– by Wendy Morley, VW’s Creative and Editorial Director –
If you look up the name Brian A Bernhard online, you might wonder, as I did, if there is more than one person who works under this name. He seems to have his finger in every creative pie, with an incredible output that’s as great in quality as in quantity.
Currently, his focus is his fashion design company Embrace the Weird – an incredibly fun, creative, irreverent and accessible line of clothing and accessories. In line with what appears to be his MO, his design company produces everything from dresses to socks to phone covers to skateboard decks and much, much more.
Wendy Morley: If you don’t mind me saying so, you seem to have it all figured out (as much as a person can!) You appear to live a thoroughly creative life, and also make a living from it — What are the various things you do? Paint, illustrate, create fashions, produce, direct, animation? Have I missed anything?
Brian A. Bernhard: I am involved with a lot of different things … I love to create inspiration. I have primarily worked in the creative service industry: producing and editing video for television, graphic design of all kinds and photography have been the creative service fields I have focused on in the past.
About a year and a half ago, after some long contemplation, I decided to build my own brand. I felt that the creative service industry was a bit of a dead end, so I decided to build my own company, one that I can use the skills I have learned over the years to create cool stuff for.
Over the years, I have (to varying degrees of success) been a painter, sculpture artist, actor, illustrator, animator, EMMY-winning TV producer, video editor, photographer, director, recording & touring musician (signed to a label), fashion designer and creative marketing strategist. However, as an artist I am always searching, always rebranding, always thinking about what the next creative experience is going to be.
WM: I love your work! It brings me joy. Am I correct in assuming that you also find it fun and not painstaking?
BAB: Oh, I absolutely love making art. It’s the thing that keeps me balanced. When things get overwhelming, I can just lose myself in a piece of art. The process for me is generally much more exciting than the end result.
WM: Has this been your adult life? Doing this, doing that and ultimately creating the work life you want? Did you work in fields or jobs you didn’t like as you established yourself?
BAB: Well, I have done all kinds of crap jobs, from cleaning puke in movie theaters, to mopping up oil spills in an automotive garage. I have worked in horrible retail stores in horrible malls and worked on video projects that made me feel like my soul had been dragged through a meat grinder. As my
company is still very new, its not the most stable source of income yet; everything ebbs and flows all the time and it’s completely unpredictable so far, so of course I still have to take freelance jobs to pay the bills from time to time. Most of which are not my passion. The goal is to build my company Embrace the Weird up to a place where it is pulling in a consistent income, where I can rely on it to pay my bills. It’s not there yet, but it’s getting there for sure.
WM: Please tell me about the different things you do artistically, your preferred type of work (or perhaps you love having the diversity?), and if you feel yourself moving in any one direction.
BAB: Really, I just love bringing exciting ideas to life, no matter what the platform or medium. I create in service to the idea … In my case, most often the medium is not the message. (Laughs.) I like to stay nimble and flexible, and to have my hands in many pots working on many different things. I think it keeps my creative muscles in shape. That being said, I also love new experiences. Had you told me two years ago I would be designing clothes for models to wear on runways, I would have thought you were full of shit!
WM: To what degree are your fashions designed by you? Do you do it all? Or do you work with another designer/ other designers? Or you work with fashion manufacturers? How does this process work? Do you hire dressmakers/needle workers?
BAB: At the moment, I am working with multiple manufacturers who cut, sew, print & build a wide variety of different products for me. Each product made features only original artwork created by my hand. There is a huge industry of companies set up for manufacturing all manner of products with unique and original designs. As the company grows, I will eventually work with tailors to create original men’s and women’s suits and more elaborate dresses. If I scale things properly, we may even build our own in house manufacturing facilities, but that’s much, much later down the road.
WM: How do you feel your style has changed over the years, if it has? Have you always been comfortable in your artistic skin?
BAB: Well, I take the value of my art more seriously then I once did. I think about my artwork with more of an entrepreneurial perspective. I make art because I am driven to do so. I could easily become a used car sales person and make money, or become a banker to make money, but my passion is to create works of art that inspire critical thought in the patron. Over the last few years, I have been exploring different ways to monetize art in order for it to be a successful nontraditional career option. Slowly but surely, I am getting there. I think my style has evolved only in the fact that I now have the patience to work on a piece until it’s actually finished. I don’t think I ever felt like I finished a painting or a drawing completely until about four years ago. I am even digging out some of my old paintings from 20 years ago so I can finally finish them.
I have always been comfortably uncomfortable in my artistic skin. I think that is the curse of all artists: we are crazy enough to think we are making things that people should care about, but we doubt everything and anything along the way.
WM: I believe you have presented on “The Rise of the ARTrepreneure.” I have a couple of thoughts on this. One is that you have to be entrepreneurial in order to make a living in any area of self-employment, including art. The other is, your art just works so well in this way — eye-catching, unusual but not crazy out there, striking, and also entertaining. You’ve blended that with a brain that knows how to make it work financially. What’s an artist to do if a) his/her art doesn’t lend itself so well to making money and b) if a person is a great artist but just sucks at business?
BAB: Well, to be honest, historically, most of my art didn’t lend itself in any way to being designed on clothing or any other products. I made the conscious effort to develop a body of work that would work in this way, so that I could in fact build a company based on my artwork. I took cues from brands like Tokidoki and the like, brands that were built off the artwork of an individual artist. I looked at what worked, what I liked, what I didn’t like, and thought about how I could create something that was uniquely my own point of view.
I also began to look at the products themselves as a creative canvas with which to work on. I often will work on an art piece, with only the notion to create the work of art, completely unfiltered and uncompromised. Once the work is completed, I will deconstruct the piece, look at it in different ways, take chunks, recompose it and explore different ways that I can make the specific work of art work as a design on a variety of different products.
WM: Can you please tell me the different ways you sell your art? That is, you sell fashion and accessories – do you do graffiti? Do you sell paintings? Prints?
BAB: I sell originals, limited edition prints, and a variety of different products at a wide variety of different price points. I also do murals, but I haven’t been able to do as many as I would like because I don’t like to graffiti anything illegally. I do everything legit, and it takes me a long time to do it. Which means it requires a budget and permits, and a company interested in having me make art on its walls.
WM: Do you feel respected as an artist? Does this matter to you? Do you consider yourself more an artist or more a designer?
BAB: Yes, no, maybe … who knows … I have no idea … sort of … sometimes … not all the time. I am an artist who can function as a designer. I went to art school and to design school. I once had a professor tell me that an artist creates problems and a designer solves them. I guess I like to create problems for myself to solve.
WM: What do you feel you have yet to accomplish, or is this just a constantly running stream?
BAB: I don’t feel like I have accomplished anything yet. I think this might be the artists curse. Most of the time when an artist feels accomplished, they lose their inspiration. So far, I have never had a creative block – it is just always flowing. Sometimes too much!
See more of Brian and his work here: