Bri Hermanson

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"Fricton" by Bri Hermanson.
Bri Hermanson.

Bri Hermanson is a scratchboard illustrator. Clients include Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, SKYY Vodka, Tor Books, Pentagram, Xerox, Philanthropy Magazine, the American Bar Association, Southern Poverty Law Center, Guitar World, Grand Ten Distillery, Llewellyn Worldwide, and Complex Magazine. Her work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, Creative Quarterly, Luerzer's Archive, Applied Arts, the Altpick Awards, the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles, and the 3x3 Directory.

Born 100 years to the day after the birth of Rockwell Kent, Bri grew up in a small town in Oklahoma where she began to experiment with scratchboard. In 2005, she moved to NYC, where she received her Master's in Illustration from FIT in 2007. During this time, she developed a love for drippy, messy ink while continuing to separately explore scratchboard. After graduate school, the inevitable merging of ink and scratchboard took place, combining the two facets of her illustrative sensibility as well as two markedly visceral mediums. She continues to explore both methods of working with scratchboard and loves solving problems.

Bri now lives and works in Northampton, MA.

The DART Interview: Bri Hermanson

By Peggy Roalf Thursday August 8, 2019

Peggy Roalf: As President of the upcoming ICON11Illustration Conference, would you tell the readers—many of whom are creatives and artists who are hoping to attend—what will set this edition apart from its predecessors?

Bri Hermanson: ICON is such a unique conference. Historically, ICON has been committed to providing a diverse forum for an ongoing dialogue that serves the illustration, design, publishing, advertising, and academic communities. Our 11th biennial conference is pushing that idea even further. This marks the first all-female executive team for ICON, and the Board includes many queer and POC creatives. In addition to highlighting advocacy, inspiration, and studio practices, this team is working to set important intentions, foregrounding inclusion and intersectionality in the content we highlight, as well as our audience outreach initiatives. I’m proud of the work we’re doing and feel grateful to serve with such a hard-working, thoughtful Board to build a conference designed for everyone. We are actively and intentionally pulling more seats up to the table.

PR: For anyone who is not an artist, designer or creative director, are there aspects of ICON11 that might be particularly relevant for the 2020s?

BH: Absolutely. I’ve seen ICON have a broad appeal to anyone with a creative practice, even outside of our industry. The messages, intentions, and inspiration inherent in our programming are overarching and connecting, not contained. My partner is a poet and fiction writer who attended ICON10 in Detroit — she found the programming relevant to her practice as well. ICON inspired her to think more deeply about cross-disciplinary projects.

PR: What is there about Kansas City that most excites you about being there?

BH: There’s so much to love about Kansas City. I have no doubt that our attendees will be pleasantly surprised when we meet in the middle next summer. One of my favorite things about KC is its thriving creative community. In our ICON planning trips, the Board has had an opportunity to get to know the folks who have built a vibrant, supportive, and enthusiastic creative community with deep ties across the illustration industry. Picture it: Hallmark, the Illustration Academy, Spectrum, one of the fifth largest AIGA chapters in the country, myriad ad agencies, and so many freelancers and creative entrepreneurs. The city in and of itself could charm anyone, but at the heart of it, it’s the people who make it exceptional.

Peggy Roalf: In your own work, which came first: the brush or the pen?

BH: Oh, the pen, for sure! I feel much more comfortable with drawing as a black and white, linear practice; it has always been that way for me. However, in my evolution as an illustrator, the brush has come to play an integral role. The balance and interplay between the two is something I’m constantly exploring.

PR: Please describe your work process—is most of your work done directly, or do you also use digital media?

