Discover more from The Happy DinoStory
Daniel Lavazzo and the White Erase Markers
Before the Plushies: The Happy Dinosaur Origin Story and The People Who Gave Him Life
When I graduated high school and took my dinosaurs with me, I started to meet people who had never met Daniel Lavazzo before. I would often introduce Happy Dinosaur to someone who had never known me in my senior year and they would ask how I started Happy Dinosaur or why dinosaurs? when, after all, I am a horse person. I had never had to pitch Happy Dinosaur before so I was never quite sure where to begin…Happy Dinosaur’s story started quite randomly, actually, and involved several people, including one game changing economics teacher. But now that I’ve gotten used to telling people about Happy Dinosaur, I think I’ve finally gotten the Happy DinoStory ready to go.
Happy Dinosaur started because I am a doodler. I love to draw on things like homeworks or quizzes or white boards. Of course, growing up in middle school, I was always told not to doodle and that while my doodles were cute they were distracting and unprofessional and that they wouldn’t be acceptable in secondary school. I, of course, did not listen and brought my doodle habbits with me to high school where, to my surprise, not many people complained about them.
I would draw on most of my assignments and annote my exams with drawings of horses or cows and sometimes I would draw on a chalk board or white board. Often times I was told not to draw on the boards as they would be a waste of chalk or the marker ink. Not being allowed to draw on the white boards made me sad because it would remind me of getting in trouble for drawing on white boards in middle school even when my drawings would make me friends laugh. So I stopped drawing on the boards.
JED AND MR. BRITTON
A few years into high school I was sitting at my senior year lunch table with my friends and we were discussing the AP Physics assignment and I randomly drew some dinosaurs on my friend, Jed’s, worksheet with big smiles on their faces. When we turned in the homeworks during class, our teacher said: “oh, look at these happy dinosaurs.”
And so cemented the name.
Mr. Britton thought the dinosaurs were cute and commented on them again, saying “I bet I know who did this…Lyla.” My friend and appreciator of all things lovely, Talulah, turned to me and asked to see the happy dinosaur, so I drew her several dinosaurs on a sheet of paper that I think she has still kept to this day.
And so the Happy Dinosaur look was created.
Happy Dinosaurs became my signature doodle for a while and eventually they made it to my economics teacher, Mr. Lavazzo. One morning while waiting for him to put on The Big Short, a few students were drawing on his white board, so I thought, “fine, I will too.” And thank God I did because Mr. Lavazzo fell in love with Happy Dinosaur and suddenly that just became my thing and I would draw the dinosaurs on his white board and he said that Happy Dinosaur could be the next Hello Kitty.
After a few drawings of Happy Dinosaur, people starting talking about how much Mr. Lavazzo loved the dinosaurs and I started to think, maybe he’s right? Maybe Happy Dinosaur could be the next big thing, but what would I do with it? I went to class excited for Shark Tank day when my economics teacher brought in two surprises for us. A ten pound bag of Jolly Ranchers, which would eventualy give me a cavity, and a package of twelve different colors of white erase markers. Mr. Lavazzo explained that they were for me and that I could do whatever I wanted with them and if someone complained about me drawing on their white boards that I could send them Mr. Lavazzo. He then requested I draw Happy Dinosaur’s having a snow day.
I’m not sure Mr. Lavazzo ever knew how much that meant to me, to be allowed to doodle when I was told it was “unacceptable” for most of my elementary life. I don’t think I would have ever made Happy Dinosaur if he hadn’t allowed me to draw on his board…I think if I hadn’t, Happy Dinosaur would have been snuffed two years ago and it would have been just a doodle of the past.
I give Mr. Lavazzo a lot of credit for the origin of Happy Dinosaur, which is very much deserved, because without him…and the help of most wonderful art teacher to exist, Happy Dinosaur may have never popped out of the two dimensions.
JOHN AND MRS. GILES
Being focused on STEM, I reluctantly put creativity on the back burner and never took any art classes as an upper-classman. While Happy Dinosaur was still in his infancy, I told my friends how much I wished I could have taken art, and my friend John said…why not just come to a class. Just pop into Portfolio with everyone and ask if you can work on something.
So I did, and I met Mrs. Giles and asked her if I could hang out in AP Portfolio even if I wasn’t enrolled and she surprisingly allowed me to. I was even be able to use the art supplies. I loved it and while I has late arrive to school I went in early every day to go to art class and I decided I wanted to try scultping. I loved sculpting and I had already spent some time working on a smoking cat sculpture that blew candle smoke out it’s mouth.
I started working on a 3D model of Happy Dinosaur and spent several classes working on his shape and how I could get him to blow smoke out of his nostrils. When he was glazed and fired I presented him to Mr. Lavazzo, who loved him and said: you need to make a stuffed animal out of this. So I went home and I started to work on a pattern to make one out of plush fabric. I worked on getting the right shape and finally came up with a plush Happy Dinosaur to show Mr. Lavazzo, and then school closed forever. During the early months of the pandemic I worked on Happy Dinosaur and started to sell them among my friends. I’m happy to say that while I did not see Mr. Lavazzo in person again, one of my Dinosaur plushes had found it’s way to him and now, almost two years later, he’s just living his best life with his dinosaur somewhere in Vietnam. Maybe…do we ever really know where Mr. Lavazzo goes?
THE HAPPY DINOSTORY
My economics teacher loved a Happy Dinosaur, and told me if I made something out of it, it could be the next big thing. So I did make something of it and that is how I started making Happy Dinosaur stuffed animals.
Except, the Happy Dinostory is so much more and involved the help and inspiration from so many people and I’m happy to say that they are part of Happy Dinosaur’s journey. I’m so greatful to everyone who has helped Happy Dinosaur get to where he is and I look forward to sharing the next chapters of the Happy DinoStory with you.
The Happy Dinosaur clay sculpture, before glaze
(As Mr. Lavazzo would do)