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“I want to paint on everything.” From cakes to shoes, Dani RAD wants to airbrush the world

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Dedication to the arts and a willingness to learn has helped Dani Mayse overcome many obstacles in her path to success.

Mayse, known professionally as Dani RAD, has been creative since childhood. A Chicago native, she visited Madison to seize an opportunity to learn airbrushing, a form of art Mayse became passionate about. She then moved here to launch Dani RAD’s Artistic Gift, where she sells her art and continues her work airbrushing.

Mayse got her start in art as a child. She knew that a path as an artist was for her, but she hit bumps along the way. She found inspiration from her time in Chicago at a cake shop and later a t-shirt shop.

Four years ago in Chicago, shortly before her time at the t-shirt shop, Mayse walked into a Jewel-Osco, an Illinois-based grocery chain, and saw how much artwork went into making cakes. She showed her willingness to learn, and the manager was excited to teach her and she started working there.

Later, working at the Chicago t-shirt shop Majors, she would see an airbrush artist and sat in awe everyday wanting to get into the same work. Mayse hoped to learn from the artist, but he refused. 

“He didn’t want to teach me. In 2020, I decided to leave Chicago because I couldn’t find an apprenticeship, not even in tattooing. I started off tattooing,” Mayse said. “Nobody was willing to teach me. I used to just go into the stores and just show people my airbrush and my hand painting skills and I just got fed up.”

A common issue in Mayse’s artistic journey in Chicago is a refusal from others to teach her. Regardless, she persevered through it to find a way to accomplish what she set out to do — in this case it was airbrushing.

She spent years reaching out to artists around the world with the hope that somebody was willing to teach her. She didn’t find anyone for four years.

“That didn’t make me stop. It made me realize that I just have to keep looking for help,” Mayse said. “I just had to teach myself because I couldn’t find anyone.”

Mayse experienced a similar issue that led to her decisive move to Madison while trying to find a tattooing apprenticeship. Mayse was trying to get into tattooing in Chicago after her time at Majors. Rather than getting an apprenticeship tattooing, the tattoo shop tried to have her jump right in before building all the skills necessary, Mayse said. 

She didn’t want to be in a position that would leave her unprepared and sought out airbrushing again. She moved to Madison to focus on her art and teach herself airbrushing.

But there was a silver lining to it. After her already growing appreciation for airbrushing, and the subsequent refusal to be taught by artists in Chicago, Mayse found a job decorating cakes where she fell in love with it and found a path to learn the skill she was trying to obtain for years.

Photo supplied.

After her move to Madison, she found another opportunity to decorate cakes at a local shop and bridged her passion for it and airbrushing. She recently found someone willing to teach her airbrushing after spending years looking for help.

“I found somebody willing to teach me so now I’m working with him,” Mayse said. “But four years ago… I was reaching out all over the world and I finally found somebody that is willing to show me step by step what I’m doing right and wrong with airbrushing for years.”

The infinite possibilities are what drew Mayse to airbrushing. She admires the range of what can be accomplished and what you can paint on, which is just about anything, and the level of detail that can be accomplished. She has been airbrushing on cakes, shirts, shoes for the Dane County Boys and Girls Club, doors, caskets — anything that Mayse can think of she wants to paint on.

“I always wanted to elevate my art. I’ve always been this way,” Mayse said. “You can use airbrushing for anything. I’m the type of artist that I don’t discriminate — I want to paint on everything.”

Doing a collaborative project for the Boys and Girls Club was a dream for Mayse. In December 2023, Mayse brought her airbrush skills to a custom pair of Puma shoes with a portrait of Jo “JoJo” Ellen McKenzie, a donor of and longtime supporter of the Dane County Boys and Girls Club. The shoes, called the JoJo 23s, are a collaborative effort between the Boys and Girls Club and Puma. Mayse designed a special pair of the JoJo 23s. 

The collaboration with the Boys and Girls clubs holds a special place in Mayse’s heart. She hopes to be able to be an inspiration to youth and help mentor young artists the way she often wasn’t in her artistic journey.

Now Mayse is looking to elevate her work again, but another obstacle hit her path.

Mayse has been selling her art for ten years. She always felt art was her calling, and after selling her first piece of art, it opened her eyes that she can find a career being creative. She joined the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce’s Fall 2023 Accelerator cohort to once again elevate her work.

She ran into a paperwork issue registering Artistic Gifts as an LLC – an issue she’s still working to resolve. That didn’t stop Mayse either.

“Throughout the journey, I just learned that I just can’t give up,” Mayse said. “I love art. I’ve been drawing since I was seven. I told myself I was born to do this so I can’t give up and I’m proud of myself for not giving up.”

But like every obstacle in her path, Mayse’s refusal to give up and pursue her calling drove her. She hopes to expand her work airbrushing now that she has a mentor in her corner.