Downloads:

Morgan Bissant

I had to connect with Morgan Bissant after seeing a few of her images of 90s sitcoms make the rounds on Twitter. Her work definitely captures to the richness of the Black experience, and she’s done everything from editorial work for Comcast to children’s illustrations and book covers. But that’s not all!

Morgan and I talked about some of her big freelance projects, and she spoke on how Black pop culture, especially animation, is a big source of inspiration and her creative process. We also discussed how she stays up on trends in the industry, how she handles burnout, and she gave us a look into her current art journey and creative process. Morgan’s experiences and raw talent are a unique combination, and I think we’ll definitely see more of her amazing work in the future!

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Morgan Bissant:
My name is Morgan Bissant. I am a graphic designer and illustrator. I do a lot of branding work. I do a lot of layout design, I do web design, but something that I’ve always been more passionate about is illustration and I’ve been doing illustration work since I was old enough to hold a pencil. Currently, I’ve been doing a lot of illustration work for different companies and publishers. I’ve been working on children’s books, I’ve been doing promotional material. That’s something that I’ve really enjoyed doing. I enjoy being able to actually use my craft, I guess, in bigger spaces.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. It sounds like it keeps you pretty busy.

Morgan Bissant:
Yes, it’s a lot. It definitely takes up a lot of time.

Maurice Cherry:
How has this year been going so far?

Morgan Bissant:
So far it’s been going pretty good. I’ve actually started a new full-time job probably a couple months back, I want to say. I started a new full-time job doing graphic design work and I work at a marketing agency called OrthoSynetics. It’s been nice being able to do a lot of different things. In my previous job, we designed a lot of baby products, and in this job we do a lot of different marketing products. So, we’ll do flyers, we’ll do social posts, we’ll do websites. I was able to work on a major branding project for a new doctor that we picked up for our agency, and that’s all been pretty exciting. It’s really different from what I’m used to doing. It’s a much faster pace than some of my earlier jobs and projects, but it’s been a lot of fun. I like being able to do a lot of different things.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Morgan Bissant:
Keeps me interested.

Maurice Cherry:
Congratulations on the new job.

Morgan Bissant:
Thank you so much.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have any plans for the summer? Anything coming up?

Morgan Bissant:
Not necessarily. I’m just seeing what may be over the horizon maybe. So, I’ve currently been working on doing some freelance projects and I’m just always trying to keep myself open to seeing if I could get some other things, follow up with those. I’m always trying to see what other opportunities that I may have and other work that I can take on.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I saw back in September last year that you had did some work for Comcast for their Black History Month series, which ran this year. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Morgan Bissant:
Yeah, sure. So, actually it ran last year. I ended up reposting it because I’m pretty proud of it, so I’m going to keep sharing it. So, this was something that we worked on last year. It was a partnership that they reached out to me for. I had initially gotten their attention because I had seen one of their ads on Twitter and it was something for the Olympic Games, and I saw there was this little black girl and she was looking at the screen in awe and seeing the black athletes doing all kind of stuff, and she was just so amazed and everything. And I just thought she was just so cute and I was like, “I just have to draw this little girl because she’s adorable.” And so I went ahead and illustrated how she looked in the ad and I figured out I would just post it and tag them, because why not?

And they ended up seeing it and they really liked what they saw. And so I want to say a couple months down the line, they reached out to me and they said, “Hey, we’re doing this campaign for Black History Month, and we really loved the artwork that you tagged us in on Twitter. So, we wanted you to do something actually in partnership with us this time in celebration of Black History Month.” And that was pretty exciting. So, they asked me to do a couple of different illustrations. The first two that they asked for, they wanted some illustrations of Erin Jackson and Elana Meyers Taylor for the Winter games.

They followed up and they said that they wanted to do something else, something I guess a little bit more Black History Month specific. They wanted to do the McDonogh Three. I know a lot of people aren’t exactly aware of who those are, and that is three little girls that desegregated McDonogh 19 in New Orleans in the 1960s. And that was something I was really excited about doing, because being from New Orleans, that was something a bit more personal for me. Them doing that, desegregating schools is what gave me the opportunities that I had growing up, and that was something that I really was excited to do.

So, I was over the moon about that part of it, and I went through everything to put the illustrations together and they wanted two separate illustrations, so they wanted to show, I guess, a parallel of the past and show them as little girls, and one in the present. So, just showing them how they are now and I guess illustrating how far they’ve come over the years and what their sacrifices meant to people, and also to show that these women are still alive today. And a lot of people always think that, “Well that happened so long ago, and everybody that was involved in that is probably gone and all of that is over,” but they’re still here. They’re still here to tell the stories, and they’re still here to push a lot of the, I guess I want to say, push a lot of what was hidden, a lot of the things that were lost historically because a lot of people know about Ruby Bridges, but a lot of people also don’t know about them.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean there’s a lot of layers to that, that I think is really cool. One that Comcast saw an illustration that you did and they were like, “Oh, this is great. Can you do some work for us?” I feel like you hear those sorts of things sometimes is being discovered out of nowhere things, but I think that’s really cool that they just picked up on some work that you put online and they really wanted to keep working with it. I think that was great, but also the levels of being able to do something that’s tied to history, especially civil rights history in this country as people from this podcast.