BH: I work in scratchboard. I’ll use a brush to apply India ink onto a board coated in white kaolin clay, often embracing happy accidents and ink splatters along the way. Then, the core of my drawings are made by working in reverse, using knives to cut white lines into the inky silhouetted shapes. As a medium, it’s both immersive and meditative. For some, these methods feel like working backwards, but for my brain, there is nothing more natural or satisfying. Forms make more sense to me going from dark to light. I draw much better in scratchboard than I do using any additive process. When I look at my sketches at the end of a project — pencil sketches I previously thought were decent — I’m often shocked by how flat and unfinished they feel. I use digital tools for cleaning up scans, coloring illustrations, and making revisions. For gallery-based work, I use inks and dyes to color the work and add metallic details.

PR: As an eminent scratchboard artist, can you tell readers a little about how your work evolved from using store-bought supports to the custom backgrounds you make today?

BH: I started using scratchboard while I was a sophomore at Oklahoma State. It clicked with me — once I found it, no other mediums felt right. I experimented with different brands of materials, from the student-grade scratchboard paper to professional scratchboard brands like Essdee Scraperboard from the UK, always opting for pre-inked black boards. I noticed some wild variations with quality from many different brands. Lines would scratch off in a chunky, flakey way that drove me crazy, or the material would respond in a completely different fashion when it was humid.

During my time in grad school at FIT, I wrote my thesis about scratchboard illustration and had the opportunity to interview all of my heroes — Cathie Bleck, Mark Summers, Chris Gall, Brian Pinkney, and Scott McKowen, just to name a few. Interestingly, most of them were using Ampersand Claybord and Scratchbord, and I made the leap to that as my medium of choice as well, embracing white boards and preparing my own ink surfaces.

During the course of my thesis project, I also interviewed Charles Ewing, the inventor of the Ampersand products, and learned about the how he made it, which was fascinating. Not long after wrapping my thesis, Cathie Bleck asked me to help her hang a solo show in NYC. This was the first time I saw Ampersand’s panels on wooden cradles, and I loved them instantly. For a tactile medium like scratchboard, the ability to hang work without the need for glass removes a barrier for the viewer and makes it feel more immediate. They’re a great company to work with, and their artist support is terrific. They’ll send liquid clay for repairs and will also make custom-sized boards.

PR: I noticed you have brought animals—from pet dogs [especially!] to vicious wildlife and fantasy creatures—into your art. What is there about drawing animals that appeals to you?

BH: Animals bring me tremendous personal joy and fascination. I’m a very shy person, and while I avoid eye contact with strangers on the street, I talk to every animal I pass — dogs on a walk, neighborhood cats, squirrels, rabbits, songbirds — all of them. Drawing animals feels like a way to commune with nature, to understand them a little bit better. Animals make up a vast majority of my personal work, which has, in turn, led to fabulous, animal-based illustration jobs, most recently a beer can for Denizen’s Brewing. I was asked to draw a frog prince for their PGC American Premium Lager, a tribute to Prince George's County. It was an extraordinary project with a wonderful client.

PR: Where do you live and how does that place contribute to your creative work?

BH: I live in Northampton, MA. It’s a small town, but brimming with creative people, gorgeous natural features, and progressive ideas. I am lucky to have a large group of creatives in my circle, from illustrators and designers to ceramicists and furniture-makers. There is room for collaboration and built-in support in a community like this. I sell original scratchboards and prints at one shop in town (Assemble) and am raising money for Planned Parenthood via postcard sales at another (Grapefruit). I am so fortunate to live in a place that embraces both my work and my values.

PR: Please describe your workspace and how it contributes to—or alleviates—the illustrator’s basic condition of working alone?

BH: I am thankful to share a studio space with my partner, Margot Douaihy, in our home, a little blue house that was built in 1865. Margot uses a different space for certain elements of her writing practice. She is an immersive writer and editor, and when she is working in our studio space, she has to listen to a lot of scratching! We also have a collaborative practice, with two books published from Clemson University Press, and one new project under contract. It’s lovely to share space as we work together and chart new courses for our interdisciplinary storytelling. I do all of my computer-based work at my desk, but when I’m scratching, I prefer to work on my lap. We have a sunroom off the main studio with a sofa. The room gets great natural light and provides a cozy space for me to curl up, flanked by our two fluffy cats, Bear and Otter, and get lost in mark-making.

