We check in with the artist making color waves across Austin
By Charlotte Spratt
Photography by Casey Dunn
Photography by Casey Dunn
As an enterprising high school student in Texarkana, Will Bryant and his pal decided to start a “T-shirt company.” The concept? Make up their own band merch for all the cool bands…that never came to their hometown. “We didn’t know what screen-printing was, so we made stencils with x-acto knives and used fabric blow pens to create one-off shirts,” he remembers. “We sold a few, but we’d get behind on orders and would nearly hyperventilate and stay up all night to try and finish them late at night. It wasn’t a good business model at all.” He initially thought he would major in business at Mississippi State, where his parents went to college, but he was lured away after falling for the charm of the dilapidated art building, which led to his majoring in graphic design. After graduation, he immediately started working as a freelance illustrator and has made murals for Adidas, a cover for The New York Times Magazine, and T-shirts for Nike. Bryant and his family returned to Austin last year after getting his MFA at Portland State University. He says: “Now, here I am 10 years later and I’m very fortunate to still be working for myself.”
When did you realize you were going to be an artist?
I suppose I can recall some important moments in my childhood that contributed to me becoming an artist, but it wasn’t until college where things really clicked. I met some influential professors (Kate Bingaman-Burt) and started deejaying ridiculously themed parties. Under the moniker “The Hooded Deer” I would do installations, and make merch for each show (i.e., “Sweatageddon, the sweat that ends all sweat”). That was an important time for me creatively. It helped shape my voice, gave me an opportunity to experiment with style, and diversify my interests.
What do you think of as your first big break into the industry?
One of my first big client projects was making merch for The Polyphonic Spree and Good Records out of Dallas. That was huge for me! Then fast-forward to about six months after college graduation, I landed a global T-shirt line project with Nike (2009), and that helped build my confidence. It also made it seem that working as an independent illustrator and artist was an actual career path.
You have installed murals at Portland’s Airbnb office, Austin’s Facebook office, a gallery courtyard in LA, and many more. What has been your favorite project?
It would have to be working on an Adidas project for the NBA AllStar Weekend this past February in New Orleans. A lot of my childhood dreams and current interests came together in the form of a mini-basketball court installation that I covered in wild line work over the course of three days. I mingled with NBA and WNBA stars, dribbled and dunked on a court that I covered, and loved everyone involved. Every aspect of the project was incredible— from the agency, the client, other artists involved, and the food. To top it off, my wife was my assistant for the project, and we went on dates every night (without the kiddo)!
You sometimes spend countless hours on a details installation. What kind of music do you listen to while you are in mural mode?
A lot of Afrobeat and Ghana highlife, ’90s hip-hop, and psychedelic stuff show up in my headphones most frequently. Some favorites are William Onyeabor, Dur-Dur Band, Lijadu Sisters, Digable Planets, ATCQ [A Tribe Called Quest], Chance The Rapper, Talking Heads, Toro y Moi, and CAN. I sometimes listen to mixes that I make, but I enjoy fluidity of albums.
Your work often features vibrant colors: What are you currently into?
Pink and seafoam are longtime favorites, but I’ve been exploring more subdued palettes lately (i.e. hunter green, khaki, desaturated red-orange, navy).
Your “I survived another meeting that should have been an email” ribbon is one of our favorites. How did that idea come to you?
It 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. 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.” It was silly! But that ribbon is very relatable, regardless of profession or industry—people get it.
Were you surprised with how viral it went?
Yes! That’s really the only thing I’ve made that has circulated in such a way. It was featured on the front page of Reddit, all the joke Instagram accounts (uncredited, of course), and around the blogosphere. Even my mom’s Facebook friends posted it not knowing that I had made it!
If you are in a creative rut, what do you do to get re-inspired?
Exercise, beverages, and snacks are crucial for me to get out of a rut. A change of scenery is often helpful. Shooting hoops, a bike ride, or a run help me on a daily basis, but there are occasions where I’m in a funk and that won’t even work. So then it ultimately comes down to just putting in the time and working through it. There have been moments where I keep taking breaks, waiting for something to come to me, but it turns out I just needed to spend the hours toiling it over to figure it out. I think it helps to commit to a process and not overthink how to do something—so create a bunch of work and then analyze later. I love this quote by Sister Corita Kent—“Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.” It’s Rule 8 from the Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules.
Why is Austin a good place to be an artist?
There are a lot of inspiring and supportive people doing their own thing here. That’s probably the biggest factor next to an abundance of tacos and good healthy food options. Oh, and there are plenty of places for a solid bev (shout out to Brew & Brew, Little Brother, Flitch, Weather Up, St. Elmo Brewing, Quickie Pickie, and Juiceland). Also, I think the
amount of festivals happening here results in a lot of money that goes into supporting local artists for events.
Check out willbryant.com for more of Bryant’s work.
Read more from the Arts Issue | November 2017