Now, I’m from Selma, Alabama, so I grew up in that cradle of the civil rights movement, and there are so many stories about things that have happened that we knew about, the bigger things we knew about the March to Montgomery, as you mentioned, we know about Ruby Bridges, but we don’t know about some of these lesser known stories and struggles and triumphs that have happened.

And so I think it’s great that you were able to create some work that shone a light on that and to let people know that while this is “history,” it’s also the present. Like you said, these women are still alive, so the fact that they are still here and that they fought for these rights is something that we should all be aware of.

Morgan Bissant:
Yes, it’s always good to make sure you’re informed. And it’s always good to be able to put more things out there and shine light on things that we don’t know about, because there’s just so much stuff that we didn’t learn in school and just so many things in general that just get overlooked in favor of just those little three big figures like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. I mean nothing’s wrong with learning about them obviously.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Morgan Bissant:
But it’s sad that that’s all most people really know about and they barely know about them either.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I think it’s also telling that, in the past, media was really the thing that brought the whole civil rights movement to the nation. I mean because a lot of these things were happening in small southern towns, et cetera, and it wasn’t, I think until the incidents of, I think it was Bloody Sunday that happened in Selma. It wasn’t until those incidents where there were actually cameras and then that footage got broadcast across the nation that people saw about it. So, in a way, you can see how there’s a lot of stories and things that happen that we just don’t know about. Parts of history that get covered up.

I think people are just starting to really know about, for example, Bayard Rustin or Claudette Colvin, and people have mentioned Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, but not these other people that were behind the scenes maybe, or that did the work that they did before they did. So, a lot of those stories, it’s interesting, are now also being uncovered through media. I think within the past, I’d say at least in the past 10 years, I’ve seen so many black creators unearth a lot of these stories through animation, through illustration, et cetera. I think it’s really great. It’s really great.

Morgan Bissant:
Yeah, that’s always something exciting to see.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s talk more about your work as a freelance illustrator. You mentioned that you’re also working full-time at this agency OrthoSynetics. What does a regular day look like for you right now?

Morgan Bissant:
With working full-time, that gets a lot of my time. Basically what we do is we have a certain amount of projects that we have to get done throughout the day, and it’s generally a nine to five situation, and so we’ll have certain things that we’ll work on. We might have banners that we might have to do, we might have billboards, but it basically varies from day-to-day what we might have to work on. The things that we do are mainly for orthodontists and dentist, and that’s just a lot of what we see.

We might have flyers advertising different prices for dental work or different offers or things along those lines. So, that’s basically what we have our eyes on throughout the day. Now, as far as doing any freelance work, I have to put that, I guess, on the tail end of my day or reserve that for the weekends because we’re generally just so busy with doing graphic design work at the agency that sometimes it can be a little tough to juggle. But generally speaking, when I do get freelance projects, I’m given a sufficient amount of time to complete them. So, it’s not like I have to do everything at work and then come rush home and then just rush and get a book cover done in five minutes.

So, I’ll have months and months to work on things and get things done, and I’ll do that in my free time that I have. Sometimes I’ll work on things while I’m listening to music or while I’m watching a TV show that I enjoy to motivate me or I guess help me to get into a groove. It just helps to do it when I have, I guess, some breathing room to do so, which again, with the deadlines, it does help to give me some breathing room to actually get a lot of these projects done, and I try not to take on too much at a time so that I won’t be overbooked.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean that’s a good thing. I know that you’re represented by an agency, which we’ll talk about a little bit later. I imagine your agent knows that too. So, when you’re getting booked for things, you can’t do something last minute, there has to be some buffer time around it for you to be able to get it done.

Morgan Bissant:
Yeah. They have different industry standards on what is appropriate for different projects. Now sometimes people will come and be like, “Hey, we need you to get this done in two days,” which I mean, it’s really ultimately up to you on whether or not you want to take it with not enough time to get it done. But generally speaking, for larger projects especially, you definitely need a sufficient amount of time to finish things. And especially in a creative space, you don’t want to be pushed to the limit and be getting yourself burnt out when you’re trying to come up with ideas that look good and are executed well. I always try to do things that are within my means. Now, if it’s something like maybe smaller and it might be a little bit of rush, I just feel like I have time and I feel like I might be able to do it, I might grab it. But usually if it’s a little too tight, I might ask for more time or I might have just have to pass on that one.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. Now, I’m looking through your website now. I see of course you’ve done illustration work, but there’s logo design work here. You’ve done book illustrations, character designs, all of it is really great, and I mentioned this to you right before we started recording that I saw your work on Twitter because you had done this character lineup of the main cast from Living Single. And I mean the style of it was so good. I was like, “I have to reach out to her to see if she can come on the podcast.” Are you influenced a lot by TV and pop culture in your work?

