Designer Interview: Brian Danaher

Brian Danaher, Poster design
Brian Danaher, Poster design
Brian Danaher, Package design
Brian Danaher, Package design
Brian Danaher, Package design
Brian Danaher, Package design

This is the first in our October series of interviews with the six designers featured in the exhibition By Design, now in the Baer Gallery of the Bush Art Center.

Would you describe a typical workday?  

I currently work full time at an agency, so my work day can include any or all of the following: brainstorm and strategy sessions, client meetings and presentations, design and illustration–actually doing the work, selecting and overseeing the work of vendors (photographers, designers, illustrators, developers), drinking lots of coffee and La Croix (though not at the same time), production work, project management, photo searching, sketching, directing a photo or video shoot, researching design trends and creating decks for presentations. I always make an effort to leave as close 5:00 every night as possible to have dinner with my family. The evening is for family time: spending time with my kids, helping with homework, sports practice, etc. Once the kids are in bed, I try to catch up on on household duties (paying bills, chores, etc) and then will finish up any work I didn’t finish during the day or work on a freelance project. Once the work is done and/or I’m too tired to go on, I’ll go to bed in the hopes of doing it all again tomorrow.

What were your “next steps” after graduating from SNC?

In the fall semester of my senior year, an SNC football teammate of mine put me in touch with his mom who worked at a publishing company. While she didn’t have any open design positions at the time, she offered to send my resume to some of her contacts. In the spring, prior to graduation, her company decided to add a designer to their staff. She brought me in for an interview and I ended up getting the job.

Describe the journey to the work you currently do.  How has your design work evolved over the course of your career? 

I’ve been drawing and painting since I can remember and always wanted to do something with art as a career, even though I didn’t necessarily know what that was. I heard graphic design was a way to make a career out of being creative and not starve, which sounded great. My first job out of school was at a small publishing company where I was an Art Director for a B2B quarterly magazine. We never had an art budget, so I became the in-house illustrator out of necessity. This allowed me to try different illustration styles as well as learn how to develop concepts from a stories that many times were very technical. It taught me not only how to find the interesting in (seemingly) boring subject matter but also how to make something out of nothing. I later moved on to agency work, where I’ve worked on a number of design and advertising projects either as a full-time employee or a freelancer. I’m currently full-time at an agency but continue to do freelance work on the side as well as work on my own personal projects. These days I do a lot more digital work (web sites, social content, video) and illustration than traditional design. I don’t do much print work anymore, which is what I used to do almost exclusively when I first started out. While I like digital work, there’s something nice about print that you can hold the finished piece in your hand at the end of the process. The shelf life for digital is so short that if feels like by the time you finish the project you need to immediately start thinking about the redesign. Overall, I think it’s important for designers try to constantly evolve, learn, change and grow. Things change so fast these days that it’s really the only way to stay relevant and employable. Plus, I get bored doing the same thing over and over again, so knowing that there are opportunities to take my work/career in new directions is exciting.

What advice do you have for current SNC Art students?  What opportunities should they take advantage of at SNC? What should they best do to prepare for life after college?

Design can be tough to break into as a new grad, but don’t give up. Interactive/digital experience (web, mobile, video) is in high demand so being able to design for that will give you an advantage over many other student applicants. For job hunting, you should have a well-executed portfolio site that shows a range of styles, a good use of typography and the ability to conceptually think through a problem. Proficiency in the Adobe Suite is a requirement. Interactive/digital experience, as I mentioned earlier, is a huge advantage. A positive attitude and a willingness to learn go a long way. Also, the ability to communicate effectively both verbally and in writing will set you apart from many candidates. For interviewing: dress appropriately, research the company and know what they do, present your work in a professional manner, be on time, be nice, and send a handwritten thank you note to everyone who took time to meet with you. Seek out designers you admire and reach out to them. Informational interviews are a great way to network and make contacts even if there is no full-time position available. Networking has never been easier thanks to social media and is really the best way to find a job. Don’t be afraid to work really hard or try something new, like moving to a new city or state. You are young and have a lot of time and freedom (something that you won’t always have), so use that to your advantage. One last important thing to remember: no matter how long you do this, your portfolio is never finished.

Who and what are you artistic inspirations?

Inspiration is literally everywhere and, oddly enough, I rarely find in by looking at design – or at least design exclusively. There are certainly illustrators and designers that I admire and it’s very important to keep up on the design trends but lately I found things unrelated to design and illustration to be much more interesting and inspiring. I use a mix of news, music, technology, design and social media sites to stay connected to current events, technology and trends, which is just as important as keeping up with design aesthetics.

