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I'm an illustrator, designer, pixel pusher, quasi-typographer, and all-around mostly nice guy from sunny Alabama. I've reached the glorious zenith of having some totally ludicrous selection of artwork decorate thousands of t-shirts, a tidy sum going into my coffer for a minimal amount of totally enjoyable work. I've plumbed the lowest abyss of having to rearrange the contents of a full-page automobile dealership newspaper advert so that instead of 25 new cars and 150 used cars the ad would have 15 new cars and 225 used cars ... per the car dealer's after-hours demands ... with only minutes until press time. I've lost count of how many UI icons I've created over the last few years, but it's safe to say that it's somewhere in the thousands. My career has been - and will probably remain - all over the graphics map, but I think I like it best that way.


When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?

I enrolled in college with no clear direction in mind, only a fuzzy vision of the El Dorado that would be my lifestyle as a rich and famous artist. My high school art teacher was a highly-educated and passionate lover of classic art, and she regularly chided me for creating art that was "too stylized". But in college I sat under the tutelage of a lively and expressive German lady whose father, besides hiding Jews from the Nazis, was an expressionist artist of no small importance. It was she who introduced me to the high graphic arts, and I never looked back (nor did I take any oil painting courses).

Who or what inspires you?

Pre-internet loves: Albrecht Durer, Gustave Dore, Hieronymus Bosch, Jan Van Eyck, Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, John Severin. These days, with bajillions of jaw-droppingly talented artists hanging their artworks all over the cyberwalls, there are too many inspirational people to keep track of: Cartoonists, photorealist painters, urbanseque designers, pixel pushers, etc, etc. Also: Film noir, googie, arabesque pattern work, populuxe, psychedelia, funk, soul, retro tech pixel graphics, Chuck Jones, and Tex Avery.

Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?

Desktop publishing was only just beginning to make inroads into college courses when I was a student (the three Macintoshes at school weren't nearly as powerful as those which I was using at my part-time job in the art department of a newspaper). I would say that I was self-taught, but I don't think I set out to actually teach myself anything. It's more accurate to say that I was in the right place at the right time and that a little curiosity on my part caused a lot of what I needed to know to topple over and fall on top of me. I had little to no internet access then. If I had, perhaps today I'd be Art King of The Universe! *cough* Ahem.

How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?

I don't keep fresh at all. If by "fresh" you mean staying on top of illustration and design trends, I don't really play that game. Good or bad, right or wrong, for richer or for poorer I do things the way I like. As Mr. Sinatra sang, I do it my way. I'd likely be much more successful if I jumped onto whatever trendy bandwagon happened to be parading down Main Street, but I'd be squirming miserably with every pen stroke or mouse click. Don't get me wrong, there's usually genuinely beautiful work to be found amongst all the trendy stuff, but too many people are sacrificing their originality only to ape the latest trend. And they end up being indistinguishable from the art/design masses. If, on the other hand, by "fresh" you meant being up-to-date on tools and technology, I do so as the money allows. My motives, however, aren't noble or industrious. Tech is a toy to me, and every boy needs toys!

What are some of your current projects?

I've been with Alamofire for the last two years (and was with it two years prior when it was called Firewheel Design). I've created a beaucoup of artwork for Alamofire's Facebook-based game PackRat and am currently generating tres beaucoup iconic items for a new location-based iPhone game by the name of Gowalla. For the last few months, when the sun goes down, I've been trasnforming pixels into cell phone UI's for a company in Oslo, Norway. On a lark I began throwing together various art elements recycled from rejected and abandoned projects into tshirt designs and have made a reappearance at Threadless. What can I say? It's a dice roll for some easy money. Speaking of shirts, I don't know why, but I don't like wearing the ones I've designed. Except, that is, this one. Go figure.

Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?

