Brad Barrett, graphic designer, photographer, makeup artist, musician and all round technical wizard talks to us about his career, the industry and his love of horror films.
Name: Brad Barrett
Job Title: Freelance Graphic Artist and Web Designer/builder
What are your skills: Adobe Master Suite (Photoshop 11.0 CS4 ,Adobe After Effects, and Adobe Dreamweaver) Additionally, HTML, CSS, Java, and PHP. I also enjoy photography, makeup effects, creative and technical writing, oration, online marketing, blues/jazz guitar, and creative consulting.
What inspired you to become a graphic designer or did you fall in to it like the rest of us?
I suppose it was a slow yet inevitable process for me. I always had an interest in art and was a very creative boy. As a teenager I had become enthralled by movies, particularly horror films. Thus I was inspired to move to Hollywood, CA after high school to study and train as a special effects makeup artist.
I was also very fond of performance magic, such that I committed many hours to practicing card tricks and sleight of hand. In hindsight, I now understand that what I really was captivated by was illusion — something movies and magic shared.
Thus as technology progressed in the 90s into the new century, transitioning to the digital medium proved to be suitable for the kinds of things I wanted to create.
Have you always used digital art mediums or did you start in the physical?
I began as a fine artist, using a hands-on approach. Even now I acknowledge that there is something about using the tactile method that is missing in the digital medium. For example, Wacom tablets intend to bridge that gap, but there is nothing quite like getting your hands dirty. Some artists need that physical and sensate connection to their work.
If you did start with paint and brushes, what was the reason for the shift to digital?
I made the shift because I was aware of just how important computers were to become. I knew that if I were to have any future success as an artist that I would have to be skilled in the latest technology. The challenge now is keeping up. Even as much as I love special effects makeup, it’s no surprise to me that movies increasingly rely on computer-generated effects.
Why over other programs did you choose Photoshop?
It made the most sense for me. Many years ago I began using Corel products, but I preferred Photoshop for its usability and features. I stuck with it ever since.
In your opinion, what is the difference between a good designer and a great designer?
A good designer makes what the client wants, but a great designer makes clients want what they’ve got.
Where do you get your inspiration for the digital art that you create?
My inspiration comes from nothing more than the sum of my experiences I suppose. As they say, we are what we eat… and I’ve eaten a lot. I also try to create art that I, myself, would want to see. I don’t think inspiration can be forced, and so I don’t try. I simply take an idea and roll it around in my head for a minute, hoping I can make it more interesting or more funny. However, some clients know exactly what they want, which relieves me of having to think for them.
Your portfolio has a tendency to sway towards morbid imagery, animals and cards. Why the fascination?
My morbid imagery is definitely a throwback to my days as a makeup artist and testament to my love of the horror film genre. I also have a great deal of respect for nature and enjoy photographing it. Yet as beautiful as nature can be, it can also be very cruel. In many ways, we are at its whim.
I also tend to avoid hyper-realism with such morbidity because I don’t want graphic displays of horror mischaracterizing me personally, nor do I want to be thought of using exploitation as an artistic gimmick — as some have accused Andres Serrano. Instead, my intention is to convey a playful and amusing look at violence while maintaining the position that I don’t condone it. It’s art imitating life I suppose.
As for some of my images containing cards, I cite Harry Houdini as inspiration. Though he was known for his public escape acts, he was also called “The King of Cards.” His card manipulation was amazing in 1900 and would be still amazing today.
On a piece like the “Me Old” — How long would you spend on that sort of project?
One thing you should know is that I work very fast. That particular image took less than an hour to render. Of course, speed sometimes compromises quality, but I tend not to work as hastily when I’m producing work for a client.
A lot of our trainees, when they finish their training, tend to download 1000’s of Fonts and 1000’s of brushes. What is your opinion on this?
I’m of the opinion that adding to your creative arsenal is a good thing, but it doesn’t make anyone a better artist. As a guitar player, I can tell you that I used to think a new guitar would make me a better player, but it only made me an amateur player on a nicer guitar.
I would not advise anyone to spend countless hours scouring The Net for free goodies, rather realistically assess your needs relative to the work you’re doing and the demands ahead of you.
What advice would you give our current and prospective trainees when they ask ‘should I learn graphic design or just Photoshop’?
I think that Photoshop is merely a tool for graphic design, but by no means the only tool. I know several artists whose work I enjoy who prefer programs like Corel and Gimp. Another point I’ll make about graphic design is that it’s a creative process that requires a multitude of skills. Not only do you have to be able to think conceptually and materialize an idea, you have to have strong inter-personal skills.
Graphic design requires you to have a trusting, respectful, and communicative relationship with the client. At the end of the day, this work that we do is about people and the business relationships we build. We cannot sustain ourselves on our art ability alone.
In conclusion, I encourage all students to practice the inter-personal skills I speak of — because there’s an art to that, too.
Brad, Thank you for taking the time to talk to us and we look forward to seeing more of your fantastic work in the future.