Bryan Moats is a tall, slender man with long legs and a big beard. He’s waiting on me with the tools of his trade in hand, an iPad and sketchbook, when I arrive for the interview. As a married man in his 30s with three children — George, Elijah, and Pearly — along with several chickens, dogs and cats, his life is already hectic, yet he thrives in a demanding field. He feeds the kids, the chickens, and those dogs and cats as a freelance graphic designer and portrait artist.
Bryan started his art at young age with influence from his father who was a card illustrator for Hallmark Cards, drawing with help from his dad who shared his expertise and guided him in the basics of illustration. “He was able to teach me a lot of the non-computer side of things so I could start with a good foundation,” Bryan says. “Which, I think, is important for any designer even if you don’t ever use them as hands-on tools.” As graphic design became more prevalent Bryan decided to attend the ArtCenter College for Design in Pasadena, California. Although he didn’t graduate from that institution, Bryan is a talented artist. And his education didn’t go to waste. “It was flattering to be let into the school in the first place,” Brian says.
Graphic designers use visual and textual content to convey certain ideas. Graphic artists most often use computer programs to make their art as opposed to a paintbrush and canvas. They are usually credited with making advertisements, company logos, magazine, and web page layout. Many graphic artists will sit down with pencil and sketchbook to rough out drafts and then move to the computer where a variety of designing software is available. Bryan uses Adobe Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop for most of his work.
I had very little knowledge of graphic design, so I asked Bryan if he would offer his own definition.
“Graphic design is a system of organizing information visually in order to achieve some kind of goal,” says Brian. “The goal can be quite literally anything but is most often associated with commercial goals like package design, advertising, and digital design (web, mobile, etc.) since they are thought to be the highest achieving use of graphic design.” Bryan thinks this because commercial goals tend to reap the most money and influence. But graphic design is deeper than that and way more proletariat than most people, even graphic designers, understand. “And that is what I like about it,” says Bryan. “I abandoned graphic design after studying it shortly at ArtCenter but remembered how wonderful the act of designing can be when I needed to create gig posters and album art for my band several years later in Fayetteville.” Bryan says his band needed to stand out. Other bands did as well. “I worked for them, too,” says Bryan. “And it was a really joyous experience. Truth be told, I lost my grounds-keeping job at U of A in Fayetteville the same morning I created my band’s first flyer. I was having such an amazing time I just didn’t go in to work.” Nearly two decades later, Bryan has more design experience than he can remember. “I’ve taught it, hated it for corporations, loved it for neighbors and friends,” says Bryan, “and even created satirical fictional characters about it.”
Bryan creates logos and icons for local business and also offers his professional illustration skills to the public for portraits. He offers two portrait options. His subject portraits are done in an elegant austere style with minimal background and color. His other option is called a story portrait. For this style Bryan sits with the client and ask them questions about the subject, themselves or a loved one, and incorporates that person’s personality and quirks into the portrait. Those are his favorite to do because he has a little more to run with and can incorporate his artistic vision into the portrait. He shared a few story portraits with me and it was incredible to see how different each one felt, and how I was able to imagine the subjects’ personalities without having met them.
When Bryan isn’t working on freelance projects, he spends time on his passion project: Bash-O-Bash. The idea is based around a children’s book that he and his wife Meredith, a freelance writer and director of the River Valley Literacy Council, are collaborating on called The Bulb. The idea of doing children’s book illustrations had been lingering in Bryan’s mind for years, but the concept didn’t bloom until one Halloween when his twins, George and Elijah, wanted to be a fox and a wolf. Making the costumes for the fox and the wolf somehow prompted a discussion between Bryan and Meredith about starting Bash-O-Bash. In the story, the quirky characters, created with help from Bryan and Meredith’s children, discover a broken but glowing light bulb. Although the book has a simple storyline, Brian and Meredith hope to assert subtle themes such as gender fluidity, respect for elders, and fostering a sense of pride in where you’re from, which are all highlighted in the Bash-O-Bash project. “Meredith and I realized that there hasn’t really been any good story telling about gender fluidity,” says Bryan. He believes that gender is a spectrum and that children should be encouraged to explore it in any way they feel. A few of his characters challenge gender norms with the purpose of showing kids that it is okay to explore yourself and your gender.
Another underlying theme is the idea that you should always keep your home in your heart and be okay with the place you’re from. I sometimes struggle with the fact that I am from rural Arkansas, scared that I’ll be labeled as a “redneck” or “hillbilly.” Bryan hopes to show people who feel the same as me that you should take pride in your home because it has shaped you into the person you are today. Bryan and Meredith also want to convey these messages in a subtle way so that the book doesn’t come across as a heavy-handed lesson. They thought it should be simple and easy for children to digest and enjoyable for adults to read as well.
The art for Bash-O-Bash is very intriguing and features a color scheme of mainly black and white with pops of color in a few places. The art gave me a strange sense of nostalgia, a warm feeling while looking at it. The eccentric characters were developed with a lot of help from George and Elijah who help brainstorm with names and characteristics. The actual name Bash-O-Bash came from the twins who would use that as a sound effect while they played with their toys.
Many would consider Bryan lucky to do what he loves for a living. It’s a luxury most people are unable to enjoy. Bryan has spent much of his life creating art, and now he is able to help provide for his family by pursuing his passion. He doesn’t take his situation for granted and uses his position as an artist to create an impact on the world.
If you would like to order a portrait or support Bash-O-Bash on Patreon, please visit www.bryanmoats.com.