EN: Do you make a living doing art and illustration? Tell us briefly your career path from schooling to present.
Brian Barber: I make a living doing a number of artsy things: illustration, animation and video, and graphic design. In school, I was an art major and focused pretty equally on illustration, design and photography, so I feel pretty lucky to be able to continue doing what I really like and to make a decent living at it. My first job was as the Art Director of the student newspaper at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I really liked the collaboration with writers, editors and other artists, and even liked the deadlines. I still find myself getting worn down when a project goes on too long. A daily newspaper deadline was like a fresh start to everything.
After graduating, I bounced around and had a few jobs as a screenprinter, worked at a small ad agency in Lincoln, and tried to start a weekly newspaper with friends in the style of City Pages and weekly papers like that. We managed to publish 4 issues before our complete lack of business sense caught up with us.
I moved to Minneapolis in 1998 and worked as a screenprinter while trying to round up other freelance illustration and design jobs, and got involved with what was at the time a very strong neighborhood newspaper network. I went on to do layout and design work for monthly magazines and did freelance illustration projects here and there.
After family and a kid entered the picture, I felt like I needed something more stable and responsible, so I took a job as an Advertising Art Director in Duluth. I did that with a couple different agencies here for 10 years or so, until my wife went back to work full-time. Now I'm back to the self-employed life.
EN: When did you first take an interest in drawing and illustration?
BB: In 4th or 5th grade, my friend Harry and I would redraw Don Martin comics from MAD magazine. We would study the lines he made, how he drew feet and noses and all that stuff. So I knew I was pretty good at drawing, but didn't really know how to make a living at it until I worked at the student paper.
EN: Who have been your biggest influences in the development of your style?
BB: I don't know if it necessarily shows in the work I do, but Ralph Steadman, Robert Risko, CF Payne, Chip Wass, Ed Fotheringham, Ian Pollack, and Lane Smith are illustrators that made me think "That's what I want to do." I think those are all people who's style I've tried to understand, dissect and pull apart to see how they do it. I've bounced around with so many styles, it's embarrassing to look back at some of the work. But honestly that's what keeps me interested in it is bouncing between something like a simple pen and ink style to a detailed painting style to taking photos and movies. It's all a kind of graphic design.
EN: You also play drums with the group Tangier 57. Why does it seem like so many artists are also musicians?
BB: I don't know. For me, I think it might be like redrawing the Don Martin comics - I want to take something I admire, pull it apart to see how it works and see what I can use or recreate on my own. How does surf music work, how do you write a pop song, how does horrible cheesy lounge music work?
EN: What is the difference between book illustration and doing illustrations for an ad agency?
BB: Timelines. Ad work is notoriously fast. Book publishing seems unbelievable slow after working in an agency. There are usually fewer people working on a book. With advertising, there's a writer, an account executive, maybe a creative director, the client, maybe a committee, media people, and so on.
EN: You have a rather whimsical style in a lot of your work. How did that develop?
BB: I really have a hard time doing "serious" work. I've done assignments for magazines where the topic is serious, and generally I'm not happy with what I do, and I don't think the editor or art director were either. Trying to write an artist statement is painful. I don't have a statement to make with what I'm doing other then maybe "Hey look, I drew a pig and he's wearing a smoking jacket."
EN: Where can we see more of your work?
BB: www.brianbarber.com is the best place to begin.
This article originally appeared last week in The Reader, the Northland's alternative for news, arts and entertainment.