Now Featuring Will Bryant

Will Bryant’s color-charged compositions throb with enthusiasm and kinetic imagery. An accomplished illustrator and designer, he’s also growing a body of personal work that’s loose, fun, and inviting.

Print 1, Worn Out But Grinning Through It

Print 1, Worn Out But Grinning Through It

Print 2, No One Cleans the Baseboards Anymore

Print 2, No One Cleans the Baseboards Anymore

MH: Can you talk about how you got into design and illustration? It sounds like it wasn’t always your path and that something sparked for you in college. 

WB: Illustration was not really on my radar until undergrad at Mississippi State. Honestly, I didn’t know what illustration or graphic design was until an intro class with Kate Bingaman-Burt (one of my best friends/mentor/hero). I had some “creative endeavors” in high school and was into things outside the average classmate, but what I ended up having a career doing is a total surprise. I attended Mississippi State because my parents did, and I grew up cheering for the Bulldogs—not very good reasons. I thought that I would major in business, but the fear of numerous math classes and the charm of a dilapidated art building turned me towards graphic design. The  program and community inspired me to pursue a lot of personal projects and take a few painting classes.

One of those projects was a deejay persona called The Hooded Deer. I wore costumes on stage at ridiculously themed dance parties that I organized. This was a very important creative outlet for me. Not only was it a way of making friends (art and social practice, if you will), but a critical outlet for conveying personality through stage installations, costumes, merch, and promo material.

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It was such a cool time! It started out as house parties for 30 and 60 people then turned into 150 people dancing in the best dive bar in Starkville, MS. Eventually it became a full on stage production with legit sound systems, lighting, and projections for 900+ people in an old theatre in Columbus, MS. One of the larger parties featured a 22 foot tall skeleton made out of LED tubes with a laser coming out of its mouth that my crew installed for a halloween show! Imagine Dan Deacon (Wham City) meets Richard Simmons meets Southern Hospitality.

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MH: How did you find your way as a freelancer? It’s such a jump to be developing your creative voice and simultaneously finding your footing running your own business.

WB: The short answer is through making a ton of work and cultivating relationships with amazing people. While in undergrad I started cranking out loads of projects outside my classes: making personal work, experimenting, and reaching out to bands I really admired to make posters for them. Early on I also contributed to a few art/design blogs that helped get my name out there as well.

After undergrad, my involvement in the Austin based studio collective Public School helped me figure out how to run a business. This group of guys is consists of entrepreneurs, photographers, designers, and artists that have worked with such a wide range of clients and started several businesses. The relationships, connections, and general knowledge of running a creative endeavor contributed to a lot of my early client work as well as figuring out how to do my taxes, invoice clients, make presentation decks, and all the other professional aspects you don’t always learn in school. All of this ultimately snowballed into a full-time career of doing what I love that has continually shifted over the past decade.

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MH: Who are the characters in your art and illustration? When a client approaches you, or when you sit down to work on a personal project, what are you pulling from inside yourself, you or specific vocabulary, as it were?

WB: I try pulling from a range of influences and experiences to convey a particular tone or energy with each piece—regardless if it’s for a client or personal. A lot of my client work is personal work as I’m intentionally forgetting where I draw the line between the two.

I find personal work, that I’m into/proud of, is much harder for me to generate. It’s easier for me to jam out some flowing pattern piece or linework study, but things that feel “new” or “interesting” don’t come so easy. The really good work just takes time in the studio and might come in spurts. When working with a client I find the process much easier and clearer—there are goals, objectives, and deadlines to dictate and motivate each decision. I like this process, but also like the freedom of making work for the gallery. Each year I feel like my mix of these two types of projects is getting to a more enjoyable balance.

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MH: Perhaps as a follow up — can you talk about humor in your work, and how it relates to themes of sports and office life (best combined in the blue ribbons for participation in a meeting that could have been an email). Do these themes emerge because they’re relatable or are they coming from something inside yourself?

WB: I rarely sit down and come up with an idea based on a problem. It happens! But not always. Most of my humorous pieces come from a personal experience and often sneak up on me while I least expect it (in the shower, during a run, or during a conversation at a bar).

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That meeting ribbon idea (“I survived another meeting that should have been an email”) came to me after leaving a meeting…it just felt like such a waste of everyone’s time to go over a printed PDF that I had already looked at in my inbox and literally had no questions about it. Why did we waste paper? Why did someone drive across town to do this? “Ok, great to see you, thanks for the coffee, ok bye! I’ll send you an email about this meeting that we could have just covered in a two minute email.” So dumb! But that ribbon is very relatable, regardless of profession or industry, people get it. That’s really the only thing I’ve made that has circulated in such a way.

Most of my other humorous pieces aren’t as relatable to a broader audience—typically more quirky or obscure or just not that funny!

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MH: After building a successful freelancing career, why did you decide to take time to do graduate studies in fine art, in a program that didn’t focus on design or illustration? Now that you’re a few years out from that period of study, what do you think you gleaned from it? 

WB: I really felt the need to challenge myself and push my work into new directions, and graduate school seemed like the best opportunity to do this. I also wanted to live outside of the south for the first time and was wanting to move to Portland, OR, to once again join forces with Kate Bingaman-Burt. She was head of my graduate committee and I was her TA. We shared studio spaces together, co-taught classes, and did workshops together. Such an incredible time!

As for the graduate program (MFA Studio Art Practice at Portland State University), it was ridiculously challenging for me to go into fine art academia after a few years of mostly making commercial illustration work. The first year was brutal. It was overwhelming and confusing—I’ve never been filled with so much self-doubt about every single decision in nearly every aspect of life. I was conceptually and aesthetically pushed, and stretched in a way that could only happen in grad school.

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The exposure to different corners of the art world, diving into performative and video art, pretty much everything that would be categorized as contemporary art, was so fresh. I really tried to push myself and make more conceptually driven work. The visiting artist lecture series allowed me to have studio visits with artists such as Brian Bress, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Wendy White, Anna Craycroft, and Olaf Burning.

These visits were influential on my practice, just being able to talk to established artists about making work in an academic art institution and what it’s like afterwards. Looking back on my MFA experience, I know for certain my work wouldn’t be where it is today. While I’m not showing in many galleries nor is my work more politically challenging after my grad studies, I think it has matured in a lot of ways. I am much more aware of my influences, and can approach projects, especially installations, with a different perspective that I had before. I also have a much easier time sorting personal work and client work, as my motivations and intentions are different for each. Was it worth the money? Yes. Have I paid it off yet? Nope. Ha!

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