PR: What are some of your creative inspirations—artists, music, literature, culture in general—that you draw from in your work?

BH: There are oh so many! My favorite musical artist at the moment is Shura, and I’m extremely excited for her new album, which comes out next week. I often listen to podcasts (Criminal, Invisibilia, Undisclosed, Snap Judgement, Reply All) or music while I work. It makes the experience more engrossing, but also helps me keep track of time without looking at the clock or a phone. In terms of fine art, I’m a big fan of Kiki Smith and Walton Ford.

PR: Do you use photographic reference materials very much? If yes, how do you avoid the pitfalls that can arise when working from reference?

BH: I like to think of photographic reference as a tool to better understand structure, especially when drawing animals. I’ll thumbnail something, then, for instance, I’ll need to see how that creature’s leg would bend and look from that angle. It’s important to use reference sparingly as a tool to fill in holes rather than a crutch that informs every decision.

PR: What would be your dream job—the one thing you have always hoped for in an assignment?

BH: After working with a brewery, I’d like to do more illustration for packaging and products. A big dream would be to do work for a bourbon company — someone like Blanton's. Make that a dream job with bonus points if it involves illustrating a horse or other kind of animal.

Q+A with Scratchboard Illustrator Bri Hermanson

An ICON veteran talks about the beauty of alphabetical order, making friends and learning stuff.

Mark Kaufman: You’re an ICON Conference veteran right?

Bri Hermanson: Yes, I’ve attended several times. I made it to ICON 3, 5, and 6.

MK: What keeps bringing you back?

BH: Since illustration can be so solitary, I wanted to feel more connected to the illustration world. ICON definitely exceeded my expectations — it fosters a really special kind of community.

MK: Well I gotta ask, are you coming to Portland for ICON8?

BH: I signed up on the first day!

MK: Well that’s music to my ears. Favorite ICON memory?

BH: It was fun to have a table at the NY Roadshow next to John Hendrix, one of my favorite illustrators. Thanks, alphabetical order.

MK: What was something you learned at the conferences you’ve been to? What do you take back with you after all these whirlwind weekends.

BH: Copyright specifics, business insights, and online marketing strategies.

MK: Again, that’s what I like to hear! Learning stuff. Other than tangible things you can use for your career, have you made any memorable friends or contacts?

BH: I’ve met so many great folks at ICON, but a special shout out must go to Kim Rosen. You don’t go into a conference thinking you’ll meet someone who will become one of your closest friends, but ICON is special.

MK: What is the most surprising thing about ICON?

BH: That ICON has something for everyone — from the world’s most well-known illustrators to undergrad students. In fact, the first time I attended ICON I was a student.

MK: Have any creative projects or ideas transpired from attending?

BH: Yes, Kim and I started a little illustration collaboration website, illaborate.com

MK: We have people in many different creative arenas either attend or speak at ICON, what can you tell someone who is not an illustrator to convince them to come to Portland?

BH: The sessions are really informative and have an openness that applies to many creative pursuits. And if it’s not your jam, wait for the bar to open.

MK: Yes, the bar. I have had many great conversations with people from all over the world at the bar. Do you attend other industry conferences, how does ICON compare?

BH: How could anything else compare?!

MK: Since you are coming back for a 4th time, what are you looking forward to most at ICON8?

BH: Reconnecting with old pals, meeting new ones, learning a thing or two, and seeing a little bit of Portland.

MK: Well that’s good enough for me. See you in July. I can’t wait. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us.

BH: Thank you. So excited.

Getting Lost in Process: An Interview with ICON11′s President, Bri Hermanson

Bri Hermanson is the President of ICON11: The Illustration Conference. Her inky scratchboard drawings can be seen worldwide—on book covers, gin bottles, and theater posters. Hermanson’s clients include Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, SKYY Vodka, Tor Books, and Denizen’s Brewing Co. She received an MFA in Illustration from FIT in NYC in 2011.

