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Meet KCAD’s 2016 Valedictorian: Q&A with Brianna Spicer

Posted May 2, 2016 in Award WinnersIllustration

2016 Valedictorian Brianna Spicer (Illustration) talks visual storytelling, searching for a style, and the importance of being a morning person.

Brianna Spicer


What does it mean to you to be named Valedictorian?

At first I was sure it was a mistake. It’s very surreal. It was never a goal I had set by any means, but I’m incredibly honored to accept it and proud to have achieved it.


What drew you to KCAD?

I knew I wanted to go to art school since I loved drawing and was recognized for it from an early age. Drawing helped me to express myself to others. My elementary school teachers told me I’d be an author when I grew up because I was always writing, but I ended up being more interested in telling my stories visually instead. I had a great high school art teacher who really encouraged me to look into KCAD, and I ended up touring the campus twice. He was a big influence on my decision to come here.


What was your impression of the college after those initial tours?

KCAD’s campus seemed very, very large to me at the time. I grew up in Horton, MI, which is a very small town – there were 50 people in my graduating class in high school. But I had toured other colleges, and most of them were so large that it was overwhelming. KCAD ended up as the best fit size-wise, and Grand Rapids just seemed like a much more manageable city than some of the others I’d visited.


What made you choose Illustration as a major?

It all comes back to my love of visual storytelling. I started making storybooks when I was around five, and it’s been a personal drive of mine to make narrative illustrations ever since, though I didn’t understand the term as a child. I just knew that I loved books and art. When I was a child I’d go to the library and pick out a massive stack of books just based off of the covers and savor them.


So how does narrative function in an illustration?

That’s a tricky question. In my work, I think that a lot of it is through the composition and poses of the characters. It’s not so much about technique or color choice; it’s about what the characters are saying with their expressions. In a book there’d be paragraphs and paragraphs about what a character is saying, thinking, feeling, and doing. In an illustration, a character’s face becomes a whole story in and of itself.

work by student Brianna Spicerwork by Brianna Spicer


What’s been your proudest accomplishment as a KCAD student?

I’m proud of developing a portfolio that’s more cohesive, where every piece is a part of a larger picture. Even six months ago, my work was pretty scattered because I was trying to figure out what it was I wanted to do. Now I feel like my portfolio is something an employer could look at and know what kind of work they would get from me.


What about the flip side? What was the biggest roadblock you had to overcome?

I had one Illustration class where we were supposed to create a sketch that represented our style, and I was struggling with the assignment. I kept trying and wasn’t getting anywhere, and my professor told me, “You don’t have a style yet.” I felt like if I didn’t have that, then I wasn’t really an illustrator, and it stung. But at the same time, I wasn’t at the point of identifying who I was yet. I was just trying to get my technique down.

So I started looking more closely at the work of artists I really admired, trying to figure out what it was they were doing that I liked so much and then attempting to incorporate it into my own style. I had always looked at other people’s work, but in the last year or so, when I see work that inspires me I make a point to take notes about why I like it or what’s working and then try to use this to further my work.


So how would you describe your style as an illustrator?

My style has developed to embrace the off-kilter. I’m heavily influenced by nature, seeing how I grew up in a forest, and also by femininity. I had professor once who called my work “beautiful chaos” during a critique, and I’ve always liked the sound of that.

work by student Brianna Spicer"Jackalope Gal" by Brianna Spicer


Do you have a favorite memory from your time at KCAD?

The Halloween parties; it’s by far my favorite holiday. I always dressed up and I loved seeing what other people came up with.


How did you balance your creative development and your professional development as a student?

Since my profession is creativity, I don’t see much of a divide between the two. I’m constantly working to get better at my art, but I’m also very practical and have always been mindful of taking steps toward building a career for myself too.


Was there a professional interaction you had during your time at KCAD that really changed the way you think and work?

A few months ago, a former KCAD Illustration student named Kirby Fagan came to speak on campus. She’s doing something very similar to what I want to do in the realm of book cover design and children’s books, and she really showed us how much discipline you need to have to succeed at that. She gets up at 6am every day and works for hours straight without stopping. So I took note, and now I’m trying to do that myself. She’s a big inspiration to me.

work by Illustration student Brianna Spicerillustration from a children's book Spicer is currently working on


Where do you hope to take your career after graduation?

I’d especially love to do children’s illustration and book cover design, but I’m not opposed to anything along the realm of entertainment, whether it’s books or television or video games.

Right now I’m working on publishing a children’s book. It’s about a giant Mother Nature figure that takes care of all these woodland critters. They all have little problems she fixes, such as when she’s trying to tuck them in for bed but the fox is scared of the dark, so Mother Nature places stars in the sky to make him feel safe. I based the character on my mother who is a Kindergarten teacher. Hopefully she will read it to her class someday!


What advice do you have for new KCAD students?

I think it’s important to always approach a project as if it’s for a client. Never miss a deadline, always do your best, always treat each project as if it’s a priority. It seems obvious, but it can be easy to forget that.


See more of Brianna Spicer's work at breespicerillustrations.com.

1 Comments
  • Jeanne murphy May 2, 2016

    You sound like you definitely deserve to be valedictorian of your class . Good luck on your career and I love your art work . Great article ! Friend of Logan s mom, Jeanne

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