Morgan Bissant:
I am. That actually is what pushed me to start drawing, and that’s really what made me want to do it more seriously. Pop culture is a huge part of it, especially things that are immersed in black culture. Obviously me being black, that’s my own culture and it’s something that I can pull inspiration from my personal experiences. Things like anime and cartoons, they’ve always fueled my desire for illustration. I’ve always been influenced by things like Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z and things like that. Growing up, I was very small and watching a lot of these programs, and that’s what made me want to draw. I started copying things that I saw while I was watching TV. I would be watching Sailor Moon in the mornings and I’d said, “Well, I want to draw Sailor Moon.” And so I would be working until I got her to what I felt was right and was an accurate depiction of what she looked like on the screen.

And as I got older and I started cultivating my talents and working on my skills, started trying to branch off and do other things. And I’ve always tried to start creating my own concepts and characters, and nowadays I am still heavily influenced by anime and animation in general, but a lot of other things that I was exposed to like different black sitcoms and cartoons, that also had an impact on my overall style. Bruce W. Smith has always been one of my huge inspirations for illustration work. I’ve always liked his style since The Proud Family and Bébé’s Kids, Happily Ever After, Fairy Tales for Every Child.

That always was a draw to me. And I’ve mimicked some of my style and my character designs around some of the things that he’s done, and I mean he isn’t one of the only influences that I have, but that’s always something that I’ve seen growing up, and I’ve always liked his style and I’ve always wanted to, I guess, put a little bit of that into my style. And so nowadays I have this, I guess, combination of all of these different influences that have created what I have today.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, talk to me about how you approach a new project. What does your creative process look like when a new project comes across your table?

Morgan Bissant:
So, for basically any new project that I have, whether it just be freelance or something personal, I always try to brainstorm first. I might write down ideas or just sketch things down, and I just try to just do things and just get my brain going. I don’t always have something in mind before I start sketching, so I have this approach where I’ll just start doing anything. Well, not anything, but I’ll start trying to draw different things and just see where it takes me and then try to give myself a couple of different options and variations in what I might want to do with it, and then just see where it goes from there. This is especially true for larger projects, because I definitely have to see where I’m going before I start tackling something so huge.

So, I always have to sketch things out first. I always have to get ideas down first, and if I have any troubles or bumps in the road, I might go online. I have my Pinterest, I have all these bookmarks and stuff on Instagram. I have all these bookmarks on Twitter of different photographs or screenshots or fashion or just whatever, and I might use that as a way to, I guess, give myself a little bit of inspiration so I can push myself in the right direction. Because sometimes I can’t always come up with things just immediately from the top of my head.

So, it helps for me to look at some things. It helps for me to continuously draw things until I can get some ideas to come out that I like. I always try to keep things in my back pocket that I can always pull up later in terms of references and images that I might have saved that I think that I could probably use going forward for my creative process.

Maurice Cherry:
Was there ever a really particularly hard design or illustration that you had to create for a project?

Morgan Bissant:
I think that probably one of the hardest things that I have worked on in recent years would be probably the illustration that I did for the Crescent City Sneaker Ball. It was both illustration and it was a graphic designed invitation, and I’m really happy with how it came out, but there was a lot of thought that had to go into it, and there was a lot that I had to consider like, “Okay, how is this going to work? How can I fit this in here?” Because it was a little bit different from what I usually do. Everything was a collage and I had to make sure all the pieces fit together and flowed together and had to make sure things didn’t look too cluttered or too structured. So, it took a lot of working around with that one and playing around with it to make it work.

But I think ultimately all things considered, it came out pretty cute. It was a lot to think about. It was a lot to figure out how everything should go and everything should work together. I’m also really not too fantastic with buildings, or at least I personally don’t feel like I’m all that great with them. And that had a lot of structures in it. I like drawing people more. That’s always been my thing. I’ve always liked drawing characters, so structures and boats and street cars and stuff, I’ve never really done a lot of that. And that added to the challenge. So, executing that, it was a lot for me, but ultimately I’m glad I took that on. I thought it came out pretty nice, all things considered.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have any upcoming projects that you can talk about? Anything you’re excited about?

Morgan Bissant:
I don’t know if this would be considered upcoming, but the book that I have recently illustrated for Lamar Giles that is going to be coming out next month, and I’m actually pretty excited about that one. So, I mean, I don’t know if I would call that an upcoming project because I’ve already finished it, but we haven’t gotten the printed books yet. And so I’m honestly very excited to see how it will come out on paper, because I’ve seen what it looks like on my computer, but I want to see it in book form. It’s just an entirely new feeling you get when you actually see your work just tangible and you can hold it in your hand and on a professional level, because you can print out your own stuff at Office Depot or something, but it’s not the same as this is a book that’s going to be in Barnes & Noble.

