Joymaker: Danielle Coke, illustrator and advocate
If you’re on Instagram, you might know her as @ohhappydani, the kind-hearted creator of vibrant illustrations so shareable they pop up on feeds far and wide. Danielle Coke’s work is joyful, but what inspires me is the way she uses light-hearted graphics to break down thorny issues of racial justice, micro-aggressions, and criminal justice reform, making them accessible to a wide audience. Her illustration style brings in elements of energy, abundance, and surprise — and the result is art that disarms and delights, inviting people to shift their perspective and deepen their commitment to making the world a better place.
In this Joymaker interview, Danielle shares a thoughtful take on the difference between hope and optimism, how she stays joyful in hard times, and what motivates her to keep creating.
How do you describe what you do?
I am an illustrator and advocate, using art and words to help good people become better neighbors by making complex issues more digestible and easier to understand.
In what way(s) do you make joy, for yourself and others?
One way I try to make joy for others is by encouraging them to believe that they have what it takes to make their world a better one. I’m a big proponent of the power of purpose – an intersection of your passions, skill set, and a specific need in the world that needs to be filled. When people realize that they’re already equipped to do what they were created for, they light up — and so do I.
What motivates you to create the work you do?
I’m motivated by the power of action and how it’s been proven to make a difference in the world. When I hear about new conversations that people are having, ways they’re serving their communities, and changes they’re making in their own hearts and minds in response to the art I create, it keeps me going!
Your work creates a lot of joy, but it also emanates from and expresses a deeper purpose. Can you talk about the intersection between joy and social justice in your work?
One thing about my art that I came to realize is that there was much more fulfillment in consistently pursuing hope rather than optimism. I’m optimistic by nature, but I found that some of the subjects that I draw about aren’t always going to have a positive spin to add to them. Not every thing will be inherently good, but there is something good in every thing — whether it be a call to action or a tangible way to make a change. The intersection between joy and justice in my work is hope.
What’s one thing you’ve learned about joy through your work that you wish everyone knew?
In order to keep moving forward in hard seasons, it’s important to keep looking for the joy in every moment, every day. For me, that can be a cup of tea, sitting by my window, or my favorite song. It doesn’t have to be grand — just something to remind you that the sun is always shining, even if we can’t always see it.
What is something you love that others might consider a guilty pleasure, but you have decided not to feel guilty about?
Watching animated movies!! Nostalgia is very healing for me, and I find it most in animated movies from my childhood (and the new ones too!). It also keeps me in touch with my inner child and keeps me feeling both inspired and happy!
What’s one piece of advice you wish you could give your 16 year-old self?
It’s okay to feel things deeply. That’ll mean that certain connections won’t fulfill you, some people may view your constant wonder as immature, and you may ask deep, intriguing questions that some people may not want to answer. Keep feeling, keep asking, and never lose your wonder!
What is something in your home or studio that brings you joy? Tell us about it.
I have giant windows where the light pours in every morning, and that makes me so happy. Pulling back the curtains and feeling the sun brings me joy!
What’s something you used to take for granted that now you appreciate deeply?
I deeply appreciate and miss concerts. Music is so important to me, and I love the experience of listening to music I love with a bunch of people who love it as much as I do! I also always made quick friendships at concerts, and my extrovert-heart loves that so much!
Most joyful color: Lime green
Your dream project: Working with Disney somehow!
A song that always makes you smile: Lego House by Ed Sheeran
Your favorite emoji: 🥰
A place that brings you joy: New York City at Christmas
A place you’ve never been but want to go to: Cinque Terre in Venice, Italy!!
A favorite quote you’ve illustrated: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” – Frederick Bueckner
All images courtesy of Danielle Coke