Kanesha Bryant

Where did you grow up and when did you decide to become an artist?
I grew up in a very rural part of Georgia and  my family moved to South Carolina when I was around 2 years old. I didn’t so much decide to become an artist as much as I liked drawing and I just kept doing it. Forever. 

Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? How did you develop your skills?
I went to the Academy For The Arts, Science, and Technology for my last two years of high school. Other than that it’s been online tutorials, Bob Ross, lots of mistakes, and taking every art elective I could from kindergarten onwards. 

Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
It was definitely much easier when I was 11 years old. Meticulously copying video game characters out of Nintendo Power is easier than trying to find a sustainable job I’ll tell you that for free. As a child  I was much more prone to consuming art, be it books or illustration, at a fevered pitch instead of making my own. I only started really creating when I got into drawing fanart for my favorite books and watching anime in middle school.  My parents were as supportive as two broke people with 4 kids could be. I was a very shy kid and I vividly remember my constant internal screaming as they proudly showed off my work to friends and family.They provided me with a large cardboard box full of cheap mismatched art supplies that I loved to death. I remember getting those old 70’s era watercolor craft books from the library and trying to imitate the techniques with a dollar store kit on computer paper. Between that and the markers, I surprised our table wasn’t more of a train wreck. My career problems with my family started when I graduated high school. I was struggling with depression and uncertainty about the future. I didn’t even know if I wanted to go to college what with  the costs and three other siblings coming right behind me with more solid ideas of what they actually wanted to do with their lives. Eventually it got to be too much and just…shut down. For months. When I came out of it, I tried to get back in there and applied at Ringling. I actually got accepted but again, money was an issue even with the scholarships I would be getting. I had to make a really rough phonecall with the news that I wasn’t going to be attending. I was a mess. During all of this, I can’t say my parents were very supportive of me pursuing art as a career. My dad wanted me to go into something more secure and they both had a lot of doubts about my ability to cope with life far away from home where they couldn’t help if our famous familial bad luck decided to strike. It was a weird time of feeling the pressure to succeed as the oldest and being treated as a sort of invalid due to my break down. It was immensely frustrating. My relationship with them during that time was pretty awful while I tried to work though my issues and they banged their heads against walls trying to fix me. It took a few years before we got sorted out and they trusted that I could handle whatever path I wanted to take. Everything’s pretty cool now and they’re happy as long as I’m not dying in an alley somewhere.

What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
Lisa Frank was really big with tiny me. In fact anything with animals majestically leaping through super saturated outer space or prowling around magic waterfalls was my aesthetic. I devoured fantasy in all it’s forms, no books about dragons or girls pretending to be boys so they could be knights were safe from me. I was also into what I’d guess you’d call children’s horror even though I was the biggest fraidy cat ever.  Goosebumps, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, Are You Afraid Of The Dark, A Series of Unfortunate Events, ghost story anthologies about things like ghost pets.  I read so many books about South Carolina’s bloody past that I would mentally note whenever we drove past a beach or building that was said to be particularly haunted.
I loved Tales from the crypt but the Crypt Keeper was too scary so I had to hide until he stopped talking and the story started. Same for X-Files. The opening theme was too much for some reason. Animorphs was most notably my jam because it had the most amazing sci-fi premise I had ever heard of and actually starred a black girl as a main character (and a love interest holy moly!). I sent art to the author once.  I got a standard copy-paste reply letter with a little note at the bottom praising my winged white tiger (of course) and chosen Animorph character name. It was the best day of my life and I’m serious when I say it made me kick in to high gear as far as developing my art skills went. Throughout middle school I got more and more into anime and started trying to imitate whatever badly dubbed vhs (most of which were not suitable for children Dad) that came into the house. Then we finally got cable and the internet and it was all downhill from there. Mountains of Gundam Wing and  Powerpuff Girls drawings were a thing my family dealt with for quite a stretch bless their hearts. Finding Junko Mizuno’s comics in highschool impacted my art in a huge way.  Trying to find similar work I got into Minchi, and Yukaman/Manglo. If it was weird pastel gore I was down for it. I watched a lot of Twilight Zone marathons during this time. I was a weird kid. 

Did you have a favourite subject to draw when you were a child and do you still have one today? If you do, what makes it so special?
Animals. Tiny Kanesha loved drawing animals and video game characters. I used to draw a ton of tigers since that was my favorite Lisa Frank folder and I would trace it until I could draw it from memory. I was also into dragons and anything I could stick anatomically incorrect bird wings on because of course I was. All of this kind of mutated into a general fascination with monsters. As I grew up, I found I just identified  with the personalities people tend to associate with weird critters more. I guess because I’ve always been a pretty weird critter. So I drew them more and more and it forced me to vary my design choices and step out of my comfort zone. Drawing monsters even helped me feel comfortable drawing people. For a long time I was hyper aware of what other people considered a typical attractive female character and how anything that looked anything like me did not make the cut. When I started drawing monsters, it was much easier to be like, okay, this character can be fat and this one can have dark skin, and it’s okay to draw scars and moles and weird lumps because they already have 3 eyes and the head of a goat. These normal human traits are not going to make this thing weirder.  People look like this and it’s okay. I can literally draw whatever I want. Once I broke through that wall I pretty much got on a metaphorical jets ski shaped like a hand flipping the bird, cranked the ignition, and never looked back.