It’s almost so weird because I never thought that I would ever get to this point in my life where I would actually be seeing my name on the cover of children’s books or seeing the book actually in store somewhere. So, that’s pretty cool and I’m excited to actually get some copies of it.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. I mean I think it’s always an accomplishment when something you do makes it on a book or a magazine or something like that, because it’s so finite. Things that are on the web can get redesigned or deleted or moved or stuff like that. But a book or a magazine or something like that, that’s permanent.

Morgan Bissant:
It’s exciting. Like he said, it’s not the same. I mean you can post all your stuff on Instagram and I mean nothing’s wrong with that or anything. It’s great to have your stuff out there, but it’s totally different to go outside and see your work there at the store and other people actually see it. And people that might not even have Instagram or Twitter, they can see your work, and people that are working in these industries, they can actually see your work. And that’s almost like an out of body experience sometimes thinking about it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s a really big deal. It’s a big deal. I think it’s a big deal. I want to get more into your work and your career, but before that, I want to learn more just about you. As you mentioned earlier, you’re a New Orleans native. Tell me about growing up in New Orleans. Did you do a lot of creative stuff as a kid?

Morgan Bissant:
I did. I don’t know if that necessarily had to do a lot with me living in New Orleans, I did have a lot of opportunities to be creative growing up. We did have a lot of stuff at our schools where we could paint murals and things on the walls. I had this one art teacher in elementary school, Mr. Baldwin, and he had all of the art students paint this, I guess, prehistoric scene of all the dinosaurs on the cafeteria wall, and I thought that was so much fun. I wish I could do more things like that. I just always liked collaborative types of projects and things that were always, I guess, larger than life, at least to me. Because like I was saying before with the book, it’s different when everybody can see it like that. And I think as a child, that really pushed the importance of artwork to me because it didn’t just trivialize it as this little hobby that kindergartners do when they draw with crayon on paper and things like that.

It actually took our craft seriously and it encouraged us to pursue what we were doing. It gave a credence to art, and I think that that’s always important for little kids that enjoy that stuff. I think that it’s always important to encourage what they’re doing because that’s something that needs to be fostered, that’s something that needs to be developed. And if it’s something that they really enjoy and that they want to go forward with it, I don’t see why you shouldn’t encourage it and give them opportunities to push them and put their work out there.

Maurice Cherry:
Was your family really supportive of you going in that route?

Morgan Bissant:
Yeah, they always have been. So, like I was saying before, I’ve been drawing since I was able to pick up a pencil. I don’t remember this, but this is what my mom told me, so this is what I have to go off of. So, I have just always been drawing things and I guess the things that I was drawing were a little bit more developed than what the average toddler would do, and I guess I was showing that I was able to pick up different forms more than somebody that would have that natural inclination. As I got older, my drawings started getting a little bit more developed, and as I was watching cartoons, I was drawing the cartoons that I saw on TV, and they weren’t exactly stick figures. I always tried to get them as close as I possibly can with the skills that I had at three years old.

And as I got older, my parents, they noticed what I had and they put me in different programs. They tried to get me in talented art classes at school, and they always wanted to give me a chance to grow as an artist, and they always encouraged what I did. They always saw what I had, they saw the talent that I had, and they always wanted to encourage me to continue doing it and to pursue it. And eventually I ended up pursuing that as a full-time thing. Now, graphic design is different from a illustration, but it’s still a form of art, and that’s something that they never stopped me from doing it. They were like, “No, don’t do this. Be a lawyer.” They wanted me to do what I enjoyed doing, and I’m really grateful for that, that I always had a supportive family that always pushed me to do what would make me happy.

Maurice Cherry:
And I mean, graphic design is a gateway into I think a lot of different just visual designs. I mean back in the day I think it was all just called communication design, and then it splintered off into advertising. And then I think especially with the advent of the personal computer and Photoshop and stuff like that, it became desktop publishing and then it was graphic design. So, it’s a gateway into a lot of different things. I mean, as you mentioned, you really wanted to do it enough to the point where you ended up studying it. You went to Louisiana State University, majored in graphic design there. How was your time there at the school?

Morgan Bissant:
I really liked the time that I had, because they gave us a lot of time to explore a lot of different things. So, with the curriculum that we had, which it was basically called fine arts, the entire degree itself, they gave us opportunities to do a lot of different mediums of art. Your primary major would be graphic design, and that was what was ultimately the focus. But we had classes where we could illustrate, where we could paint. If we wanted to, we could explore photography, we could explore welding and print making.

So, they gave us a lot of different mediums and avenues that we can dip our feet in and see how we liked it, or we could even use those things to apply them to graphic design in a way. So, myself, I’ve always been interested in illustration. I always wanted to put illustration in my graphic design work, and so when we took a lot of illustration classes there, it also helped me to develop my style and pay attention to a lot of things that maybe I might have been overlooking.

So, it helped me to improve my craft overall when I took illustration classes. And I could always bring that back into graphic design where I could maybe draw characters and now my characters look more refined, or I could draw different symbols, and now everything looks a little better, it looks sharper and it looks more professional. And that’s something that I’ve always liked. So, I don’t know exactly how every other school tackles this degree, but I really did like that about it, because it gave us a lot of different options to go in. You weren’t exactly forced to do all of them. So, I was never really huge on photography. So, I didn’t do photography, but I had another option.

