Interview with the Artist: Brian Brasher
2006 May 23 by Josh
In a new segment we're going to call Interview With the Artist (original, I know), we're going to dig into the minds of some of our favorite artists on the web. I should note that we're making a distinction here between "artist" and "designer" here. There are a bevy of wonderful designers out there making quality work (and interviews abound), but there seem to be fewer peeks into the minds of talented artists, illustrators, and otherwise making their home on today's web.
While future interviews will look at some of our favorite artists outside our doors, today I wanted to start with an interview of our own Brian Brasher. I've loved Brian's work for years—long before he came to work with us at Firewheel—and this has given me a great opportunity to take a peak at what makes Brian tick.
For those who don't know Brian, his icon work goes back many years with his trademark pixellized style becoming well known through a handful of Pixelpalooza appearances and his personal website, etherbrian. Lately, you can also find a lot of Brian's personal illustration work gracing his submissions page at Threadless. Sadly, Brian's humor is more advanced than most of ours, and he has never had a submission chosen to be printed. We're hoping this will change soon. ; )
Lately, Brian has been cranking out a plethora of icons for IconBuffet, including the popular Oslo collection, which we'll talk about a bit here in the interview. So without further ado, here we go:
Josh: Okay, let's cut straight to the good stuff. Why the fascination with the pixellated fat-bit icons?
Brian: Retro gaming graphics, of course! Arcade consoles, the Atari 2600, and other bitmappy stuff from my youthful days.
Josh: How'd you get started designing icons, and how long have you been at it?
Brian: I saw a segment in one of those heavy Mac Secrets paperbacks by Davis Pogue in which he briefly described how to tinker with system icons with ResEdit. It was like finding El Dorado. I think that was somewhere around 1995 or 1996.
No, maybe 1993. Way back.
Josh: A lot of your personal artwork features pop-culture icons in unusual environments, like Walt Disney on ice, or the Illuminati Oreos (AKA Conspiracy Cookies). Where do you find the inspiration for these illustrations?
Brian: I suppose I'm just a nut for surreality (achieved, mind you, without narcotics). Pop culture icons also fascinate me and I guess the two just sort of get mixed together. A Reese's Cup scenario, if you will. You'd see more Elvis, but I can't draw him very well.
Josh: After joining Firewheel a little over a year ago, what has been the most difficult creative challenge for you?
Brian: The biggest challenge is really much less of one now, which would be dumping my previous illustration app of choice and diving head first into a new one. I'd been using Macromedia FreeHand for about 15 years. Wrapping my head around Illustrator was tricky at first, but now you couldn't pay me to go back.
Josh: Any advice for other Freehanders looking to make the jump to Illustrator (since Adobe will force our hands eventually just-the-same)?
Brian: I'd tell them to do it now and do it whole hog. The faster one loses the mental mindset brought on by FreeHand the better. Anyway, I'm betting he or she will quickly find that they get much better results than they ever could have with FreeHand - or at least get them a lot easier.
Josh: Alright, about the Oslo icons: Was there any specific inspiration for these, or did you more-or-less create the style out of your mind's eye?
Brian: I was interested in a different perspective as well as forcing myself to create everything within a very limited structure. I'm happy with the stylized look of Oslo, and that look meant I had to get an image across without any extraneous thingies tacked here and there.
John Marstall: What's your opinion on the shift to larger icons and resolution independence?
Brian: Larger icons mean more detail, which means a richer GUI experience as well as removing a lot of restrictions an icon maker has placed upon him to make an image legible. Unfortunately, throwing out those restrictions means that a lot of icons that look quite spiffy at full size will be muddy, cruddy horrors at 32x32 and below. A two-edged sword. There will be casualties
Josh: When you started crafting the original Oslo icons, how did your general workflow progress? Did you start with pencil sketches, or did you get right down to it in Illustrator?
Brian: Hmmmmm. I can't remember! I'm thinking that those might have been born right there in good ol' AI, but there could be a paper lying out of sight for the moment which is covered with crude scribblings that were the twinkle in my eye of what was to be Oslo.
Josh: What was it like creating the super small Oslo CMS icons based on the larger, standard Oslo icons?
Brian: If creating Oslo was challenging, the CMS icons were something far and beyond! There was definitely a bit of trial and error with those. Yet the stylistic simplicity of Oslo did keep the set from becoming a bad pixel mistake.
Josh: Any advice for would-be icon designers?
Brian: Practice, practice, practice. I don't think anybody, even the Grand Master Icon Crafters, were any great shakes right out of the gate. OK, maybe there are a few Japanese icon artists who sprang full grown from the forehead of Zeus, but you're probably not one of them!
Josh: What application(s) do you use to create your bitmap (pixel) icons now?
Brian: Still using ResEdit occasionally, but mostly only when I want to force myself to use a very limited palette. Otherwise it's Photoshop. I've tinkered a bit with Pixen, but that's been many months ago and I should revisit it.
Josh: Alright, a couple for fun. What do you listen to while you're working away?
Brian: A small bit of news on the radio (the box that picks up radio waves from local radio stations, for all you youngsters reading this), old time radio drama (digging that theater of the mind), and "radio" that I've cooked up myself - jazz, funk, rock, lounge, soundtrack music, etc., interspersed with retro commercials and my very own station ID's.
I can't work in silence.
Josh: What are your favorite activities away from work?
Brian: A little bit of everything. Reading, b&w cinema, being outdoors, and talking incessantly to people who'll listen to me.
Josh: Nice. And finally, as an artist, who are your biggest inspirations and influences?
Brian: In no particular order: John Severin, Jan Van Eyck, John Buscema, Dali, Howard Finster, and many others whose names will come to me in the middle of the night during a sudden moment of wakefulness.
Josh: Anything else you'd like to add before we wrap this up?
Brian: Nope. Just happy to be here!