It’s easy to spot a Will Bryant piece—look for the colors, the cut-out shapes, the Memphis-inspired irreverence, and the strange anthropomorphized food products. You’ll find them on beer cans, bean bags, brick walls, t-shirts, and corporate websites. Bryant’s stuff is everywhere, and it’s pretty hard to miss.
“I can’t hide my lust for aesthetics,” he said one day this spring at his studio in Austin, Texas. Bryant’s space, which he shares with a handful of other independent artists, confirms this. Located in an old low-lying factory building on the city’s east side, the studio is bright and airy, with a garage door that opens onto a loading dock-turned-patio.
The space is a testament to his idiosyncratic design tendencies—paintings bearing his signature shapes and squiggles hang next to typographic stickers and ribbons he designed. In the corner, leftover bean bags from a pop-up installation are covered in boldly colored shapes. A skateboard with a painted pattern is stashed underneath the table. “I have a problem with liking [to do] too much,” he says.
It’s not a bad problem to have. Over the last five years, Bryant has carved out a space in the illustration world with his happy-go-lucky aesthetic. He mixes local projects (t-shirts and wall paintings for small Austin shops) with corporate gigs (apparel for Bud Light, an office mural for Facebook, shoes for Converse). And his best selling product? A ribbon that reads, “I survived another meeting that should have been an email.”
It makes sense that Bryant’s style appeals to both ends of the spectrum. His work is unabashedly cheery. “I popped out that way,” he says. It’s infused with a familiar ’90s nostalgia—Nickelodeon meets Keith Haring with a touch of NBA and Memphis Group. “I found out who the Memphis Group was through Pee-wee’s Playhouse, basically,” he explains.
Growing up in Texas, Bryant didn’t know that being an artist was an option. He was interested in sports and spent his time between football and basketball and doodling his favorite teams’ uniforms. “I loved to redesign them,” he says. It wasn’t until high school that he realized he had a knack for the visual, and by the time he graduated and left for college at Mississippi State University, he figured he’d try his hand at graphic design.
Despite his degree, most of Bryant’s work falls just outside the realm of traditional graphic design. His hand-drawn letters have a homemade quality to them that align more closely with illustration than typography. His paintings are graphical but lack precision. Most of his work is illustrative in nature, artistic in spirit, and design-led in process. He doesn’t really consider himself a true graphic designer. “I like to say that I uncomfortably and awkwardly straddle all of those things,” he says.
He designs most of his work by hand, sketching then painting the shapes before scanning the images and cleaning them up in Photoshop. For commercial clients, he’ll often draw on a tablet and create digital files to make for easier edits. When it comes to drawing shapes, Bryant explains that he doesn’t really adhere to a method. Sometimes he’ll come up with a color palette first; other times, he’ll see how shapes fit together and go from there. “I like to create some parameters and rules to respond to,” he says. “Putting those limitations or constraints is where the designer part comes in. It’s creating some sort of imaginary problem to solve.”
For Bryant, the joy in his work comes from the small details that other people probably don’t notice. It’s the asymmetrical lines, the gritty texture created by the paint, the fact that no two shapes are alike, despite looking very similar. “I could easily churn and burn from one asset source file,” he says. “It would make my life way easier if I did, but it’s not as fun for me.”
Looking around his studio, it’s clear that Bryant actually enjoys what he does. Painting and creating isn’t a task, it’s a pleasure. “That’s the commonality through everything,” he says. “I like to have fun.”