If instead I wanted to do painting, or I wanted to do sculpture making, I could do one of those. And that’s something that I really appreciated. It gave us a lot of different things that we could go into, and I felt like that helped me in the long run because while it gave me a graphic design degree, which helped me getting a full-time job, it also helped me in terms of art in general, because all of those illustration classes, they helped me in terms of anatomy and in terms of composition and things like that, that you can use that in graphic design, but ultimately you could use that in illustration too, because that’s a lot of what I do.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean it sounds like the program was really expansive to allow you to just try out a lot of different things and see what you liked the best.

Morgan Bissant:
Yeah, they gave us a lot to work with, and that was just a lot of, I don’t know if you would call them collectives, but they weren’t exactly our core classes. They were just things that you can pick to add on to what you were doing. And even within graphic design, we still had a lot of things that they gave us that we could explore, like typography and making different graphic symbols and things like that. So, we always had a huge variety, which that was great, honestly, for all of us. Because a lot of people, they branched off and did other things and they found that taking this drawing class, it’s like, “Well, now I want to do books.” Or “I took this photography class and now I want to do photography and I want to do events.” And that was always something that I felt was influenced by the fact that we had all of these options.

And I always thought it was really great, and it made the curriculum a lot more fun. I always liked drawing. I always had fun drawing. So, being able to take all these drawing classes, it was nice. And then it gave me a little bit more of an outlet, because graphic design isn’t always about drawing. Sometimes it’s about laying out things, and sometimes it can get a little bit monotonous, especially if it’s all for school projects and things. But if you have time to go on the side and go draw a polar bear or a bowl of fruit, and that’s something that you enjoy doing, it can make your time in school more enjoyable.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So, when you graduated, did you have an idea lined up about what you wanted to do next?

Morgan Bissant:
I honestly was not exactly sure, but at the same time, I actually already had an opportunity lined up for me before I even graduated.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, okay.

Morgan Bissant:
So, a couple of months before I graduated, me and a few other students had gotten recruited by a local business called Impression Works, where we did photo books and greeting cards and things like that, and we could basically do whatever we felt like worked. So, it didn’t always have to be layout stuff. If we wanted to put illustrations in them, we could, and it gave us a little bit of creative freedom. And that was nice to be able to have during school, because it was a bit of a safety net in terms of having a job when I graduated. But then on top of that, I had a little bit of income coming in while I was in school, and it was flexible because we could do most of our work from home.

So, I was able to just work on projects for work in my free time, and we were still interns/part-time, so we weren’t totally overloaded with things where we couldn’t balance homework and senior projects and work work. And that ended up working out for a little while. And then it was a contract job, so once the contract was up after that, I had to try to turn around and try to find something else as soon as I could. And I wasn’t exactly sure how that was going to work out, because with me being pretty illustration oriented, I wasn’t sure how I would’ve liked something that didn’t really allow me to do that. And I know that a lot of graphic design jobs don’t really have a heavy focus on that. And so I was always wondering, “Well, will I be able to fit into another job somewhere or at a real firm?”

Because I really didn’t do a whole lot of layout at the time, and I didn’t have a whole lot of that in my portfolio outside of a couple of school projects. So, I was wondering how that was going to work out. And I ended up landing another full-time job at a company called Sassy Baby. That was a place where we got to design a lot of baby products. So, we would draw the little characters that were on bibs and bath products, and there were a couple little toys and stuff, we designed teethers and things like that. And that actually worked out in terms of capturing the, I guess, the niche that I am in, because being a graphic designer and an illustrator isn’t always… it is I guess. A lot of people who are graphic designers, they’re not illustrators, and a lot of illustrators are not graphic designers.

So, I guess I felt like I was different in that sense. But that job that I found, it ended up working out pretty well because I got to draw cute little characters. And we also had to do a lot of graphic design, we had to do a lot of layout things, we had to do a lot of presentation materials. So, graphic design of course helped me in those aspects. But being an illustrator helped me in terms of being able to capture different likenesses of little bears and bunnies and things like that. That was a pretty nice job, because we got a lot of tangible products out of it. You’d go in Walmart and you’d see the bibs that you designed. You’d see the little patterns of characters and things that you did, and you could go to Target or Meijer or wherever, and you could see the work that you’ve done, and you’d see it on full display for people to buy. And that was always cool. And it was always rewarding in a sense, to see your work.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m so glad that you said that about a graphic designer’s not an illustrator. Illustrator’s not a graphic designer, because I feel like sometimes, and this is really from the company standpoint, they just think it’s all the same. They think as long as you can do something in design, that you can do everything in design. So, I’m glad you qualified that by saying that.