To be honest, I can't put my finger on just one, so will you indulge me if I detail a project of which, in contrast, I'm absolutely ashamed? I was asked by a newspaper to illustrate a penguin for use as a mascot in a free classified advertising scheme (I never figured out that bit about the free ads). Unfortunately, instead of just letting me illustrate the flightless bird in my own style, I was handed two pencil drawings of penguins and was told to create modelled vector renditions of both. One was by somebody in-house (who had more ego than talent and who nobody had the guts to tell to buzz off) and the other was by another freelance artist (who, I believe, was going to charge a lot more than me for the job and only got paid for the pencil drawing). I then had to take the "3D" penguin based on the freelancers sketch (though I was unable to escape the "pleasure" of having to deal with Mr. Ego) and I had create various versions of the penguin carrying/handling/fondling some some crap he wanted to unload via a free classified ad (I never figured out that bit about the free ads). I hated every illustration I created. Not because I didn't do my best but because they were hack work, and long and passionately have I hated hack work (most of which begins with a statement like, "I love your work. I need you to illustrate this like >INSERT SOME OTHER ARTIST'S NAME HERE<."). Little did I know that my hack work would be appearing everywhere. It was, of course, spread like a rash throughout copies of the newspaper, but it was also on posters and paper boxes and static clings and billboards. Anyplace they could find to tell the world about free classified advertising (I never figured out that bit about the free ads) there were those accursed penguins. Thanks for indulging me (and thanks for overlooking and the parethentical stuff)!

Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?

I have a tablet but have yet to spend any quality time with it. Besides using it to mimic ink work, I'd like to try my hand at some digital painting, but if that will ever happen only the Shadow knows. I've pondered the notion of using an opaque projector to super-enlarge some of my drawings onto plywood. I would then trim the wood to the each drawing's edges and paint them. There are a few art galleries in town as well as an enormous annual show-and-sell in the park, and I think it would be keen to dabble in that world with my plywood pieces. Coming back down to earth, I'd like to revisit font creation. Just a few days ago I received an email asking permission to include a font of mine on a CD that will accompany a Japanese magazine. That's nice (and it's nice that they actually asked), but those fonts are old and horrible and I need to create something to cancel them out!

Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?

If I offered any advice it would be something disingenuous that I just made up. The planets aligned for me in my pre-ubiquitous-internet world, so my steps and missteps aren't very helpful to anyone not abiding in that time period. Anyway, with our economy in the achey breaky state that it's in, recipes for success that were fool-proof just six months ago may soon be nothing but fluffy pink daydreams about Way Back When. Am I a ray of hopeful sunshine or what? But seriously, improve your craft whenever and however you can. Even if you're a god among mere mortal artists, assume you're not and keep striving for perfection (most folks who assume they possess the godly attributes are usually and sadly far from having attained them).

What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?

Without getting all zen in my answer, if it enriches somebody, even just a single soul, then it's a success. How does one define success anyway? The client gladly pays a princely sum for it? It meets the approval of the Keepers of the Divine Design Flame Who Must Be Obeyed? It convinces dunderheads that if they don't purchase the product emblazoned with it they will go to their graves tragically unhip? I think most people reading this probably greatly appreciate the work of some person who operates (or operated ... R.I.P.) in relative obscurity. That the work makes a connection, that it touches you (be it design or illustration or film or literature or a blueberry pie or whatever) then it's a success.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
When I'm able, I divorce myself completely from my work. I get away from the tools that I use to work. I get away from things that even remotely remind me of work. That usually allows me to return to the task mightily refreshed. Also: Love it or hate it, employ it or avoid it, herald it as brilliant or blame it for the demise of Western Civilization, Twitter has been for me a silly yet fabulous little something to take the edge off things when the edge needs taking off.

Finish this sentence. "If I weren't a designer/illustrator I would have been a..."


And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?

It must be something on Japanese television that I've never seen because there's little I can stomach that appears on my American TV set. How do I love thee, Netflix? Let me count the 100,000+ ways!

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Jeff Andrews said...

Thanks again for taking the time to interview this week Brian, it turned out really well. You are a very talented designer and illustrator.

Leighton Hubbell said...

Nice to hear more about Brian.

Love this guy's work and his sense of humor. A cool style to the work and an interesting perspective on working in our chosen field.

I recently got a chance to follow @etherbrian on Twitter. Always got something funny to say or interesting to show. I highly recommend it!

thetoonman said...

great work man, i dig it a lot!

hopefully i'll see ya around on threadless!

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