Brave the Woods and Big Bend National Park

Consummate illustrator and designer Brad Woodard is the creative force behind Brave the Woods. Together with his wife Krystal the duo tackles the most ambitious projects with equal parts gusto and class. Seriously, we pride ourselves on working just as hard as anyone else out there but Brad and Krystal really take it to a whole new level. They find time to take on tons of client work, publish their own books, run their own brand of goods, and they're even working on a new website based around design tutorials and education. These two were so great to work with on Big Bend—they get our highest recommendation! We recently had a chance to catch up with Brad and talk shop for the blog. We hope you enjoy! 

Where does the story of Brad Woodard the illustrator and designer begin?
From early, early on I was exposed to the art world due to the fact that my mom was an artist. She was always creating something, and she always invited me to get involved. It motivated me to do my own projects as a kid and I quickly fell in love with illustration and painting. There was this show on PBS I believe called Imagination Station where this guy would teach you how to draw, and I would follow along with my sketchbook. Art was something I was actively engaged in every day of my life. I always knew I would be an artist when I grew up. It wasn't a super conscious decision, I just never thought of being anything else.

When I got to college I realized really quickly that I wasn't cut out for the fine art world. I loved it, but I didn't feel as confident anymore, now seeing all the talented folks in my classes. That is when I was introduced to graphic design. Immediately I was hooked. I loved that there were rules, and honestly, learning the principles and elements of design changed everything for me. All of a sudden everything made sense and I started composing my art and using it to solve problems. It was a whole new and I was determined to excel in it. I graduated with a BFA in graphic design but still loved fine art. Today I let both influence each other resulting in designy illustrations and illustrative designs.

I was the kid who knew morse code in 5th grade, built rockets, talked to my friends via CB radio, made robots out of nuts and bolts, and explored the woods.

In some ways the style of your Big Bend poster feels like a departure from your previous work. Some elements almost feel painterly. Is this a new aesthetic you'd like to explore further?
It definitely is a departure from my professional style, but it isn't a departure from me. This is the type of work I did all growing up, except back then I did it using acrylic paint. My background is painting, but not digital painting. Professionally I am finding I am trying to get back to my fine art roots more and more. So yes, I will be exploring further how to evolve this aesthetic into something I can really market. It doesn't really fit in my current portfolio.

Your work is known to be lighthearted, fun, and sometimes educational. What draws you towards these themes?
Growing up I was very curious about everything. I was the kid who knew morse code in 5th grade, built rockets, talked to my friends via CB radio, made robots out of nuts and bolts, explored the woods, and the list goes on. Each summer I would stay at my grandma and grandpa's farm house in West Virginia where they were surrounded by acres and acres of woods. I would go off and have my own adventures playing in the creek, birding, sketching, and so on. And when I came inside I stayed in my uncle's old room that was exactly the way he had it in the late 60s. I would spend hours going through his old science books, erector sets and Hardy Boy books. These were some of my favorite memories growing up, and I think I just got stuck there haha. I am stuck at that age, in the 60s.

The volume of work you put out is impressive. Even more so because the quality of execution is there every single time. What's the secret to meeting those deadlines, producing great work, and having fun?

Honestly, you just have to be willing to put in the time and care about what you are doing. But for something tangible, I set milestones for each project and stick to them. When we onboard a new client we sit down with them and plan out every milestone that we will hit before the deadline. It allows both of us to be accountable. They are accountable for getting me timely feedback, and I am accountable for getting the art to the point we agreed to on that day.

Great work comes from mileage and love. You will only get better with practice so keep experimenting and working on side projects! That is your R&D time. It also helps you have more fun. I have a hard time churning out the same exact style for every project. It is very much like a band having people request only their greatest hits. It is easy and people love it, but for me to be happy I have to explore new things and see my style evolve.

As someone who recently returned from an epic family road trip around the country, why do you feel the National Parks are so important?
Boy, where do I start. It's the same reason I feel any museum is important. National Parks preserve the past and allow us to enjoy nature at its purest. It never ceases to amaze me how quiet they can be, how bright the stars are and how many animals you see. We take so much away from nature that these parks are literally the least we can do. Visiting National Parks, I hope, will instill in my kids respect for what this beautiful earth has to offer, and for how fragile it really is.

Which park was the most exciting to visit as a family?
Yellowstone has a special place in my wife and I's hearts. We lived an hour and a half away from the West Yellowstone entrance for a few years, and we would camp there every 4th of July. So it was exciting to show our kids for the first time. But Arches was new and incredibly exciting for us this trip. You don't really get the full effect from pictures. It is like you are on a different planet!

Big Bend Layers Brad Woodard

What was the most surprising thing you learned during your research on Big Bend?
For it being a massive desert, it has so many unique plant types and wildlife. In fact, there are at least 450 species of birds that inhabit Big Bend. That is more than any other national park in the U.S.. I would have never guessed that.

You've done a great job positioning yourself to attract the type of work you really want to do. What's one piece of advice you'd offer up to young designers and illustrators wanting to attract a certain type of work or client they'd prefer?
Do the type of work you want to get. If you aren't getting clients asking you to do a type of project or style you want to do, then do it on your own and share it! I always wanted to illustrate children's books but nobody knew I could. So my wife and I self-published our own children's book and immediately after that we started getting emails from publishers wanting me to illustrate books for them. People don't know what you are capable of if you don't show them.

What's next for yourself and Brave the Woods? What's on the horizon that you're really stoked about?
Right now we are rebooting our brand identity and website. With that we are taking a deeper look into how we want to be perceived as a company, and how we can better market to the audience we want. We are also working on, which is a site where we will be creating our own video tutorials. Stay tuned for that and perhaps even a new children's book.

Keep up with Brad and Krystal via their website and instagram
You can purchase Brad's Big Bend poster in the shop

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