Meet KCAD’s 2017 Valedictorian: Q&A with Ashley Bryant
2017 valedictorian Ashley Bryant shares her thoughts on the fruits of creative community, staying versatile, and the importance of making the most out of every opportunity.
Ashley Bryant (credit: Cody TenBrink)
What does it mean to you to be named valedictorian of KCAD’s 2017 graduating class?
It’s definitely an honor, and it’s an achievement that I’m very proud of, but I have to say that I could not have done it without the professors who supported and encouraged me every step of the way.
Let’s back up for a bit–a lot of things have led to this moment, but where did your creative journey start?
I think that even at a young age, my parents noticed that I had an affinity for art. Their recognition, and that of my teachers, encouraged me to pursue creative work throughout high school, and ultimately, as a career.
So, what led you to KCAD?
At first I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to go to an art school. I was considering a few different career options, and it wasn’t until I toured the KCAD campus that I realized how advantageous a creative community could really be. The art on the walls and the conversations with professors left me really excited about my future. KCAD offered opportunities that I had never even considered before.
How did you come to find a home in the Illustration program?
Until I visited KCAD, I didn’t really have a clear direction in terms of a career. I started out in Medical Illustration, but eventually decided that I wanted to broaden my focus and switch to the Illustration program. I began to see professional and creative avenues opening up and found that the Illustration program was definitely where I belong.
"Breathe" by Ashley Bryant (image courtesy of the artist)
Did you find it difficult to balance those two pursuits—creative and professional—during your time as a student?
Well, creative development and professional development go hand-in-hand at KCAD. But, I think it’s important to take advantage of every assignment that allows you to be creative, no matter what the class. Even if I wasn’t particularly excited about a project, I tried to look at it as an opportunity to refine my creative process and take my portfolio to the next level. It’s all about perspective and finding opportunity in everything, because that’s how you get the most out of your education.
What about opportunities outside of the classroom?
If there’s one thing I have learned from my professors, it’s to submit artwork everywhere – you never know who will respond to your style or connect with your work. In 2015, one of my pieces was included in the Society of Illustrators Student Scholarship Exhibit held at the Museum of American Illustration Galleries in New York City. In 2016, I was an award winner in the Michigan Fine Arts Competition at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center. I have also had my work published in Creative Quarterly, which is a well-known journal that features art and design from around the world.
Locally, I had an opportunity to participate in Art.Downtown. last year with a number of my fellow Illustration students. My professor, myself, and one other student hung an entire show in less than a day that included probably near a hundred pieces. It was amazing how quickly it all came together and that just the three of us were able to pull it off.
Were there any professional interactions you had at KCAD that really stood out to you?
During the KCAD Career Symposium a year or two ago, I had the chance to hear Lucy Engelman and Michael Nÿkamp speak about freelance illustration and branding, and it definitely left an impression on me. They are both Michigan-based creatives who have a lot of experience in the field, and hearing them share their perspectives really steered me in the right direction. They helped me to better understand the industry and motivated me to pursue it even more.
Let’s talk about your creative process. How would you define yourself as an illustrator?
Well, my style has been particularly difficult to define because I love all mediums of illustration indiscriminately and I enjoy illustrating at different levels of complexity. My work runs the gamut from hyperrealism to graphic design, and everything in-between. I think that one of the biggest misconceptions about being an illustrator is the notion that you have to have one definitive style. I personally don’t believe in limiting myself to a single look. Instead, I am focusing on creating ranges of illustrations that are targeted at specific markets, each with a very specific style in mind.
"Down the Drain" by Ashley Bryant (image courtesy of the artist)
Do you ever find yourself incorporating other fields or disciplines into your work?
I think that my graphic design and illustration skills really complement each other, because the industries are so intertwined and heavily rely on one another. Understanding both worlds gives you an edge and allows you to stay versatile.
How did you build those graphic design skills?
My senior year of high school, I participated in the Visual Communications program at the Careerline Tech Center in Holland. It was an intense course that helped me establish a solid foundation in graphic design. I also had the opportunity to work on freelance logo and t-shirt designs for the Tri-Cities Family YMCA and intern as a graphic designer for a company called Avata.
Where are you currently working?
Last summer I started working as a graphic designer for Design Design, Inc., which is a company that creates greeting cards, paper tableware, gift packaging, and stationery gifts. As a member of the product development team, my job is to format and design the artwork and typography that is printed on our products. I also get to write copy for greeting cards, which is a lot of fun. The great thing about Design Design is that there are always opportunities to be creative and collaborate with other designers. It’s a very open, energetic workspace and we are constantly bouncing ideas off each other.
"Whales" by Ashley Bryant (image courtesy of the artist)
It sounds like you’re enjoying your time at Design Design Inc., but what else do you have planned for your future?
That’s a tricky question–it’s so hard to predict where your work will go and what’s going to take off. Right now I have a few different goals in mind. I really want to get into licensing my artwork and creating illustrations specifically for the stationery industry. Other avenues I’ve been considering are freelance illustration and art direction. I love the freedom that comes with freelancing, but there is also nothing better than a community of creative thinkers. While I’m not really sure where I’ll end up, I know that I will make the most out of any opportunity that comes my way.
See more of Ashley Bryant’s work at ashleyillustrations.com.
Learn more about KCAD’s Illustration program at kcad.edu/illustration.