Morgan Bissant:
Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of mix ups with that. I will see a lot of illustrators that I follow get all of these requests for, “Hey, can you do logos?” And I’m just like that’s not the same thing. Just because they can draw Goku does not mean they can give you a professional looking logo for your law firm. This is two totally different forms of art. It’s an important distinction.

Maurice Cherry:
No, it’s an important distinction. And I think it’s good to stick by that, because I think early in your career you want to be able to do any work that comes your way because you want to be able to prove yourself as a creative. So, even if you are, say for example, really good at illustration and someone says, “Well, can you do a logo?” You’re thinking, “Well, I mean it’s a drawing. I can do that.” But I think it’s good that you’re sticking by saying, “No, I only do illustration. This is what I do. I can’t do this other thing that you’re asking for.”

I mean you probably could technically do it because the skills are transferrable, but I think it’s good to stick by that because what it does is it strengthens your particular craft in that area. So, people eventually don’t get it confused. But I feel like that’s pretty common early on though. You try to do a little bit of everything, one, to see what you can do, and two, because the work just comes your way.

Morgan Bissant:
Yeah. And I get that, especially if you’re just starting out and you’re like, “I don’t have any projects and this guy is asking me for a logo, so I’m just going to take it because I need the money.” But if that’s not what you do, you don’t want to end up getting saddled with that your whole life, trying to struggle to do something that you know you don’t enjoy doing and you don’t exactly, I guess, have the equipment for. Because you can definitely do a logo that’s a drawing. But I mean if this super corporate firm is asking you for a super corporate logo and you draw just characters or buildings and things like that, it’s not always going to transfer well.

You don’t exactly have, I guess, that same know-how or that same eye to capture what they might want. So, I like to make sure people know that there’s a difference, because every illustrator that you try to ask for a work from is not going to be equipped to give you what you need, because illustration and graphic design aren’t the same thing. And I feel like a lot of people just think, “Oh, art is art,” but that’s just not how it is.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. Now you’re represented by Inkyverse, which is a agency. They rep a lot of animators, artists, authors. How did you go about getting representation? Did they come to you? Did you seek them out? How did that work?

Morgan Bissant:
They actually came to me. I believe they found me on Instagram, I want to say. So, it was, I think not too long after I had posted this graphic that I did. It was the Salt Girl, the Salt of the Earth thing that I did. And that went viral, and I think that’s what got me noticed by the agency. They reached out to me, they actually sent me a text because I had my number on my resume and they were like, “Hey, this is Inkyverse and we are looking to see if you would be interested in commercial art representation.” And then I followed up with, “This is not a scam, this is real?” Like okay.

I was like, “Well, thank God for clarifying.” I sure was about to just block the number. They said that they would keep in touch with me, and we ended up having a conversation over the phone. The agent that I was speaking to, Katrina, she was going over everything that having an agent entailed and how having an agent can help you find high profile clients and they can help you to establish rates for yourself and they can basically just manage you. And I was like, “That sounds pretty good to me. So, I mean I don’t see why I would say no personally.” I mean I never was really good with managing everything that I had. I was always really bad with trying to figure out rates that I wanted to charge for myself. So, I mean I was like, “Well, I’ll go for it.”

I mean the worst that could happen is that I might not like it and I can just say I don’t want to do it anymore. So far it’s really been a blessing to have an agent and work with Inkyverse, because having a lot of these major companies reach out to me, not having an agent would have been terrifying because I would not know what to say. I would not know what money to ask for. I wouldn’t know how to fight back against that, because especially if you’re pretty green, it’s like you don’t want to say the wrong thing and be like, “Oh my gosh, I just ruined this entire opportunity because I have asked them for the wrong amount or I said the wrong thing, or whatever.”

So, it really helped to have somebody, I guess, go back and forth on my behalf that actually knows the industry and actually knows the standards and actually knows what to ask for, what is fair. That’s been a huge help in getting me fair rates for projects, for getting the amount of time that I would get for things. I mean it’s been good to have somebody to look over contracts and things and make sure nothing weird is in them before I sign them. And that’s something that I really like having and I would definitely recommend other artists do so if it is at all possible to have somebody to, I guess, be your help where you need it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I mean I’ve had other illustrators on the show before that are also represented by agents and they’ve talked about how it just helps them to focus on the work. They don’t have to handle all the administrative emails and contracts and all this stuff. They can just focus on doing the work when it comes in, and it’s just such a big benefit for them. And it’s really cool that they reached out to you, they saw your work and wanted you to be a part of what they’re building.

Morgan Bissant:
Yeah, and I was honestly really blown away by that. I was, “Really? Me? How did you even get here?” It was really exciting. I was like, “I can’t believe you would want me to do this.” And then even more so with the random text, I was like, “Are we sure this isn’t a scam and you’re not going to ask me for my credit card number next? I feel like this is too good to be true.” But it was really nice to be able to have somebody who works in that industry say, “Hey, we think your work is so good and that it can make a whole bunch of money, so we want you here.” Not to say that my representative is just like, “Hey, we just want you for the money,” because I didn’t want it to sound like that, but it’s nice to know that your artwork is appreciated in a professional sense.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. How do you stay up to date with the latest design and illustration trends? Like you mentioned pop culture being a big part of your work, pop culture and television. How do you stay up to date with trends in the industry?

