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Brian Reed

Brian’s closest pals affectionately call him Doc, and know him best for his work as a designer and graphic visionary. He’s spent over a decade in illustration, logo design and branding, beautifying everything from Engadget’s Expand Conference to fellow Field Tester Darren Murph’s book, Living The Remote Dream.

Photography by Julie Reed.

Let’s get right into it: What project are you most proud of? The go-to piece of your portfolio that you’ll want embossed.

I’d say my Old & New Project illustrations. Art is a funny thing. You walk a fine line between wanting to care about it, but not getting so attached that you can’t let go or finish. Certain projects have enabled me to feel fully alive -- completely in my element -- and those tend to be projects that are done away from the computer. I love the realization that ink or paint has ended up on my elbows and face. Incorporating analog textures and photography is a big deal for me.

Design has changed a lot in the 13 years you’ve been in it. Have you found yourself evolving with client demands, or staying closer to what originally inspired you to break into this field?

Evolving forces growth. I’ve discovered that I’m most productive when I stick close to what got me here: design and illustration. For all-encompassing projects, I typically partner with others who have perfected a different art. Everyone knows someone that has a copy of Illustrator and Photoshop; hence, being able to educate clients about the nuances of design is where I’ve evolved the most. It’s not only about proving that you can do the work, but that there’s value in your understanding of their metrics and expectations.

You recently moved from Wilmington to Charlotte to embrace something new. What’s keeping you busy in the Queen City?

Dreams. I got a long list that I’m hoping to shrink, but first I need to find the new normal. After 13 years I turned my family’s lives upside down, and I’m holding out for the adventure on the other end. (Though I’d have to say a “move purge” is something everyone should do. It’s painful, yet cathartic.) Part of that long list is creating more prints and illustrations, which will involve detective work and diving into the history of Charlotte. One thing I’ve found is that people love the cities they are from. Embracing the history around you makes life much more interesting, and spurs art with a narrative.

But you’re still a farm boy at heart, right?

I love being outside. This farm is where my Uncle David grew up, and the barn itself is over a century old. Charlotte is the biggest city I’ve ever lived in, but nothing beats the country. I dig the room to think, which is probably why I prefer working with my hands. I tend to retreat into nature when life begins to overwhelm; I love being able to get outside and unplug from technology. Watch the wind dance through the wheat. Listen to the birds as they invite you to sing with them. The farm is a connection to a time I don’t want to forget. I like to believe it’s closer to a time when more people were craftsmen and cared about the products they made. You made something as best you could, to last as long as it could.

With Wacom, and more recently, Apple Pencil, the idea of digitizing the pen stroke is becoming entirely more mainstream. What’s your take on how tech is enabling artists to create work directly on a computer versus a more conventional, analog medium?

There is no denying the impact tech is having, but I’ve yet to feel that any of these devices can become an extension of me. Yet, anyway. I’m old school in that regard, but when I pick up a pen, pencil or brush, it’s simply a part of my hand. I don’t get that vibe with digital replacements, but it’s fair to say that some of my favorite artists are digital. Craig Mullins and Andriod Jones are pure inspiration. You can’t just shut the door on tech because it’s new. It’s tedious to keep one foot in the analog frame of mind while developing skills on the latest and greatest, but I can’t ever stop being a student.

Where can we find you when you aren’t working? What keeps your soul refreshed?

I’m usually with my kids, drawing, or trying to get into something outside. I’ve grown to really appreciate the world outside of the office. One of the draws here is Charlotte is Black Mountain, and there are plenty of freshwater streams, lakes, and rivers to get close to. Design is visual communication. Being able to see how the world around us is designed is incredibly inspiring. Ultimately, drawing is my decompression. I like how it forces me to engage and see the world around me. The way the paper feels, the smell of paint, erasers, and ink. The sound of a nib running across the pad of paper. I love it. 

You’ve lived the freelance life. Any tips for others who are trying to make it without giving their 40 hours to The Man?

I’ve perpetually freelanced, but I’ve done it alongside working for the proverbial man. Freelancing has always been there as a way to explore and create the work I want to get hired to make, but to some degree, you’re freer to explore when there’s security in the background. Working for someone else can be rewarding -- that’s something that is oft silenced in favor of the more popular chants of striking out on your own. They both come with their struggles and highlights. In a freelance world, you trade working for one boss for a multitude of bosses. It’s easy to find people who recommend throwing caution to the wind and doing it all on your own, but there’s no shame in straddling the fence and enjoying both lifestyles.

What’s ahead for you? Any exciting projects on the horizon?

One of my top priorities is putting together an honest-to-goodness studio. For the last 6 years, my printing and design has taken place at the kitchen table or atop flat files in our dining or living room. I’m also jonesing to get into woodworking. It’s one of those art forms that are inherently analog, with each step in the process doling out its own reward.

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Give us a peek into your bucket list. What are a few places you want to visit or personal goals you’re striving for?

Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, and Iceland are some countries I’d love to spend some time exploring. Honestly, I need to do more exploring in my own backyard here in North America. Some of the best memories I have growing up were spent visiting Yosemite, the California Redwoods, and Donner Pass. Being able to go back with my kids would be an incredible experience. I’d love to learn to sail, but a prerequisite is getting over my seasickness.

Any parenting advice, or things you hope to pass down to your children as an artist?

Put the phone down. One of the best things I’ve ever heard of parenting is “The days are long but the years are short.” You have to remember to be present. Enjoy every phase, because the next one comes far too quickly. As an artist I want them to be able to create their own world. Art has been a coping mechanism for me. I want them to know the world is their playground, and I hope to help them see past the surface of things surrounding them.

What’s your impression of your Wool&Prince shirts?

I was certainly curious when I heard of their 100% wool button downs. They were far softer than I expected, and they dried exceptionally quick after darting through a few showers. The fits are nice and trim, and I dig the clean lines in the patterns. They’re also highly versatile. In a two week span, these shirts went from a family farm in Ohio to a business conference in DC. Got compliments in both environments. If I had to pick a favorite, it’s the Black Twill Work Shirt -- casual enough for an evening with the family and suitable for a business meeting the next day.

Brian is 6 ft, 175 lbs, and wears a size M.


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