What’s your favorite memory from past ICON conferences?

That’s a difficult question—there are so many! But the memory that will always be closest to my heart is meeting Kim Rosen at ICON5 in NYC. It was the start of one of my most treasured friendships, and since then, Kim has helped me through so much, both professionally and personally.

Tell me about your practice!

I work in scratchboard. My drawings are made by working in reverse, using knives to cut white lines into inky silhouetted shapes. It’s a really immersive, meditative medium, and there’s something so satisfying about letting my brain click into that mode. Forms make more sense to me working this way. I feel like I draw much better in scratchboard than I do using an additive process — even pencil.

What is your studio/office space like?

I share a studio space with my partner in our home, a little blue house that was built in 1865. When we originally moved in, what is now the studio was an upstairs kitchen from the house’s stint as a two-family dwelling. We were happy to find the original hardwood floors intact under laminate, plywood, peel and stick linoleum, and paint. There’s still more I want to do with the space longterm (an integrated floating desk! skylights!), but for now, it’s really functional. I do all of my computer-based work at my desk, but when I’m scratching, I prefer to work on my lap. We have a sunroom off the main studio that gets great natural light and provides a cozy space to get lost in my process.

Where is your hometown and where do you currently live?

I’m originally from Ponca City, OK, which also happens to be the hometown of illustrator James Yang. After living in NYC for seven years, I’m now based in Northampton, MA — it strikes the perfect balance for me: culture, community, and easy access to the city.

Who are some of your favorite emerging creatives?

For ICON10, I produced the mural panel with Sydney G. James, 0uizi, and Ellen Rutt. All of them are more established than “emerging”, but I’ve been so taken with each of their work — there is an inherent excitement to the large-scale nature of their murals. Each of them are blazing new pathways, redefining what it means to be an artist today.

In ‘Scranton Lace,’ nostalgia for a time and place that no longer exist

Poetry May 15, 2017 3:16 PM EST

After a century of operation, the Scranton Lace Company, one of the largest employers in the area, abruptly closed, mid-shift, in 2002. The mechanization of looms contributed to its end, along with risky investments. The actual building still stands, abandoned.

Throughout its history, thousands of people worked at the Scranton Lace Company, including, incidentally, Hillary Clinton’s grandfather. Many more were touched by the factory, once a major landmark and source of pride for the city, as the world’s largest producer of Nottingham Lace. Among them was Margot Douaihy, whose forthcoming book of poetry, “Scranton Lace,” is nostalgic for a time and place that no longer exists.

“Scranton Lace meant quality products. It was the paragon of finery, but also something very useful,” Douaihy said. “I was really inspired by it growing up, and then confused when it closed.”

As she worked through that confusion as an adult, Douaihy began to think more about lace as a metaphor, as an object with both physical and negative space.

“Lace is a ruse, see-through, a two-sided mirror,” she writes in the title poem, “Scranton Lace.” “So many faces hiding within one.”

While the book is a love letter to Scranton, she said, it also acknowledges the Rust Belt’s limits. Growing up queer in an all-American industrial town, Douaihy said “I felt like an outsider, like I was not a part of the town. I had this internalized homophobia.”

She still wrestles with that, she said, the same way Scranton wrestles with its own complicated history.

Douaihy has since moved away from Scranton and settled in Northampton, Massachusetts, with her partner Bri Hermanson, a scratchboard illustrator who created the drawings for “Scranton Lace.” Scratchboard illustrations are typically made by scratching or scraping lines of cardboard; for these drawings, Hermanson also used physical lace dipped in ink.

“To make these illustrations, I had to physically cut lace that was made years and years ago in this factory and essentially ruin it,” Hermanson said. “But it also felt really generative, like I was bringing it back to life.”

