For some of us, the career path is smooth sailing, a forgone conclusion. For others, finding the right direction can be elusive. Discovering your talent, your life-giving purpose, may require a bit of trial and error, and sometimes a little serendipity. For accomplished Lowcountry artist Daniel Strickland, the epiphany came later in life while dabbling with his young daughters around the kitchen table for their first-year art class.
“I picked up some materials for the project,” he recalls, looking back on that first foray with a laugh. “I didn’t really know what to get. We spent around two hours painting our little pieces, and I thought, wow, this is really cool. A few days later, I painted another picture, one of a historic house and garden—I was a private tour guide in Downtown Charleston at the time and loved the city’s old architecture. When my wife showed it to a friend, she bought it on the spot. I thought, I can do this—this is it!”
This story of a late bloomer surprises nobody as much as it does Strickland. “I first picked up a paintbrush in the summer of 2019,” he says. “I was selling within 90 days.”
At the age of 45, he made a leap of faith and took his newfound artistic ability to heart, eventually finding representation and a strong market for his work at Art Harbor Gallery in Georgetown, South Carolina, where he now resides. He also juried into Perspective Gallery, an arm of the Mount Pleasant Artists Guild.
“I was surprised that the gallery chose me over the other folks competing,” says the Walterboro native.
When the guild asked him to guest speak and do a painting demonstration at a monthly meeting, Strickland says he worried about what he could share with the members, as new as he was to the art world.
“What I decided was that my story was going to be just as important as my demo, because it’s going to give some of these people hope,” he explains. “I wanted them to understand that I had zero training—and they loved it. Some of them were in shock, but some were super excited. I told them it’s not always a question of being a great talent; it’s a bunch of what-ifs: What if I do this, or what if I make this mark.”
Originally on a path to dentistry, he majored in biology as a young student at the College of Charleston. He didn’t finish and worked part-time as a process server for a Broad Street law firm before starting up a private tour business. The successful services he and his partner offered were booked primarily through The Charleston Place and The Sanctuary on Kiawah Island until the economic downturn associated with the Great Recession.
“I spent a lot of years trying to find what I’m supposed to be doing,” he says, as he continued along the entrepreneurial path. “Fortunately, I had been training in martial arts since grade school. I’m currently a sixth-degree black belt in the art that I do.”
Strickland parlayed that experience into a new venture, teaching self-defense classes in Charleston and McClellanville, South Carolina, where he shared a space with the local arts council. Watching other painters kindled his interest—he picked up a brush and soon began turning out his own work in earnest, honing his impressionistic style and painting Lowcountry landscapes.
“I got my start selling at The Cottage, a gift shop in McClellanville that showcased local, artisanal and handcrafted items,” he explains. “The owner took me in and offered me a space to set up a studio. I painted eight to 10 hours a day, six days a week.”
The Cottage was also where Strickland connected with Lowcountry artist Danny McLaughlin, whose art classes there suffered during the pandemic’s shutdown.
“I told him I may as well take your class if you’re going to continue coming here,” recalls Strickland. “So, I studied with him for six months. He changed my whole outlook and opened up a whole new aspect to my work. Danny McLaughlin changed my world.”
Career successes notwithstanding, Strickland continues to be a student of art. He admits to occasional visits to certain King Street galleries after-hours, studying the work of Charleston-based artists he admires.
“Sometimes, it’s just that little thing that helps me get to the next level,” he says.
Strickland has expanded his subject matter to include the human form in action—a chef, a cellist, an upbeat bar scene. And he continues to be enamored with the beauty of the Lowcountry—capturing the light and dark nuances of the marshscapes, tidal creeks and their inhabitants, like Roseate Spoonbills, in broad, loose strokes.
In addition to the Art Harbor Gallery, Strickland’s pieces are showcased at Colleton Coffee, a book lovers’ coffee klatch that opened in Walterboro in the spring of 2023. He feels fortunate to have the owners’ support.
“The town has what they call First Thursday, where they block off the street to vehicle traffic once a month and hold an art, food and shopping festival,” he says. “I painted at the shop live during the last one and attracted a pretty good crowd. My piece sold that night.”
Strickland confesses that since he discovered his passion for painting, he can’t get enough of it. Over a dozen of his latest works are in line for posting on his website. Enormously prolific and a storyteller himself, he continues to explore new directions for expression through his art and has his eye on additional representation in the Holy City. *
Wendy Swat Snyder is a Charleston-based freelance writer (sweetgrassandgrits.com).