First Avenue mural artist Dany Reyes: ‘My mistakes are what make my art different’

Shortly after Dany Reyes moved with his family to south Omaha, one of his new high school friends asked him if he had ever done graffiti art.

Reyes had become known as “the guy who sketches,” having started drawing when he was in grade school in Los Angeles.

“I noticed that people would hover around me while I was drawing,” Reyes told The Nonpareil. “It became my way of being social with everybody, and being able to talk and speak and get out of my shell without really doing much but letting my hands do the work.”

Despite growing up in L.A., a city with a robust and thriving graffiti art scene, Reyes had never tried his hand at expressing himself through the generally-illicit art form.

“I was kinda scared, actually,” he said.


Artist Dany Reyes poses for a portrait near his mural, “Empowering Youth for Global Change,” which can be seen on the building facing Cochran Park at 2200 2nd Ave. Reyes was one of four artists chosen to paint a mural near the First Avenue trail.

With the invitation to a nearby train yard from his friend, 15-year-old Reyes got his first experience with creating art on such a vast scale.

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“I went with him and I saw how they were doing,” Reyes said. “I thought it was very interesting, the way that they used that form of graffiti and stuff, and so I started to do a little bit of what I did mixed with their stuff, but that was short lived.”

Raised by a single mother, Reyes was worried that he would get into trouble that his mom would have to pay to get him out of.

“I cannot imagine getting into trouble and her having to pay out of her pocket for the damages that I’ve caused to the city, so I was like, ‘Oh no, my mom will kill me if I get caught doing this stuff,’ so I just didn’t do it anymore,” Reyes said. “I thought it was cool, but I didn’t want to burn a hole in my mom’s pocket with, you know, court fees and me going to jail and stuff because I damaged property.”

While Reyes chose not to partake in his friend’s extracurricular art classes during high school, he began looking for bigger canvases for his work, just not train car sized.


Artist Dany Reyes points out some features on his mural, “Empowering Youth for Global Change,” which can be seen on the building facing Cochran Park at 2200 2nd Ave.

“What I used to do was, I’ll pick up, like, doors and random pieces of boards that I find and I’ll take it to the backyard and I’ll start painting on that stuff and sketching things and just practicing in a larger scale,” Reyes said.

Reyes had a friend who worked in a custom sign making shop, where they would usually have a lot of material that gets thrown away at the end of the day — pieces of wood or plastic that had been cut away from the signs they were creating. He asked Reyes if he wanted to take some of the pieces home to see if he could paint on them.

“I said, well, I am working on becoming a muralist and that means that I need to work with any type of surface … so I started doing that,” Reyes said. “I would paint on cardboard and stuff like that, and that still continues to this day. Like, if it’s trash day and I’m driving around and I see somebody threw out something, I’m like, ooo, I could paint on that. I’ll pick it up and I’ll paint it and I’ll sell it.”

Cut to nearly 20 years later. Reyes is 34 and painting has been more of a hobby for him while he holds down a steady job. He’s married, he has kids, and he has a nagging question of whether he can make a living as an artist.

“I discussed it with (my wife) first, and she said, ‘you can leave your job and you could try this out, but if it doesn’t work out in the next six months, you need to go back to work,’” Reyes said. “It was just something I needed to do … I needed to see if this is something that is for me.”

Reyes started painting all the time. He would take finished pieces where crowds tended to gather and try to sell them.

And he did.

“People would buy them for $100, $200, but while I was working on all these paintings, at times I would be like, ‘What did I do? Oh my god, I’m crazy.’ Like, who just says, ‘I’m gonna be an artist?’” Reyes said. “But then I would try to get myself out of that train of thought, and I would say, ‘have faith in yourself, Dany.’”

Reyes’ faith in himself unexpectedly manifested itself in his work. Shortly after he quit his job and started painting, during a drop in confidence, he took a brush, dipped it into a can of hot pink paint and painted the letter “F” on his work. He would do this before going to bed, “so in the morning when I come back downstairs to the basement to work on the paintings, I would start thinking that ‘F’ means have faith in yourself, have faith in yourself, it’s gonna work,” he said.

