BRAM MEEHAN INTERVIEW
In my sorta-kinda monthly-ish newsletter, I've been conducting short interviews with various creative professionals I'm acquainted with.
Just for fun, here's the one I ran in January, featuring graphic designer Bram Meehan.
One of the things I'm hoping to do with this newsletter is talk to various folks who work in comics or related disciplines, and get a sense of the current state of play with creative folks.
So, here's the first installment: A chat with Bram Meehan, a subscriber to this list and a graphic designer, comics letterer, writer, teacher, and all around nice guy.
ERIC: Tell me a bit about your "designer" self. What training / education do you have? I'm largely self-taught (and am convinced that someday, someone's going to figure out I'm a fraud); so, I'm curious what lessons you learned while developing your craft that you find invaluable. Or, barring that, which ones were utter bullshit.
BRAM MEEHAN: I have a B.A. in Graphic Design from Rochester Institute of Technology. It was a career-based education -- but at the advent of computers, so wasn't just about learning the tools. The program provided a strong foundation in the basics of "here's how humans perceive things. Here's how to use that to get an idea across." It really established the mindset that, in (visual, if not all) communication, everything needs to be there for a reason. The designer's goal is to give form to the intangible, making the central idea inescapably clear.
And that's where I discovered typography. These … things … that made all the reading I did possible. They had a design, a purpose, a history of their own. Letters looked different for different reasons. Type is fractal, it's the core building block, and its style and design will be reflected in the larger, finished product.
Followed with more than a decade of fast-paced agency experience in the Washington, DC area. That really honed skills in rapid, focused idea generation, and drove home the importance of a simple, central concept. That you have to read and understand what you're working on. And to succeed, the designer pretty much has to be the most organized person on the project.
ERIC: Is there a particular style you like working in? Why?
BRAM: Looking at my work, I think you'll see strong influences of modernism and minimalism. It's not necessarily a conscious stylistic choice, but my main goal is always to get the message across. And you might've gathered I love type. So I have a tendency to pare things down, working to keep everything from interfering with the core concept. My role as a designer is to be invisible, to let the message of the piece take the spotlight, so I try and adapt to suit the project. Working on a cover now that aims to fit in among supernatural mass-market paperbacks, so maybe outside my usual aesthetic -- but the important thing is it's the appropriate solution.
ERIC: When we initially corresponded, you mentioned you work in Santa Fe and called out its robust arts/creative community. Can you tell me more about that? What is it about that area, in your opinion, that calls out to the artist?
BRAM: Last question first, here's the most designer-y answer for you: negative space. I grew up in suburbia, spent most of my life in the east coast megalopolis. Out here -- at times there's nothing. You can be driving the interstate and see clear to the horizon. And the vista is all shades of the same color. But the value of what isn't there is that it makes you focus on what is there. It makes you pay attention to the things that matter.
Santa Fe, for being an internationally known arts destination, is really a small town with no industry isolated in the middle of the desert. But it attracts creative people doing interesting things. There's an amazing cluster of talented visual communicators (or as I call them, my competition) I'm part of that's raising the profile of local creatives, so that we can use our talents to support the work being done here.
ERIC: You're part of a Sante Fe-based arts collective, Design Corps. I've been looking at the website, and it reminds me rather a lot of Steve Lieber's Periscope Studio in Portland, OR, in that there's a ton of creative folks of varying disciplines all under one roof. Tell me of your Design Corps, sir.
BRAM: Oh, man Lieber, what an amazing talent. The big difference is that Design Corps doesn't have the one roof for all the various creatives. Rinse Design has taken on a new office that it's making available to members when they need work or meeting space. But at least for now, we're not able to put everyone together in the same place.
Robert, one of the Corps' founders, describes Santa Fe as "carbonated" -- all these little bubbles floating around not even knowing the others exist. The group aims to connect creatives, many of whom have been working here for years without even knowing each others' existence, with local businesses who don't know about the wealth of talent in Santa Fe and the difference that working with someone with a thorough understanding of the importance of design can make.
ERIC: What's the best part of your job?
BRAM: Giving ideas form. Taking thoughts and ideas, others' and my own, and producing something that people experience.
But also the problem solving. "The problem is the problem" -- that's the core of what makes a new project interesting. Whatever comes across your desk, you have to figure out what makes it different, and how to tell a story that connects with that different audience. And the fun work is in the asking the right questions, framing it it the right way, so that the solution starts to present itself. When all goes right, the ideas flow, the piece is awesome, the client is happy.
ERIC: Plug a current project that you're loving. Tell me why you are loving it.
BRAM: Ugh, does it make me That Guy [Yes. Yes it does. But do go on.] to say it's something I can't show you? Help if I tell you it's not that interesting to look at and certainly will never win me any awards? Working with a client who's educating public health professionals, specifically those dealing with children. We're looking at ways of training people who are overloaded like you can't imagine to use data and then train others, which means we have to look at innovative ways to present important information. I'm loving it because I'm being called on to use my skills as an educator, a writer, information architect, to design something that can really have an impact.
More lighthearted (and nerdy), writer Martin Hayes and artist Alfie Gallagher have a comic that'll be in an upcoming Aces Weekly; they've nailed a great tone, and I hope my lettering and logo design help that shine through.
And I'm designing the rulebook for Ojo Games' RPG for kids; it's been a great time working on figuring out to make it understandable to an audience who may not be of that world.
Thank you to Bram for agreeing to be interviewed. You can find him online at www.brammeehan.com.