From the initial client idea to the final work: what goes through your mind when you are designing and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it?
I like to get as much information as possible on the project, especially if it’s a large one. When I’m on a deadline and the client tells me to “Just run with it! We want something that’s very you,” I become panicky and super critical of myself. What if I make something too weird? What if it’s not weird enough? I tend to ask a lot of questions and do a little research of my own before I start. After I figure out what I want to do, my main objective is to put all my ideas into one cohesive form. There’s a lot of self-editing, sometimes I have to sacrifice a really cool idea to make a design less clunky. Sometimes I have to find sneaky ways to work an idea into a design it should clash with. It’s a frustrating and fun process.

What is your process in colouring your art and what type of tools and media do you use?
I am so basic when it comes to coloring it’s embarrassing. I color digitally almost the exact same way I do traditionally, very light circular strokes, building the color up so that it look watercolor-ish. I like my colors looking soft and dreamy. My digital work is all in Paint Tool Sai and my traditional stuff is done in Copics and various Sakura pens.

What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
The hardest thing really depends on what mood I’m in. Sometimes it’s a Russian roulette of what I’m gonna suck at that day. Second guessing myself on things like which of two extremely similar colors I want to use sometimes makes me want to throw myself into the sun. The best part in any work for me is when there’s this ‘click’. Like, I might be excited to draw something and really into it or just slogging through it but there’s always one moment that everything I’m doing is suddenly very clear. I suddenly know what to do to have it come out exactly how I want it. Sometimes this is not doable because of time or even my level of skill but it really helps shape what I do in the future with whatever I’m working on. It’s also really exhilarating like, haHA I see you art! I’ve learned your true name, now do my bidding! 

What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
Killing yourself through overwork is not as noble as some would have you believe.  Stick by you deadlines and if you think something is going to get in the way of your work, tell whoever you’re working for right away so they can adjust their plans in case you can’t make it. Don’t let people work you to death for their own gain. If they can afford to get paid, they can afford to pay you. If you do something for a charity or non-profit and they sell your work, make sure you know what happens to the money. Being spiteful towards more successful artists is unproductive and will only make you feel isolated and inferior in the community. Use that burning jealousy as fuel to better your skills instead. Talk to them, absorb their powers, make new friends. You too can be half of a set of shonen anime rivals. Maybe you’ll fight a god-beast together and win with the power of friendship. I don’t know. Just don’t be salty at people for being better than you. Trolls will always be mixed in with people giving you good honest critique and commentary. Ignore them. Block them. Draw a lizard flying a jet plane and post it under their hateful comments whenever you get them. Whatever. But don’t try to argue with them. You will lose years of your life arguing with strangers on the internet about what they want you to do with your skills. They’re not paying you and they’re not your friends. They’ll fade away like a fart on the breeze if you ignore them long enough.When you ask for critique and someone gives you some good insight, be polite and appreciative. Even if you don’t end up using any of their advice, if they’re nice be nice right back.  In fact, just be nice to everyone. You never know who you’ll end up working with or who’ll send your name along to someone for a project. 

Is there something that you have designed that you are most proud of?
I designed t-shirts for our family reunion one year long ago. I usually hate those type of ‘family favor’ projects, but I was really proud of those shirts.

What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
I did a little character design work for a game that sadly didn’t happen. I like doing projects with lots of other talented people so working on an illustration for Coey Kuhn and Shy Custis’s Ghost book was pretty fun.  I’ve also been in all the Monster Anthologies which are organized by DCS, one of the most hardworking artists I know. The sheer force of their positivity is beautiful and terrifying. Like a dying star. At the moment I’m doing dialogue busts and design work for Catalist. This is great because I’m being paid to draw adorable magic cats. The gig of a lifetime! In my spare time I’m working on Small Guide, which is going to be a series of stories about a troll girl  getting on the job adventure guide training from a goblin lady named Small. Together they escape murder-beasts, hang with criminals, suffer through customer service, and rustle up free-range books. It’s like a training montage of witchcraft and references to my most ridiculous times working retail. Hopefully I’ll work out the kinks and start putting it up later this year.I’m also working on a sci-fi adventure involving prosthetic arms and mysterious pits. Also fun. Don’t know what I’m gonna do with it yet though. 

What is your longterm career goal and what would your dream project be?
I’m a simple creature. I want to do what I love, create something I can be proud of, and one day be comfortable enough financially to live a quiet hermit life in a spooky mansion or upscale cave with a good internet connection. My dream project right now is illustrating my own series of short stories. I’m making it happen as we speak. I’m sure once it’s done I’ll set sights on something else but I don’t really have an Artistic Life Quest. I just don’t want to end up doing nothing with my life.