Morgan Bissant:
I personally would say that I try to do somewhat of a research. I don’t know if I could 100% call it research. Well, I guess I could, yeah. I try to research some things when I have time to do so. At my previous job for graphic design, we always used different magazines and publications and even Pinterest to stay up to date with what was trending and what was up-to-date and designs that we can pull from that won’t look dated. And I do use that to a certain degree when it comes to illustration work, but I also do like to look into a lot of fashion.

I follow a lot of fashion bloggers and I’m always looking at things on TikTok and stuff like that, because that’s always been an influence on my style as well. I like drawing illustrations that incorporate a lot of fashion. I like looking at different, I guess, design when it comes to fashion on TV or in movies or things like that. I try to pay attention to those things and pay attention to, I guess, what is out now and what I could probably see in the future.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say is one of the newer trends right now?

Morgan Bissant:
You mean in terms of fashion?

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I mean like, yeah, I guess in general, as you look at it as to how you might apply it to your work, do you see any trends that you’re like, “Oh, I might want to try that out?”

Morgan Bissant:
Honestly, I’ve been looking at a whole lot of fashion.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I mean fashion could be that inspiration, it sounds like.

Morgan Bissant:
Sometimes I look at a lot of just things that I see just online, and it doesn’t have to be anything in particular, but if I feel like something is particularly striking, I might pull some inspiration from it, from what I see on there. I guess as of right now, I’ve been liking a lot of, I want to say suits and things in that general area. That’s always been something that’s been drawing my attention. I don’t know if that is exactly the trendiest thing overall now in terms of I guess business and things like that. I’ve seen a lot of people doing those kinds of things on TikTok and whatever. That’s always something that I wanted to incorporate in some of my illustrations as well. Now, in terms of now, I wouldn’t say a pulling a whole lot of things from now in particular, or some things that are trendy now.

Maurice Cherry:
How would you say that your style as an illustrator and a designer has evolved over the years?

Morgan Bissant:
I have definitely gained a better understanding of composition, and I want to say anatomy and layout. Basically everything that I worked on, I feel like it has elevated. I feel like I’ve really grown to have a better understanding of what works and how things should look, how I can utilize the different spaces of things and create, I guess, a better and more fluent composition. I also feel that I’ve grown in the sense where I’ve been able to refine how my characters look. I went really back and forth with a lot of different styles and trying to figure out what worked and trying to figure out how I should paint things and should I do things that are really stylistic? Should I do things that are realistic? It’s always been experimental and trying to figure out how I want things to look overall and what I felt worked for me.

And I think I’ve found, I guess, a good middle ground of how I want my illustrations and how I want my designs to look. But I think just having more of a knowledge of shapes and color and growing in those areas has really helped my design and illustration work to flourish. And I have also accepted the fact that everything is not always going to look the same. So, I know a lot of artists have a particular style. I know a lot of people, including myself, have always felt like you should just have one style and that should be it, and you shouldn’t really do anything else. As I’ve grown, I’ve learned that you could just do whatever you want. I mean if I want to do something realistic one day, I can do that. If I want to do something stylized another day, I can do that.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t have a style, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t know what I’m doing. It just happens. You might want to experiment, you might just want to do something different. I mean I think that that really just shows that you just have a lot to offer as an artist. I mean it just shows that you have the skill to be able to go back and forth and do a variety of things. And I don’t think anything’s wrong with that, which unfortunately a lot of people still feel that way. But I think that I would always encourage artists to just do what you enjoy doing. If you want to do a lot of different things, I say go for it, as long as you’re not burning yourself out.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I guess speaking of that, how do you handle those periods when you might be burnt out or you might just have low motivation? How do you handle that?

Morgan Bissant:
So, overall I try to just take breaks in between my work. I try not to rush things, and I always am pretty careful about not overbooking myself, especially keeping in mind that I do have a full-time job and I’m trying to juggle freelance and whatever else I have. I always want to make sure I’m trying to gauge my time properly and see what I actually have room to do, because I don’t want to get to that point where I’m just like I’m completely just worn out and I just can’t do anything. I think that it’s very important to take breaks when you can. I always try to set aside some time or a day or whatever to just do nothing or just have fun or maybe watch a movie or play a game or just something, something not work related. But there have been times where I just didn’t have a choice.

I just had to power through something. And I felt like what just motivated me to get it done is just to try to have as much fun with it as possible. There’s been projects that I’ve worked on and I just try to, I guess, put a little bit of myself into it and just use that as a way to express myself, which wasn’t exactly discouraged in the project. And that helped me to, I guess, think of the project that I had to work on or something that was just more fun, something that I could enjoy. Not thinking about it as, “I have to get this done right now because the deadline is tomorrow, and if I don’t, then the whole project is ruined.”

