Q&A: Brian Steely

I first came across Brian Steely’s other-worldly images on Yewknee and was pretty much instantly blown away. 

Heavily-influenced by old music posters, which are some of my favorite examples of avant-garde graphic design, Steely’s animals are the characters of our dreams. 

I reached out to Steely to help design a shirt for the Hand & Eye and he was totally receptive. Getting to work with him, even just a little bit, was a huge pleasure.

I caught up with Steely over email for a brief Q&A to learn a little bit about what inspires him and how he got into graphic design. You can check out more of his work at briansteely.com and follow him on Instagram here

Tell me about your path into graphic design and illustration. 

I was an English major in college, doing concert posters in my spare time in exchange for free tickets and backstage passes. After college I got a job interning at a PR firm. The only graphic designer there was leaving, and because the owners had seen my concert posters, they asked me if I wanted to be the graphic designer. Ended up going to design school for a few quarters and have been learning on my own ever since. I’m somewhat of a “folk designer” if you will.

What and who are you creative influences?

I’m influenced by everything around me, and especially by other designers, music, and above all else - nature. Nature has taught me to admire imperfections in things. Often if I find something that isn't perfect, I’ll leave it, in order to provide more of handmade - rather than computer generated - feel. You probably won’t hear another graphic designer say that!

What tools do you use for design? Is it all illustrator? Anything else?

I take lots of photos, do even more sketches, and don't go anywhere without a sketchpad and a couple of Micron pens. Digitally, I use Illustrator and a little bit of Photoshop. I tend to do most of my creative thinking late at night, at which point I'll capture it with a quick sketch, and then put it on the computer the next morning.

There's definitely a pretty strong animal theme in your work. Tell me a little bit about this?

Throughout my life, I've always had a kindred spirit with animals. Growing up we had a dog that was part wolf, and he was always with me. We spent a lot of time in the woods, communing with nature. I would go camping for weeks at a time and just get lost in the woods. I always had unusual animals around the house and learned to love all of them. I started off just doing a few
animal designs, but my work got out there, and folks starting contacting me and all of them wanted animals, so I’ve designed quite a lot recently.

Tell me about your relationship with social media for work. Do you enjoy it or is it a chore?

I think it is a necessary evil which you have to embrace, or you can't get ahead in the design world today. I really enjoy seeing what everyone else is doing. If you pay attention to the work going on around you, you naturally keep up with trends and where design is heading. So no, it’s not a chore – it’s been very helpful for me, and I now get freelance work from all over the world, which is inspiring.

Are you working on any projects that you're excited about right now?

I'm working with Element right now, which is a dream come true, but honestly I'm excited about every freelance project because I'm hand picking them these days and only taking the ones that allow me to grow or inspire me. 

Is there anything you want to try that you're not doing now?

I'm doing everything I want to be doing right now. It is changing as I do it, so it's morphing into other things. Design has become more of an art form for me now, and my design has become much more pure to me. It’s a hell of a ride, and I’m enjoying every minute of it!