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10 Questions With Philly Word Art’s Daniel Duffy

There’s nothing more beautiful to look at than the porous pallor of the white stone walls of on-campus dorms– and by beautiful, I mean uninspired. They’re about as attractive as television static. But instead of waiting for another HUB poster sale to adorn your walls with tapestries and posters, try something a little more original. Take Daniel Duffy’s Philly Word Art prints. They’re unique and affordable pieces of word art, often featuring a Penn State theme. That makes them perfect for any dorm or apartment! 

The Philadelphia-based artist produces Pennsylvania focused art, including athletes, presidents, musicians, and of course Penn State. We gave Duffy a call to learn more about him as an artist, and his work for The Paterno Foundation.


Onward State: How did you become inspired to begin making word art?

Daniel Duffy: The first piece I made like this [was] in art school in 2005. It was actually a portrait of George Bush made of soldiers stamps from the Iraq war. It got two different reactions, some people were like, “it’s a tribute to him and his decision” and others were like, “wow look at all these people that George Bush killed.” That was one of the first times I was like, “Okay, this is cool. People like what I’m doing.” That style of the small creating the many, is a concept I love. Small words, small things about somebody’s life, all creating a large portrait. Think about, [Joe Paterno] winning all of those games, and the work that went into getting those scores.

OS: When did you get into making art for Penn State and working with the Paterno Foundation on the Joe Paterno piece?

DD: Being from Montgomery County, and how many friends and family I know in Penn State and Penn State’s community around here, it’s definitely something I wanted to do, and was happy to get approval for. I’m always amazed at the Penn State grads and how there’s so much going on up there yet. The people that make it are really good students, and that certainly wasn’t me. I was undisciplined as a young man, I had to go to art school. The other reason is, just the amount of people that love the school, you get a lot of requests for it.

OS: You make art of many different things and people, athletes, musicians, and presidents. Is that from request, or your choice as an artist?

DD: I do get a lot of requests, but then those requests filter through my judgement. You want to kind of do things that interest you, and I’m a history buff. My television habits go from ESPN, to the History Channel, to PBS a little, so I’m thinking about doing a Neil Degrasse Tyson piece. Being a sports fan from Philadelphia, it’s just your entire life. It becomes a pretty horrible life — you have to be able to hit some hard adversity especially in years like these last couple. And of course music too, music is a great application for word art.

OS: Yeah, I saw you gave a piece to Paul McCartney?

DD: Yeah so, for his last concert in Philadelphia, I was asked to create a piece by Comcast to give to him as their gift for all the shows. We wrote out every song he ever played in Philadelphia: two tours with the Beatles, two or three tours with The Wings, and then his solo concerts for his portrait. They said he was looking it over and he was like, “Whoa this is how many songs I played in Philadelphia?” That was pretty cool.

paulmccarneydanduffyOS: Looks like your next piece will be Chase Utley according to the poll on your website.

DD: Oh yeah, I was hoping for Benjamin Franklin honestly, but Chase is going to get done for sure. I’m leaning towards some overall PA pieces, and going out to see some of my friends in Pittsburgh to do some work. Other than Crosby, there isn’t too much hatred on my personal side [for Pittsburgh]. I’ve always been a Pirates fan, just because they’ve been so horrible. It’s just one of those things you have to root for. But my focus is going to be getting out to Pittsburgh and doing some pieces.

OS: Were you ever inspired by other artists?

DD: The first time I ever had any idea of doing this, I was watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I would take days off from school, that’s why I didn’t get into Penn State, [to] watch the film. There’s a famous scene where they are standing at a piece of Victorian art by Seurat and you zoom in, and see it’s just thousands of dots of different colors, all the same size. That style is called pointillism. I saw that movie when I was seven years old, and that was probably when I first thought about it.

OS: Any current projects you can tell me about?

DD: I’m working on the Pope Piece now, and that’s crazy detailed. This pope piece will be a good 50-60 hours.


OS: How long do a lot of these pieces take you to complete?

DD: The Paterno piece was just so many words. You know, 409 wins, so three or four words, times 409. I like using a lot of words, because you get more detail. With less words, you can’t get as detailed and they might look a little more modern. Paterno was around 50-60 hours too. I spent over 100 hours on a couple of pieces like the history of the Vet and Spectrum. Most pieces are 20-30 hours.

OS: What kind of future subjects do you have in mind?

DD: For history, you could do something amazing with Gettysburg. Jim Thorpe is a subject, Arnold Palmer is another great subject. So Pennsylvania, for sure, is going to be my focus.

OS: Did you ever think about doing other types of art besides word art?

DD: The decision to only do word art wasn’t an easy one, but it came from people’s reactions. l love the fact that, at first, people think it’s a drawing. Then they come closer, and they’re like, “What’s it made of?” They come even closer and they go, “Oh my god it’s letters, what does this all mean?” I think about it all the time, that we’re all just really tiny molecules working together. It’s a parallel to our lives. The people of Philadelphia, of Penn State, and Pennsylvania have really taken it beyond my imagination.


Mark your calendars, because Duffy will be coming up to the Old Main Frame Shop on Saturday, November 21, the day of the white-out game against Michigan, to sign prints and unveil a new piece of Penn State artwork he’s been working on.

About the Author

Nick Weiss

Nick is a videographer at OnwardState. He is a sophomore in the College of Communications, studying as a Film & Video major. With most of his experience in documentary film, Nick continues to tell stories at Penn State. Email him [email protected]


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