How much creativity can be produced within one co-working space? Plenty, if you consider that this personality-packed workspace — courtesy of artist Will Bryant (who you may recognize from an earlier exhibit we spotlighted)— is within a stones throw of the desk of Kate Bingaman-Burt, an illustrator. Get a new perspective on their shared studio (also the headquarters for three other illustrators/designers) in Portland, Oregon.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background. I am an easygoing, light-hearted Southern gentleman with a knack for goofing around. I work as an independent illustrator, art director, and artist in Portland, Oregon. As an artist I work in sculpture, events, drawing, painting, and printmaking.
I grew up in a small town in East Texas playing sports, trying to charm my neighbors, and obsessing over Michael Jordan. My family is all from Mississippi, so I spent summers there and eventually attended Mississippi State University. I had no clue what graphic design was or that I was going to major in it. I am very fortunate that Kate Bingaman-Burt, long-time friend and mentor, was starting out her teaching career there. She, among other faculty members, had a huge impact on me. Being in a secluded Southern town with very few design agencies and resources, I developed the ability to display my personality on the internet. I made friends! (Not in real life, but was in dialogue with contemporary designers and illustrators.) I was making piles of work and trying to figure out what I wanted to do.
I began throwing themed dance parties under the persona “The Hooded Deer,” which brought together an amazing community. What started as a DIY house party quickly exploded into a collaborative production with a huge stage and professional lighting and sound. It was an over-stimulating, excessively visual bombardment of positive energy and healthy dancing. It was about sharing music, having a positive attitude, and creating the opportunity for people to have a good time, frat brothers and art students alike.
After graduating, I married my childhood sweetheart and we moved to Austin, Texas. There, I expanded my style and voice at Public School, a studio composed of designers, illustrators, and photographers. For almost three years I learned about the business side of freelancing and worked on numerous collaborative projects with some amazing folks.
In 2011, we moved to Portland so I could pursue an MFA in Contemporary Art Practice and teach alongside Kate at Portland State University. For two years I immersed myself in unfamiliar territory (Contemporary Art) and tried to once again find myself, but in a new way. I tried to experiment, absorb, and challenge myself in this new territory. What I discovered was that there isn’t much distinction between my work and me as a person. At first I thought of having a split studio practice of commercial work and exhibition work. But it’s not really split; it’s mashed together, blurring the lines between the two.
Tell us about your work now: what you’re passionate about, what inspires you, and where you’re going. My work is about joy, fun, color, accessibility, attitude. At first glance, these are all surface reads. However, there is depth there. I am also exploring functionality, language, and commerce — all through a process of play. It doesn’t appear serious, nor do I want it to. I would rather my voice come across with a Jonathan Richman-delivery or be buried behind a Tina Weymouth bass line. A printmaking teacher, Glenn Downing, once told my friend Rand, “You can be serious about art, but you don’t have to make serious art.”
My work stems from Push Pin Studios, Space Jam, Memphis Group (especially Sottsass & Shire), Saul Steinberg, Pee Wee’s Playhouse, Geoff McFetridge, Andy Warhol, Talking Heads, and Hannah Barbera/Looney Tunes cartoons. Lately, I’ve been into the work of Matt Connors, Brian Bress, Julia Dault, Wendy White, Alex De Corte, Ben Medansky, and Anna Lomax.
I have just completed my MFA, so what’s next? I am easing back into full-time freelance work and will also continue teaching and working on personal projects (in and around the art world). I hope to do more installations, pattern-based projects, and sculptural work.
Tell us about your studio space. What’s the aesthetic? What do you like or dislike about it? My space, aka “Will’s World,” has beautiful light, high ceilings, and great energy from wonderful people. The aesthetic is a “controlled color blast hyper field”—think Pee Wee meets Jock Jams meets the trippy star gate scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In response to my space, my friend Nicole said, “I am looking inside your head, or your inbox, or your bookmarks folder: this is perfect!” There’s a lot happening on the walls, but my desk is relatively clean. Everything has a place. My wall is covered with inspiring things that other people have made and some things I have made. At Public School, I had it mostly tucked in flat files or in boxes. Now it exists above my head as constant hovering confetti. It makes me so very happy! What would I change? I am planning on investing in an even nicer task chair and would eventually like to replace the desk itself with a custom table with brightly powder-coated legs from my talented friend Eric Trine.
My secondary space is at my home — upstairs next to my wife’s office. I have a beautiful George Nelson Swag Leg Desk that I use for reading, correspondence, and drawing (no India ink!). There’s not as much personality going on up there, but I’ll likely make some changes since I am finished with school.
Tell us about your studio mates. What are the advantages of sharing your space? My studio mates are awesome. I’m back to back with Kate, and there’s Tina Snow Le, Jason Sturgill, and Clifton Burt. All smart, talented, and knowledgeable. Kate and Clifton have been inspiring me since the beginning of my career. During undergrad I interned for them. We’ve shared a studio together since 2011.
Everyone is working on exciting things and eager to offer feedback/advice. It seems I’ve always had a shared space, other than the two studios in an academic settings. I love being around people. Sharing resources, open dialogue, cookie trips, and pizza parties are important to my work flow. Since I’ve been back and forth between my grad school studio, home, and this studio I have yet to nail down a typical routine. In the past two years I’ve had early morning routines (for a hot second) and super late evening routines and everything in between. Looking forward to the summer when we’re all present, every day.
A sample of Will Bryant's work in collaboration with friend, Eric Trine, for their show Alley Oop at Poketo earlier this year.
You sit in a vintage Eames chair at your desk. Why did you choose it? Like Kate, I, too, scored a vintage shell chair with green upholstery from Frank Chimero’s “historic Portland departure.” (I also got Bose speakers and the Nelson desk from him.)
We sat on variations of shell chairs at Public School. The studio uniformity was really nice, visually. However, I left mine in Austin and was pumped to find one here. I think this one in particular is a ’71 PSC-1. I love the way it looks. Eames furniture is so classic — such an important part of design history.
I would definitely recommend it to others for short studio sessions. My bottom side and lumbar have recently become interested in a Mirra, Aeron, or Eames Aluminum Group Management Chair for the long hours. Once I climb out of this grad school debt pit, I’d like to start adding pieces to my small collection of designer furniture.
(Images: Will Bryant)