ProTalk: Illustrator Byron Mosley

Byron Mosley works in freelance illustration and graphic design.

Byron, thank you so much for taking some time to chat today. I really appreciate it! Tell us a little bit about your backstory. Where are you from and where are you going? Your illustration skills are really great and fun!

I grew up in Detroit, MI. I always had a love-hate relationship with that place because, on the one hand, Detroit had a very specific mold of what it was to be a “real black man” in which I did not fit in — on the other hand, that city taught me what real strength is, what tenacity and grit and the right attitude can get you.

As a Detroiter myself, I can totally understand what you mean about tenacity and grit! Word through the grapevine is that you have a soft spot for fantasy art, D&D, and  such. What role have these forms of media played in your development as an artist and designer?

When I was a kid, my mom took me to an onstage performance of The Hobbit at the Fisher Theater. I loved all those fantasy elements. Later, she put me on some of dad’s old favorite books, like Elric. From there, it was a done deal. I grew up with Magic the Gathering and D&D and comics. We didn’t have a Sega of Super Nintendo, so all the art from the games and comics would capture my imagination and take me to all these places. Sometimes, I would just stare at the wall, creating all these stories in my mind, glance over to a D&D book to help create that scene that was in my head. It wasn’t until I was in college that I discovered Joseph Campbell and realized that I had been teaching myself the power of stories and characters and how they can inspire us.

These days, it certainly seems like storytelling is becoming more realized by creative professionals as a critical part of the ability to communicate. With that, what’s the why behind your creative drive?

I just want to tell stories; the kind that take you far away from where you wanted to get from, where you can find yourself. I guess I have a lot more work to do to get that skill level, to be honest. When working with clients, my “why” is simply to have a really happy client and take away additional intrapersonal and technical skills at the same time.

Byron, this comic cracked me up. Thank you for including it in this interview.

A happy client while being able to grow professionally is an awesome “why”! How is your design process unique to you?

I’m not sure how my approach would be different from other designers; I know I try to communicate as much as possible with clients about what they want, how they want it, and take my ego out of the process as much as possible. If possible, I like to do as many face-to-face meetings, taking notes and remain completely open to ideas and edits.

I totally agree. When concepts are being pruned during the creative process, removal of ego is a vital tool to develop. I once told a client that the concepts aren’t liver transplants. Nixing them won’t end the world.

How does your relationship to design influence the way you live and perceive the world around you? (The first time we met, you mentioned that you ask other people what shows they are watching as a way to gain insight about them, do you gain similar insights about the world by watching what the world is doing?)

So much of life (including design) seems to be strongly affected by your attitude; remaining open, flexible, with ego in check is a lesson that I use both in my relationships and in business. It helps me to have a “can do”/”what needs to get done” attitude, cutting through all the drama and bullshit that tends to muddy up everything. In order to be at my best as a “creative person”, I have to do that inner work all the time. Meditation, mindfulness, exercise, and right mind-right action.

Any interesting side projects you can share?

Currently, I’m working on designing an infographic/comic on coping with difficult emotions. This is a weird project because these techniques work for me, and I’m not sure how they will be received by others – – I’m really feeling some resistance within myself to do this, but it’s a great opportunity to flex that “Shia LaBeouf ‘Just do it!” muscle. I  grew up in fear of what others would think of me if I was to really express myself, and now I’m fighting against that.

Internal analysis can be exceptionally challenging. It can be scary to self-assess. What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into designing and doesn’t know where to start and why?

Answering the question of “why” you want to work in design is important, first. Once you have the “why”, your motivations set and clear, your path forward becomes a bit more clear. The technical aspects of design are actually pretty simple, but mastering them takes a long, long time. Practice everyday. Rearrange your day-to-day perspective to see design everywhere, how things fit together in a aesthetic manner and why. Design is something that you live and breathe everyday; finding beauty and symmetry and harmony where you can in the world around you.

You have an interesting mix of brand-centric design as well as illustration. Do  you love one over the other and what, if any, critical role does research play in your professional work?

I definitely gravitate more toward illustration and comics because of the storytelling elements (and I feel I have more aptitude in that department). I taught myself a lot of the basic principles of design, color theory and psychology, layout, etc., and I did a few internships to help get my foot in the door. I suggest you get paid for your work, even in an internship, but to be honest, very few people offer paid internships. It’s very difficult, and I understand why people don’t go down this route, but to me it’s better to work for free for a bit, sharpen your skills and make contacts and be doing something, than to not work at all. It’s a tough decision, but if you can swing it, make the sacrifice and do that non paying job; use whatever form of frustration and anxiety from being paid in “exposure” to fuel your forward momentum. Eventually, your body of work will speak for itself and you will get out of that state.

It’s a lot like getting into stand up comedy; you eat dirt for awhile and you have to  earn your stripes. When it comes to research, I do a lot of it. I’m always looking at how other designers put their work together, their influences, and how I would use their techniques in my own way. Research keeps you up to date and tapped into where the themes and styles of design are going. You have to stay current.

Where is your heart in regards to your work? Is it more about survival, seeing your ideas out of your headspace, or a larger mission?

Right now, my heart is on survival. No bones about it. I hope to get to a more grounded, reliable place as soon as possible. One of my favorite and most influential illustrators, Scott Kurtz of Pvp-online.com, had a great quote; “You know what serves your art best? Cash.” It’s taxing to always be hustling, chasing people down for the money they owe you, worrying about bills all the time — you don’t have much gas left in your tank for doing actual “creating”, but you find the time and energy. You have to. I can’t wait to get a more stable place where I can just create what I want on my free time, after work, with the peace of mind knowing that I’m stable and that certain things are taken care of.

In regards to getting your idea out of your head and into the computer, do you draw first or jump right into illustration?

I write things out first, describing what I see in my head and how I want to depict it. Then I start out with some rough sketches, refining as I go. Inks and colors come very last. It’s a longer process, for sure, and I’m looking to find ways to make it more time efficient. But first, I always try to have a strong image in my head to work from.

Who or what is the largest influence on your work where it s currently going?

Oh man! So many influences! Scott Kurtz (Table Titans and Pvp Online comics, Brad Guigar (Evil Inc. webcomic), Jeff Smith (Bone), Genndy Tartakovsky (PowerPuff Girls, Samurai Jack) Mike Mignola (Hellboy), Ben Caldwell — my favorite artists have influenced my style so much; that blocky, simple looking yet deceptively hard to draw style, archetypical style with bold colors and heavy black inks. I love that cartoon style because you can evoke so much personality and story with just a few lines. A hero can become a villain with just the slightest tweak to line width and color.

Byron, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you today about your inspiration, process, and next steps in your career! 

Byron’s collection of illustration can be found on the web at his website, Instagram, and on Tumblr  which has more doodles, daily sketches, etc.

Are you a professional 3D artist or designer? I’d love to talk with you about your work! Reach out to me here and maybe you, too, will be featured in the ProTalk!