Music is a big part of my creative process, and I admire musicians who continually push themselves to grow and evolve as artists like Radiohead, Dan Bejar (Destroyer), Britt Daniel (Spoon), Kurt Vile and Sufjan Stevens, to name a few. Live music is always inspiring and a great way to unplug from everyday distractions.

Reading good books (a mix of history, philosophy, theology, and classic literature) is great for inspiration, since reading is a way to feed your mind and helps you be a better designer. Michael Beirut once said, “Read more. Design is about making things readable so one must be very good at reading.” Reading other media (news, magazines, other digital media, etc) is good too.

I try to stop constantly checking the iPhone (which is a struggle most days) be quiet and pay attention to my surroundings. Being able to see things in the small and sometimes seemingly mundane experiences is very important because you never know what will spark an idea. It’s good to step away from the computer just sketch and use your hands to create something. Making things with your hands is an inherently human activity and is something that seems to be getting lost the more we rely on technology.

Finally, working with smart and talented people every day is a great way to stay motivated and inspired.

Brian Danaher is an art director, designer, illustrator, chronic doodler, coffee drinker, music addict and lawn care minimalist working in the Twin Cities. He is a 1998 graduate of SNC.

Visit:, twitter: @madeforending,

SNC Day 2015 in the Bush Art Center

The Bush Art Center was full of activity on SNC Day 2015!  Here are a few highlights:

“PlantBot Genetics: Mothology” exhibition
Visitors making artsy moths and designing PlantBots.
Visitors making artsy moths and designing PlantBots.
Monstantra, a remote-controlled Plantbot, leaves the gallery and zooms down the Baer Mall on SNC Day.
Monsantra, a remote-controlled Plantbot, leaves the gallery and zooms down the Baer Mall on SNC Day.
Visitors of all ages enjoyed interacting with the PlantBots!
Visitors of all ages enjoyed interacting with the PlantBots!
Exploring the
Exploring the “History of all her secret thoughts” exhibit in the Godschalx Gallery.
Visitors screen printing the 2015 Mission and Heritage theme,
Visitors screen printing the 2015 Mission and Heritage theme “Joy and Hope” with SNC art professors and students.
“Joy and Hope” print installation in the Bush Art Center.
Interacting with art on International Play Day!
Interacting with prickly PlantBots on SNC Day.
PlantBot Genetics artists, Wendy DesChene and Jeff Schmuki, show visitors a the inner workings of a PlantBot.
PlantBot Genetics artists, Wendy DesChene and Jeff Schmuki, show visitors a the inner workings of a PlantBot.

See you at SNC Day 2016 next September!

Writing Grants, Greening the Bay and Social Practice Art


St. Norbert College art professor, Katie Ries, discusses The Moth Project, the Greening of the Bay residency idea, and writing grants.

What made you decide to start Greening of the Bay and bring The Moth Project to St. Norbert College?

Katie: I want to see more contemporary art in Green Bay. Especially excellent interdisciplinary art. I was also interested in bringing in artists whose work would actively engage both our immediate community and ecology. I heard about PlantBot Genetics through a colleague at a conference and their work was a perfect fit for the residency.

You were awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant in support of The Moth Project.  What challenges and opportunities did the grant writing process present?

Katie: We have a great resource at SNC in Sarah Ryan the Director of Grant Development. She helped me navigate the specifics of the NEA’s process. For example, one of the first things we did was to make sure the project I had in mind was a good fit for the category to which we were applying. Fleshing out the grant was a lot of fun because I got to dream big about art for Green Bay, but also to reach out to and work with some of the excellent non-profits in our area.

The process of writing a grant can be intimidating for artists and staff at small organizations.  Any tips you’d like to share?

Katie: Start early so you can make sure to cover all your bases and get partners on board. Make sure your vision for whatever you want to do with the grant is clearly articulated and that what you’re proposing satisfies the parameters of the grant and aligns with the mission of the granting organization.

This was very much a community project, with several partnering organizations hosting nighttime Moth Garden events.  Do you have some favorite moments from these events?

I loved seeing the Moth Gardens set up publicly in all these beautiful spaces like the Neville Museum, Green Bay Botanical Garden, and the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, to name a few.  At the Neville Museum we had the good fortune of overlapping with the Wednesday evening Farmers Market. It was neat to see people drawn to the project and to see the artists Wendy and Jeff work the crowd and get them excited about moths.

How do you define social practice art?  Would you share an example of your own work that falls under this practice?

