Interview: Brandon Reese

This interview almost didn't happen.

I mean, I clearly think that the illustrations of Brandon Reese are awesome -- just see my comments on his illustrations for the Jellydots' Changing Skies and the forthcoming Lunch Money album Dizzy.

But I wasn't thinking interview. Until I was shoe shopping with my kids this weekend and a card game near the register caught my eye. Whimsical, joyful art that looked like, yes, another eeBoo product from Reese. And then I thought -- man, I've got to interview this guy.

I really, really like this interview. Read on to find out how Reese became an illustrator, stories behind the art for those two albums, and what bad kids music album art entails.


brandy_age5_sm.jpgZooglobble: How did you become an illustrator (e.g., what did you draw growing up? where did you get your training, etc.?)
Brandon Reese: I think I always drew. My mom and brother are a big reason for that. When my brother and I were little, my mom read somewhere that in order to foster creativity in your children, you shouldn't give them coloring books but blank pieces of paper instead. My brother always drew and I wanted to be as good as him, so I was constantly practicing.

As far as training, the first formal art class I'd ever taken was in college. Reason being, I went to small private schools my whole life, none of which really had any arts programs. I'm sure if you could find my old school books you'd see doodles on most of the pages. I distinctly remember getting in trouble in the 6th grade for drawing in my textbook and my teacher calling me "morbid." (I was really into skulls and skeletons back then.)

(chicken- by Brandy, age 5)
After high school, I got a degree in Visual Communications from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. The main focus of my degree was in Graphic Design. We touched on illustration and painting, but I think the main goal of the school at that time was to insure you were working when you graduated. So, they encouraged design, not so much illustration.

After college it took me several years to find a good design job. I eventually was hired to art direct and design a small children's magazine. I took that opportunity to illustrate for other magazines within the company, as well as the one I was designing. I like to think of that as my true illustration schooling.

eeboo_sm.jpgMost of your illustrations (eeBoo, etc.) appear to be targeted at kids -- assuming that's true, how did you get into that?
I suppose there are a few factors that draw me to the children's market. Namely, I think my style is suited for that type of work. It comes easily to me. When I get more mature-themed projects, it takes me a bit longer to nail it. Another factor is because I have a 4-year-old. I like to make things that he likes... I suppose I'm in a kid mindset. That and I don't think I ever grew up!
(tiger- eeBoo)

How did you get the assignment to draw the cover for the Jellydots' Changing Skies?
The Jellydots came for Tricycle Music Fest here in Charlotte (with Lunch Money and Dan Zanes). My wife and I took our boy to see them and I we loved it. After the show I sent both the Jellydots and Lunch Money emails... asked them if they ever needed art work and that I'd love to help them out. To my surprise they both wrote back and were interested.

ChangingSkies.jpgWhat were you trying to convey -- what was Doug trying to have you convey -- with that cover illustration?
Actually in the beginning, Doug wanted to use my print, 'Octopus Bouquet' for the cover. He felt it conveyed the 'Changing Skies' theme. I thought it was a good fit, but maybe a bit scary or too weird for a kid? So, I took the same idea and modified it be more kid friendly. Plus, my style has a changed a bit since I first created that print and I wanted to move forward, so to speak, with the illustration.

(octopus bouquet- tiny showcase, limited-edition print)

How did you start illustrating for Lunch Money (first the label logo, then the new album cover/liner notes)?
Like I stated before, Lunch Money/Molly wrote back and expressed interest in using me. First, they wanted a new logo for their independent label, Squirrel Mechanic Records. I pretty much started that right away. I finished up and she said she wanted me to illustrate their next release... but told me it might be a while. A year later, and here we are!


DizzyCover1.jpgYou note on your blog that Molly Ledford gave you pretty much free rein in designing the "Dizzy" illustrations -- what was she/the band looking for?
Molly told me the name of the album would be Dizzy and wanted to show kids or animals spinning. She wanted to convey that a kid doesn't need something material to have a good time... and show the power of kids to have fun despite adults. She also felt it important that the album be something that a kid would want to pick up, pour over, and enjoy visually.

I think Molly and I really understand each other and are like-minded. That makes a HUGE difference in a project. I submitted my ideas and sketches and she gave me the go-ahead.

What are the big differences between those jobs and your other illustration jobs?
Turn-around time is probably the biggest difference. Both bands contacted me while they were still recording their albums. This gave me plenty of time to come up with something and make changes/tweaks. I was thankful to have that extra time, especially with Lunch Money's album because I could put in all those extra touches and details. With my other jobs I might be given an assignment that is due the next week or next day even. One more difference is that with both bands, I sent in a sketch and got approval to start the final right away. Typically, with other clients there's more of an editing and art direction process... make these eyes smaller, change this color, etc.

(Letters to the Editors masthead, Nick Magazine)

You have a 4-year-old son, so presumably you haven't listened to just the Jellydots and Lunch Money -- are there other kids music album covers/packages whose design you appreciate? Without naming names -- what design mistakes in kids music drive you nuts?
Dan Zanes, Ralph's World, and Justin Roberts albums are always top-notch. They Might be Giants' last kid album was great, too. I'm always a proponent of bands that use illustration. Yeah, I'm biased.

Ugh... don't get me started on bad album design. First impressions are important. The parent or customer listens with their eyes first. If the album is visually engaging they will at least pick it up. There are countless children's music albums with bad design. The music might be great inside, but who want's to pick up an album that has ugly type slapped on top of a photo of someone's creepy uncle.

me_pumpkin_sm.jpgHow about musically -- what music do you listen to with your child (anything -- kids music or not)?
Kids music (excluding Jellydots and Lunch Money), we listen to the For the Kids series and Dan Zanes. Non-kid music, we all listen to The Decemberists and Band of Horses.
(Noah and me, Halloween 2008)

What's next for you -- any more album covers? How about the non-album cover world?
No new albums on the horizon yet. Hopefully, more to come!

As far as non-album stuff, I'm currently illustrating a magazine cover, waiting to hear back about two library mural bids, and working on personal projects to pitch as children's books and TV shows.

(middle child- thumbtack press print)