When I called them, Douaihy was holding a Scranton Lace ring that Hermanson had given her for her birthday. It was inscribed in 1931 to “Dorothy” as a thank you for her decade of service.

In many ways, Douaihy said, she feels a kinship to the shuttered lace factory, and a sense of wanting to protect it. “Because while it’s no longer needed, it’s still there. So I’m asking: what do we do with it? What’s its sense of utility in this moment?” Douaihy said. “I’m still reckoning with that.”

References

Reference

Pickens Museum

Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp by Sculptor John Free. Seeking to attain his tribe's highest war honor by touching his enemy. This action among indigenous peoples is called "Counting Coup".
Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp by Sculptor John Free. “Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp” is a bronze created by Osage Artist John Free. The bronze, eight feet high and twelve feet long) was enlarged to 1-1/4 life size through the efforts of John Free of the Bronze Horse foundry in Pawhuska and Hugh Pickens. Pictured (L-R): Hugh Pickens, Executive Director of Pickens Museum and Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear of the Osage Nation.
Three Faces of the Pioneer Woman by Artist Daniel Pickens. “Three Faces of the Pioneer Woman” is a mural painted by fine artist Daniel Pickens. Daniel was born in Lima, Peru in 1974 and is currently living in Stockholm, Sweden. This mural is at our Ponca City location.
Three Faces of the Pioneer Woman by Artist Daniel Pickens. Our mural "The Three Faces of the Pioneer Woman" is located in City Central at our Ponca City location.
Doctor Pickens Museum of Turquoise Jewelry and Art. Pickens Museum displays art works at NOC Tonkawa campus. Pictured (L-R): Dr. Cheryl Evans, NOC President, Hugh Pickens, Executive Director of Pickens Museum, and Sheri Snyder, NOC Vice President for Development and Community Relations. (photo by John Pickard/Northern Oklahoma College) This art is at our Tonkawa location
Native American Artist Yatika Starr Fields Completes Mural for Pickens Museum.
The World's Largest Naja. Future location of Pickens Museum on Route 60 and "U" Street West of Ponca City
Architectural Renderings of Pickens Museum.
Display of Turquoise Jewelry.
"Red Man" by Native American Artist Fritz Scholder. Pickens Museum Director Hugh Pickens on right.
Native American Jewelry Artist Tonya Rafael with a silver frame she created to honor my wife Sr. S.J. Pickens. My wife and Tonya worked together over the years creating new jewelry art pieces. My wife had an eye for color and would often design a spectacular piece and ask Tonya to execute it for her. A skilled silversmith, Tonya would sometimes stay in our guest house, set up a workshop, and work for days at a time on a Squash Blossom, Bolo, or Bracelet my wife commissioned. The piece is a silver picture frame that Tonya cut out of thick silver plate. Around the edge of the picture frame are 95 small turquoise stones. In the top is a large spiny oyster stone in the shape of a heart. The frame contains a photo that Tonya took of my wife a few years ago. Dr. Pickens is wearing one of her favorite outfits and if you look closely you can see a special squash blossom and necklace that Tonya created for my wife. In the bottom of the frame is an inscription.
Native American Artist Jolene Bird. Jolene Bird is an accomplished artist who learned her craft from her grandfather over 20 years ago. Jolene makes her jewelry in the tradition of the Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico. This is a Fender Stratocaster guitar onto which Jolene has attached pieces of Kingman and Sonoran Turquoise highlighted with Jet. The stars are in Abalone, Mother of Pearl, Pipestone, Yellow Serpentine, and Spiny Oyster. The artistry in this piece is simply breathtaking and has to be seen to be believed. Consider that this is a three dimensional mosaic, a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle if you will. Jolene told me that each individual piece of turquoise had to be cut, shaped, and ground down to fit perfectly with the other pieces. Each individual piece probably took six to eight hours to produce and there are literally hundreds of pieces covering the guitar.
Painting by Peruvian Artist Josue Sanchez. Photo Credit: Hugh Pickens Pickens Museum

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