One day, a client arrived to pick up a commissioned painting. The client asked if he could see Reyes’ work space. When they got down to the basement studio, the client noticed the letter “F” on all the paintings and asked what it meant.

Reyes told the client the story, who realized that the painting he just purchased didn’t have the letter on it.

“He literally grabbed his painting and he put it back on the wall and was, like, ‘Put that on mine,’” Reyes said. ”He said, ‘that’s a cool story to have with your painting, so now when I show people my painting that you did for me … I’m going to tell people that story.’”

Now, Reyes paints that “F” on all of his paintings, and if he forgets, people have brought their paintings back to him so he could add it.

“It’s not a Dany Reyes if it doesn’t have an ‘F’ on it,” he said.

When Reyes was approached about designing and painting a mural on the back of one of the buildings that line the First Avenue trail in Council Bluffs, there was no hesitation.

“I was like, oh wow, that’s cool,” Reyes said. “I would love to do that.”

After taking a tour of the trail, Reyes realized that one of the potential canvases sits across Second Avenue from Edison Elementary School.

“My kids go to that school and my son who’s in high school, he went to Edison, and it’s a connection there that I had,” Reyes said. “I said, ‘I think it’ll be cool if my kids come outta school and be, like, ‘hey, look, my dad did that and that’s me right there.’”


Artist Dany Reyes said his children were the inspiration for his mural, “Empowering Youth for Global Change,” which can be seen on the building facing Cochran Park at 2200 2nd Ave.

The building Reyes chose sits at 2200 Second Ave., just south of the First Avenue trail and to the west of Cochran Park, across South 22nd Street.

To determine the subject of his mural, Reyes spoke with the building’s owner, who would have to OK the design.

Because of his family’s connection to Edison, Reyes explained that he wanted to incorporate his kids in the mural, to which the property owner readily agreed.

Reyes’ mural, titled “Empowering Youth for Global Change,” features four multiracial children playing dress up — one boy is holding an electric drill, one boy is strumming a guitar, one girl is wearing a lab coat and holding a stethoscope and one girl is holding a firefighter’s helmet.

“I asked them, ‘hey, if I was to paint you as being something, what would you be?’” Reyes said. “And my daughter (Elena) was like, I want to be a fireman. And then my other daughter (Aurora) said, I’m a doctor. And my son Elliot was like, I would be a construction worker or something like that.”

The fourth child is Reyes’ oldest, Elijah, for whom Reyes had once bought an electric guitar.

“He’s actually older than the other kids, but I took a picture of him when he was five and I just did his hair like it is now so he could fit the age group that was up there,” Reyes said.


Artist Dany Reyes points out some features on his mural, “Empowering Youth for Global Change,” which can be seen on the building facing Cochran Park at 2200 2nd Ave.

Reyes said that when he was designing the mural, he made it a little more polished than his usual artwork, which is often a little messier, with paint splatters and drips.

“I just hold myself back a little bit from doing what I do with the random splatters and stuff, but I kinda still let my style bleed through what I’m working on, just not as much,” he said. “I’m kind of spontaneous, but I don’t know how appealing that would be on a wall.”

When Reyes was still refining his style, he learned how to work with what he calls “mistakes,” like ink smudges or over spraying.

“I started learning how to work with the mistake that I did and then just kind of incorporate it,” Reyes said. “When I saw the guys working on the trains and stuff, I noticed that … they didn’t freak out, they just waited a few minutes for it to dry out and then come back … and correct it.”

Learning to work with his mistakes helped Reyes create his own unique style.

“I said, this is for me, because no matter how hard I tried to be as perfect and clean cut as I could, I just could never, but I just went for it. I said, ‘you know what? I’m going to own this,’” Reyes said. “My mistakes are going to be what makes my art different and that’s what I’ve been running with ever since.”


Artist Dany Reyes poses for a portrait near his mural, “Empowering Youth for Global Change,” which can be seen on the building facing Cochran Park at 2200 2nd Ave.

For more information about the First Avenue murals, visit To check out more of Reyes’ art, visit

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