What advise would you give to an artist who is dealing with an art-block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
Art block is the actual devil and differs for everyone. You might do better pushing on through and drawing something just to feel productive or it might be better to just leave it and come back later with a fresh outlook on the project. I tend to go through my old work and ‘steal’ ideas from myself. You wouldn’t believe how much a design can change when your skills shift even a little. Going through old one off sketches and refining characters, giving them personalities or backstories, can really jump start  the urge to draw something new. As for keeping myself creative in general, finding random things to research does wonders. Find weird new animals to learn about, watch documentaries, hunt for references that you don’t even need. Just think up a question and then go find the answer. Then maybe draw it. 

Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, there are lots of choices. When you’re young, sometimes you know only one thing: you love to draw. What should a young artist take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path? 
If you love to draw the thing, why? Maybe you want to tell stories. Maybe you want bring certain issues to the general public. Maybe you want to scare people. Maybe you just want to get filthy stinking rich. Maybe it just makes you feel good. Once you figure out why you’re doing what you’re doing, it makes it a lot easier to figure out what you wanna do with it. 

Many art teachers and schools suggest to their students that a commercial artist should always work in one consistent style if they wish to have a healthy career. In your own experience, do you believe this to be true?
A consistent style helps you get noticed but there’s a difference between consistent and stagnant. If you’re incapable of experimentation it can block you out just as much as if you live your life as some renegade art shapeshifter. Also, sticking super close to a style when you’re still learning can prevent you from getting better. As your art evolves, you make a lot of decisions between what’s ‘correct’ and what’s a deliberate aesthetic choice. If you halt your own progress in the name of cultivating a brand, you can be stuck with a wonky style you don’t even enjoy after a while. You’ll probably be able to draw that wonky style super fast though. 

If you had to recommend only one art book (a comic book, graphic novel, children book, ''how to'' book) to a fellow artist, what would it be and why?
I think it would really depend on what kind of art they enjoy and how they enjoy it, and it’s not really an ‘art book’ per say, but I’m gonna say Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales. That book was one of the best gifts I got as a child and it’s super beautiful in a thousand ways. 

What’s your point of view about the industry today: what are the expectation for someone who wants to make a living with an artistic career?
Expectations for a future in art depends on what you want to do really. Someone who wants to sell prints on Etsy and someone who wants to work for Disney have totally different steps to accomplish. Both things are gonna make you money but both things also might not be able to support you. Neither might support you.  You might not care either way depending on your living/financial situation. All you can do is follow through on whatever plan you have and work hard. You have to make good use of the internet and social media though. It’s a horrifying void and a valuable asset. 

Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favourite designs out there?
There are literally too many inspiring artists for me to list because most of them are among my peers and saying this is a good copout so I don’t accidentally miss someone. I will name a few though. Juanjo Guarnido, James Jean, Hirohiko Araki,  Junko Mizuno, Tanglefootcomic, KC Green, Violaine Briat, and Mcbess make some darn fine art.Junji Itou designs the most surreal monsters. He’s amazing. Especially since his monsters are usually just people put through weird situations. Kentaro Miura’s monsters are also A+. One of my top favorite character designs would probably be the Ohmu from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Miyazaki always succeeds at making you feel sincerely for alien creatures but for some reason the Ohmu always resonated particularly strong with me.

We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
As long as people are willing to draw a million pictures to make a moth’s wing flap, it will fly forever. You like that? That’s a little poetry for you. On the house. 

Social networks, crowd funding websites, print on demand online service, you name it. New media on the internet are connecting the artists directly with their fans like never before. In your opinion, how is this affecting the industry and what are the pros and cons?
Times are a changin’. Now’s the perfect time to make that weird thing you want to make because more people than ever are ready to buy your weird thing straight from the source. As an artist I think it’s great because people are getting caught up in the passion of all these projects and their willingness to fund them is allowing for so many new ideas to see the light of day and flourish. Subjects that wouldn’t be explored in the past are being tackled by small successful teams of people and inspiring others to do the same. People get invested in you as a person and want you to do well. In turn you want others to do well and the art community prospers as a whole because everyone’s stoked to get everyone else’s anthology or video game or whatever kickstarted. Of course, people can also get obsessed with you and want to chase you with pitchforks. Granted, some people need to be chased with pitchforks every so often. They’re horrible. And we bought all these pitchforks already. But still, it doesn’t take much to get the internet hounds after you. You have to learn to be tactful and adult in your interactions with people you’re trying to convince to support you. It’s a hard thing to learn for some people, but those that do reap the rewards. Then again some people have a lot of free time and a lot of pitchforks no matter what. The internet is a cruel mistress. 

Finally, Where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
Right now I just have my tumblr which is theveryworstthing.tumblr.com. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some sort of store situation up and running later this year. For now I periodically open commissions and can be contacted at KaneshaBryant@gmail.com for job offers and blood sacrifices. Thanks in advance for both.

Thank you Kanesha :)