LANSING, MI — From illustrating children’s books to fine art paintings, Brian Whitfield is a master of the art genre.
As a graphic artist with the Michigan Department of Transportation Brian has won many national awards for his work on projects such as the 2001 design of Michigan’s official State map, graphics for “The Line Drive Home”: How to get to and from the 2005 MLB All-Star Game, and for the illustration’s in the children’s book “Bridget & Little Mac’s Birthday Trip.”
In 1996, out of 40,000 entrees, he was one of 12 runners-up competing for the license plate design, and in 2006 was the major contributor to Michigan’s newest plate “Spectacular Peninsular.”
Brian was brought up in Lansing, MI. According to him, his first experience with art can be best told by his mother, Ruby Frazier.
Brian said, “My mother likes to tell a story about when I was boy sitting in my high chair. She noticed that I was eating bread and when I bit the bread what would be left was the shape of a duck or dog.”
Brian’s mother knew at that time that she had an artist on her hands and signed both of her children up for Lansing Parks and Recreation arts and crafts classes over the years. Brian’s sister, Sydni Dreher is also an artist but not to the level that Brian enjoys and has studied it.
He said with a smile, “She (Sydni) appreciates art and she is crafty but she is not into it like I am.”
Brian recalls a poster contest for a carnival when he was in 5th grade Sydni was in 3rd at Wexford Elementary School. Everybody thought Brian was going to win. And his sister won it.
Even though Brian said it is a funny story he said that it kept him humble.
After graduating from J. W. Sexton High school in 1981, Brian went on to study illustration at Kendall Collage of Art & Design in Grand Rapids, MI. He continued his education and received an M.F.A. from The Maryland Institute Collage of Art in Baltimore.
He said that he doesn’t take anything for granted. He said that the circumstance with not winning the poster contest in elementary school kept him focused while in graduate school.
Brian said, "When I went to graduate school and I thought I was prepared with my best works and my classmates asked me where was my good stuff. It was an eye-opening experience."
Prior to going to graduate school in 1984 Brian entered a contest
to design the Ingham County flag. He said, "When they announced I
had won it was my first big achievement as a graphic artist. I went to Commissioners meeting at the Ingham County courthouse in Mason. I had the honor of being presented with a tiny replica of the flag and a certificate by Grady Porter, a former County Commissioner and prominent African American in the community.”
In 1991 Brian taught at Alma College and Kalamazoo College. His career quickly took off with numerous art commissions, the most notable being the portraits of all International Presidents and Executive Directors of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
Brian has received a number of awards and honors including The Basil H. Alkazzi Award, London, a honor given to an American Artist to create a body of work. He also designed the Ingham County flag.
Brian, his lovely wife Kimberly, and daughter Kamryn are active members of Trinity AME Church where Brian serves on the Steward Board. He’s also on the boards of the Uplift Our Youth Foundation and the Kintz Scholarship Foundation.
Questions & Answers
TNCP – Where do you draw inspiration from?
Brian – The history and struggles of mankind especially African Americans’. A lot of my inspiration comes from the rhythms in jazz music. I’m drawn to Picasso’s’ work especially cubism because I can feel the rhythm in it.
TNCP – With most artists it seems as though they work with one or two mediums. What are your mediums?
Brian – I use oils, acrylic, pencil, watercolor, cut paper, crayons, almost anything I can get my hands on.
TNCP- Where do you wish to be with your art personally in a year? 5 years?
Brian – I hope to be creating more fine art than I have in the last 5 years.
TNCP – In 20 years?
Brian – I want to be showing in galleries around the country
TNCP – Artists and non artists have favorite artists. Who are your favorite artists?
Brian – Picasso, Romare Bearden and Diego Rivera among many others.
TNCP – Are you going to try and have an art show? We hope that it will be soon. You work in so many medias and have so much talent.
Brian – I hope to have a show towards the end of the year in Old town with my artist friend Brian Snyder. It would be my first show in Lansing in a number if years.
TNCP – When was your last canvas painted?
Brian – I’m still working on it. A large painting (5 ft x 7.5 ft) of Christ for a church in Southfield, MI
TNCP – What advice would you give to young struggling artists?
Brian – Strive to be honest with your art and stay true to yourself. When all the critics are gone you have to be the one to live with what you created.
TNCP – What are you most proud about?
Brian – I’m thankful that I’ve been able to use the gifts God gave me thru out my life thus far.