I thought about it as this is something that I’m enjoying doing and I just want to do it. And in times where I am just getting a bit pushed, that’s what I try to think about. I try to think about it as something enjoyable. I try to just take my time with it as much as I can and have fun with it.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you hope people take away from your work when they look at it?

Morgan Bissant:
I would hope that they could see the beauty in a lot of these different characters. I like to do a lot of black girls and black women, and I’m sure you’ve seen, because you have seen my portfolio, but little black kids. I like to draw a lot of that stuff. And growing up, I had issues where I want to say I had lower self-esteem than I should have had. I never really felt like I was cute. I didn’t think that I was pretty, because I would see a lot of the cartoons, like the heroes and the love interests on a lot of cartoons, and they wouldn’t look like me. And that is what made me want to put a lot of black features and characters into my artwork, because while we did see a lot of that growing up, I felt like we didn’t exactly see as much as we probably should have gotten.

Black characters were always like the sidekicks sometimes, and they didn’t always get time to shine. And that’s something that always impacted me growing up. And so I like to put that into my work. I like to show people, like anyone that we are beautiful and nothing is wrong with our features. Our features are beautiful. They make us unique, they make us who we are. And I think that that’s something that I wanted to put in my work, because I want everybody to be able to embrace that. So, I always hope that little kids and adults alike can take that away from what I do.

Maurice Cherry:
What advice would you give to someone, they’re out here listening to your story, they’re hearing about your work and everything. What advice would you give them if they want to follow in your footsteps?

Morgan Bissant:
The advice that I would give to anybody that might want to pursue a career in art or graphic design, I would say that don’t be afraid to do what you know you want to do. Have fun doing it. I would say that if this is something that you really enjoy and you really see yourself doing this in the future, and you know you really want to go into these different arenas where you can use your art for animation or books. So, I mean I would encourage anybody that wants to pursue art to just go for it. I don’t think that you should let anything scare you from doing it. If it’s something that you enjoy doing I say, why not do it?

I mean it’s something that it’s always been fun to me. I could never really see myself doing anything else. And so I felt like this is what I had to pursue, this is what I was going to do. And I know that there’s other people that feel that way and I feel that they should go forward with it, because I mean why keep yourself from doing something that you enjoy doing and that you can make a living off of it. And I know a lot of people feel that it’s harder to actually make a living off your work than doing other things, but I believe that we have so many examples out that shows that that’s actually a possibility. You can work in animation, you can do books, you can even do things like ads and partnerships with brands.

You can do flyers, you can design things for brands, branding or whatever. There’s so many options that you can explore, things that you can put your talents toward. There’s so many options that you can look into that you can use your skills to make it tangible and make it real. So, I would say that you shouldn’t limit yourself and you shouldn’t hold yourself back if you’re afraid that you might not be able to get different opportunities, or you are afraid that you might not be able to get into this certain arena so there’s nothing you can do, because there’s a lot of things that we, as artists, we don’t really think about how many opportunities that they really have out there.

But there’s a lot. It’s just the possibilities are endless. And on top of that, I would encourage people to always have fun with what they’re doing. Never be afraid to experiment and do different things. Just have fun. Just enjoy it. Take time to perfect your craft. Take time to practice. You always want to take time to pour into it, because if this is something that you’ll enjoy doing and you want to put yourself out there and you want to continue to grow, I mean you always want to keep doing it. You always want to keep those, I guess, creative gears turning.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What work do you want to be doing?

Morgan Bissant:
I’m honestly not 100% sure. I honestly never thought I would even see myself where I’m at now five years ago. It’s different for me. If there is something in particular that I could be doing down the line, I’ve always been interested in animation of course, because it’s always been a huge inspiration for me. And I’ve always wanted to work maybe in an animated series, maybe like creating some characters or concept work or visual development or something along those lines. So, here’s hoping that maybe at some point in my career the door may open for that. I’m just here to see where life takes me as of right now.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work and everything? Where can they find that online?

Morgan Bissant:
So, I am on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok at morg_city. Also on Facebook at Morgan Bissant, all one word. I have a website, morganbissant.com, and you can basically see most of my portfolio on there, and you can find links to my social pages at the bottom.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well, Morgan Bissant, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you really for talking about I mean, one, your journey as an artist, as an illustrator, as a designer, and how it’s brought you to where you are now. But I really think it’s good that you talked about your process, you shared your inspirations, you shared your experiences. My hope is that when people listen back through this interview, and especially once they get a chance to really look at your work, they’ll be able to get a good overall view of who you are as an artist and the work that you’re bringing into the world. So, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Morgan Bissant:
Well, thank you so much for having me. This is definitely a pleasure speaking with you.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world. They are always looking to expand their roster of freelance design consultants in the U.S., particularly brand strategists, copywriters, graphic designers and Web developers.

If you know how to deliver excellent creative work reliably, and enjoy the autonomy of a virtual-based, freelance life (with no non-competes), check them out at brevityandwit.com.

Comments are closed.