This is something I talked about with PlantBot Genetics (Wendy and Jeff) towards the end of the residency. I describe social practice art as work that relies on human interactions and systems to make the art. Often the work is collaborative. Wendy and Jeff lean towards the term “community engaged art” (as encouraged by MacArthur Fellow and artist Rick Lowe). As an example my sculptural piece What You’ve Got relies on the audience or gallery visitors to happen. I set out a grid of seed balls and invite people to trade things for them. Both the objects people trade for the seed balls and the transition from the orderly monochromatic grid to the varied and colorful objects people leave make the piece. In a similar way the Moth Project involves a lot more than a single static object. It’s a collection of social interactions and objects that gains meaning and resonance through people’s participation in it. I love that about it.

Katie Ries, What You've Got
Katie Ries, What You’ve Got

Thanks to Katie Ries for sharing her vision and grant writing tips. Curious to learn more? Check out PlantBot Genetics: Mothology, on exhibit in the Baer Gallery of the Bush Art Center through September 25.

Exhibit Events (all free and open to the public):

Friday, Sept. 18, 4:00 p.m. Artist Talk
Friday, Sept. 18, 5:00-6:30 Gallery Reception
Saturday, Sept. 19, 10 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.  SNC Day in the Galleries– Meet the artists.  Listen to an inspiring talks. Make art.

Artist Interview: April Beiswenger

April's Show April2 April3

The installation piece, “A history of all her secret thoughts,” by artist and St. Norbert College theater professor, April Beiswenger, is featured in our Godschalx Gallery from August 31-September 25.  I recently interviewed April about the exhibit:

Describe the piece you are creating in the gallery.

It is an environment. I am asking the viewer to come into a space that encloses them and encircles them with pattern, color, and shape.

How did you choose the title of the work? 

This is my 6th exhibition in the Godschalx gallery and for all but the first, I have taken the title from Shakespeare. This year’s title is from Richard III. I have also taken titles from Hamet, Merchant of Venice, King Lear, and Henry VI part II. I think the next exhibition’s title will be from the Tempest.

How do your theater work and gallery work influence one another?  

My theatrical designs and my gallery work are one in the same – they both are concerned with visual narrative and the manipulation of space/objects to affect the viewer. The only difference is in context and expectations.

How do your expectations differ when presenting work in the gallery?
My work in the gallery is purely mine, for better or for worse. Theatre is supremely collaborative – I have colleagues and students that have input into the design for a production and they are partners in the final product. In the gallery, it’s all me, which is terrifying. There is also a difference in audience expectations. In theatre, we control much of the audience’s experience – when and where they sit, what they look at, what they feel, when they laugh, cry, applaud, and even when they go to the restroom. In the gallery, I have no control over the viewer’s experience – again, kind of terrifying and liberating. The supreme experience in the gallery is my experience. They could pick up what I’m putting down or have an entirely different (and valid!) response – the worst thing that could happen is that they are indifferent.

What is your best piece of advice for student artists?

I have three pieces of advice:

1. Stop being afraid – experiment! If it sucks, try something else.

2. Make, make, and make more. Never stop creating!

3. And your art is not as precious as you think, joyously throw your work in the trash and start over.

Where can we find images of your work online? 

My website is

April beginning a very labor-intensive installation in the gallery this summer.

Thanks, April, for a delightful interview.  The installation is incredible and can be viewed daily, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.- 3 p.m. The galleries will also be open to the public on SNC Day, Saturday, September 19, 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.

Behind the Scenes: Unpacking “Mothology”

plantbots IMG_3799 IMG_3811

Jeff and Wendy of Plantbot Genetics are on campus for The Moth Project artist residency. In addition to creating moth garden installations throughout Brown County this month, they will exhibit Plantbot Genetics: Mothology in the Baer Gallery August 31-September 25, 2015.  We began unpacking some of the work for the exhibition this week.

Packing art is an art in and of itself.  Layers of boxes nest inside each crate and each box holds its own carefully packed set of objects. It’s always fun to unpack the boxes and get that first view of the art.  I photograph crates and boxes in various stages of unpacking and use the pictures as a guide for repacking the objects at the end of the show.  The above photos provide a glimpse of a few of the plantbots and some wonderful drawings that will be part of the exhibition.

Mark your calendars for the following exhibited related events:

Friday, Sept. 18, Artist Talk, 4-5 p.m. and Gallery Reception, 5-6:30 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 19  SNC Day -The galleries will be open from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.   Making activities include Make a Moth and Design a Plantbot.  Plantbot Genetics duo, Wendy DesChene and Jeff Schmuki, will also be in the gallery to answer questions about their work, The Moth Project residency, and the exhibition from 10-11 a.m and 2-3 p.m.