Kelsey Bryden Uses Design to
Address What Matters Most to Her
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
There's often a social edge to Brooklyn-based WNW Member Kelsey Bryden's work. She sees her freelance career in Art Direction and Design as a unique opportunity to open up a conversation about what matters to her the most. Design becomes more than just a vehicle to express herself, but also a means to bring people together. It's rewarding to see the ways that Kelsey pushes herself to explore new methods in her mission, whether it's set design or photo-illustration or jewelry made of tampons. "They portray tampons as luxurious items, in the same way the government imposes a luxury tax on feminine hygiene products. I’m proud of this project for calling out the absurdity of taxing female health, as though it were not a priority or basic human right."
If you're unsure of how to start getting political with your work, Kelsey advises, "Think about the personal experiences you’ve had that made you feel a certain way, and let those be the foundation."
Tell us about your creative background. Who is Kelsey Bryden and how did she get here?
My dad was an art director and a painter. He had a terminal illness that progressed as I got older, so I strove to find ways I could emulate him. I took classes at great art universities in the summers when I was in high school, although I still didn’t feel very artistically inclined.
When I started as a full-time college student I was studying business at an art school. The truth that I held onto as early as I could remember was that I wanted to have my own business, be my own boss— hence the choice in major. But thankfully, being in the art school environment led me to design and I started taking design-related internships rather than business-related ones. When I think about it now, freelance design and direction DOES obviously allow me to own a business and be my own boss. It feels like the best of both worlds.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links all of your projects, or do you try to excuse yourself and approach each project as its own entity?
The common thread I’m always striving to insert is obscurity; the something that makes people look twice. It’s also always colorful, oftentimes conceptual.
What do you see as the turning point in your creative career and development?
I worked for a little while at an interactive design agency, but found it to be pretty creatively stifling. I wanted to use my very conceptually-geared mind, which I couldn’t do there. Things changed when I started committing to this way of thinking and making, and when I left that job. Around that time I started introducing photography into my work, which was also game-changing. For years prior I would come up with ideas which I naturally saw as photographs, but it took me a while to realize that I could leverage the way my brain naturally saw things. And that I could be an AD / designer who heavily uses photography!
Which of your projects are you proudest of and why?
For a few reasons, probably the photo-illustrations of the tampon jewelry. It was an idea that I judged in the beginning, and doubted whether it could be executed the way I envisioned. The fact that in lieu of all the self-doubt, I made the images anyway AND they came out beautifully makes me very proud.
On top of that, there’s a lot of meaning behind them. I have a personal connection to the objects (don’t we all?), but more importantly they portray tampons as luxurious items, in the same way the government imposes a luxury tax on feminine hygiene products. I’m proud of this project for calling out the absurdity of taxing female health, as though it were not a priority or basic human right.
Is there often a political or social edge to your work, or do you feel a certain immediacy these days?
Yes! Not always, but I try to incorporate these things for sure. Politically, I advocate for women as you can tell in the project mentioned above. I also wanted to work on a project that responded to the awful, awful event that was the U.S. election, so I designed a set that incorporated famous activist statements. I also asked underrepresented people to appear on the set and say whatever they wanted into a megaphone.
Socially, I love bringing people together, and if I can achieve that in my work I’m happy. People don’t often think social interaction naturally intersects with design, but I think it definitely can. I worked on an experiential storytelling project over the course of a year, and it was a very cool way to meet people and to facilitate other people meeting.
What do you see as the role of an artist in addressing political and social issues through their work? Any advice you can share with creatives looking to do their part?
I think if you’re moved to address these things, that’s great. but it’s not your duty. It’s hard to form your own political opinion, or to distinguish what’s your own versus what you’re hearing, because there are so many other people’s opinions that are being broadcasted all around us. I’d say think about the personal experiences you’ve had that made you feel a certain way, and let those be the foundation.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
I'm pushing myself to work more in set design — the idea of creating physical worlds for people to exist in is super interesting to me. I'm also thinking about starting/making a magazine, because I think independent mags are beautiful and cool.
Who are some of your biggest creative influences?
John Waters, Iris Apfel, Rupaul
One book, one album, one movie, one show?
Men Explain Things To Me, Blond, The Handmaiden, Thrones
What do you do when Not Working?
Sometimes I roller skate! Check out the Pier 2 Roller Rink in DUMBO.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard or received that our members need to hear?
Send more cold emails!
Who are some other WNW Members whose work you admire and why?
Anything else you’d like to add?
Slide into my DMs anytime girl.