Surfing is really just a way to clear my head. I like the individuality of surfing. I typically go out by myself and it’s a time to reorganize my thoughts.
THE MAINERS: Ok, back to your home, how would you describe your aesthetic?
DANNY: Comfortably classy, bright, lots of vegetation.
THE MAINERS: Do you have a favorite piece, or a special find, in your home?
DANNY: The giant mirror above the fireplace that a former tenant left behind. And a brass tiger I got during a month I spent in Kathmandu. They’re all over the place in Thamel, but I love that one especially. There’s also a brass yak on the bookshelf, same story. They’re both a reminder of the filthy, beautiful, difficult mess that Nepal is.
THE MAINERS: What about your personal style? How would sum it up?
DANNY: Practical. Easy. Personal.
THE MAINERS: What’s your philosophy when it comes to clothes?
DANNY: Wear whatever the hell makes you feel good. Don’t pigeonhole yourself into one aesthetic. Wear clothes that you feel personally connected to. Be flexible. I don’t really wear a lot of colors currently, but who knows, six months from now I might feel differently about that.
THE MAINERS: Has Maine influenced your sense of fashion and style?
DANNY: Maine as a whole makes me feel good about the level of practicality in the clothes I wear. Portland makes me feel good if I ever want to get weird with what I’m wearing. It doesn’t allow the level of weird you have in New York or London, but it’s more playful than what I’ve experienced in the rest of New England.
I still don’t own any L.L. Bean or buffalo plaid though.
THE MAINERS: Did your upbringing influence your eye and style?
DANNY: I was raised very conservatively and didn’t have the opportunity to express my individuality until later on in college. I was discouraged from becoming an artist when I was in high school.
My dad is a mechanic, so I’ve always viewed things with a bit more utilitarian perspective, I suppose. He’s also very inventive and creative in a more scientific way.
My mom is a very traditional fine artist and taught me the art fundamentals when I was young. I was always more interested in experimentation than I was in following the rules, though.
"The most interesting brands embrace a robust personality that manifests itself in a surprising way each time you encounter it."
THE MAINERS: Do you have rules when you approach a new branding project? Or maybe philosophy would be a better choice of word.
DANNY: Find the truest representation of a person or business and expose that as the brand. A brand is the all-encompassing personality of a business. The most interesting brands embrace a robust personality that manifests itself in a surprising way each time you encounter it. You’re surprised, but feel like, oh yeah, of course that brand would do that. It’s new, but natural.
THE MAINERS: Your portfolio is fun to look at – full of magazines and food. Intentional, or just good client luck?
DANNY: Thanks! It’s mostly intentional. They’re two of my favorite things. I actually have a very hard time reading books, so magazines are a more visual way to digest information for me. I like the intersection of compelling visuals with culturally impactful writing. I also spend the majority of my time looking at computer screens so I really value having a printed piece to feel and look at.
THE MAINERS: And what about the food piece?
DANNY: Portland restaurants have ruined me. There’s so much good food here for such a small town. I have a hard time going anywhere else in the country now that I’m expecting this level of cuisine every day.
Restaurants and breweries are pretty much dream projects to brand. They allow you to create something that people will enjoy on a very basic level. Restaurants are held in high esteem culturally here in Portland as well. So the chefs and restaurant owners are the real rock stars in this city.
THE MAINERS: What’s your background or training in design?
DANNY: I don’t have a degree in design or art, but I’ve managed to stick close to the right kind of people to learn and have taken advantage of mentorship programs and one-off classes and workshops. I spend time looking at a lot of things. Going deep into different rabbit holes.
THE MAINERS: Do you have any advice for someone starting a creative business in Maine?
DANNY: Focus on the quality of your work. Don’t get too stuck in your physical place. Think beyond Maine. Maine is an awesome place to live and work, but what it needs is people creating the best work possible and holding themselves to a global standard.
There’s so much to learn from Maine and so much to enjoy, but at the end of the day, it’s up to us to put our own stamp on it and be part of shaping Maine into what it will become.
THE MAINERS: Tell us about your studio space. What do you need to get work done?
DANNY: Quiet. No clutter. I have a very hard time focusing, reading, drawing, anything when other people are around, even if they’re not making much noise. I also need mental separation. I tried working from home for a few months and went nuts. Even though my studio is only a few blocks from home, it’s enough to put me in a new headspace. I like to keep small things that inspire me nearby. I hoard printed materials and shiny things, but they’re neatly organized. I need enough room to spread out so I don’t feel pressured.
THE MAINERS: What centers you?
DANNY: Taking a walk. Balance board. The Jewel Box.
THE MAINERS: What brings you up?
DANNY: Being alone. Looking at inspiring art or design work. Close friends. Electronic/synth music.
THE MAINERS: What about Maine inspires you?
DANNY: I’m definitely inspired by all the people who end up here who are making really great art or just doing their own craft in relative isolation. The idea of the craftsman runs deep here. People focus on perfecting their individual pursuits and that makes the whole Maine culture stronger. It’s less about the attention and the fame here.
THE MAINERS: Last question. I guess we’re all on the same page about white sneakers. How many pairs of shoes do you rock on a regular basis?
DANNY: Three pairs of white sneakers, one pair of running shoes, one pair of messy weather boots, a pair of brown whole cut oxfords, and Danner hiking boots.
See more of Danny's work on the Mann + Kone website