PRINT is excited to introduce our latest Designer (and glorious visual artist) of the Week, Ryan McGuire.
From his whimsical art to his lovingly crafted client projects, you’ll find much variety in McGuire’s work. He lives by the belief that art is a both a bonding and an inspirational medium; as such, he uses art to create connections with people and put smiles on our faces. Lucky for us, he’s never at a loss for creative ideas, and as a self-proclaimed anti-procrastinator we need not worry he’ll fail to bring an idea to fruition. In addition to his delightful passion projects, McGuire also runs Bells Design.
Read on to learn more about the hilarious and talented McGuire, and check out some of the tools he’s created for creatives like you—all guaranteed to make you smile.
Name: Ryan McGuire
Name of Studio: Bells Design
Locations: Ithaca, NY & Grinnell, IA
Design school attended: Actually, I never had an opportunity to attend art school. I did apply to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, but my mutant powers (hypnotic robot dance) just weren’t impressive enough. I’m a self-taught designer, developer, photographer, fabricator, abstract artist, and creative director who’s curious and inspired by the challenge of pushing my limits.
How would you describe your work?
It’s loved. It’s hated. It’s effective. It’s creative. It’s fun. It starts conversations. It accomplishes goals and builds brands.
It doesn’t matter if I’m taking a picture of a sword-wielding warrior opening a pinata, designing a website for the SPCA, or sculpting a 10’ ostrich out of recycled books for a public library installation: All of my work is always exhaustedly researched and passionately crafted. Whenever possible, I try to include some creative wit or a splash of humor to help take my designs to a whole new level.
Where do you find inspiration?
I keep an open mind when it comes to inspiration. It comes fast and often. A coffee stain on my pants, a silly expression a stranger makes on the street, or some comical graffiti scribbled on the bathroom stall wall. It doesn’t matter where I am, what I’m doing or what it is. It all has the potential to inspire me.
I’m constantly processing and mentally filing everything I see, hear, smell, touch and taste. All of this inspiration leads to a million ideas—the challenge is prioritizing which ones to pursue. I probably pursue more than I should, but that’s how I roll!
There is nothing more satisfying than finishing a project. It’s my drug of choice. Creating lots of awe-inspiring work is how I develop and learn new things. I always say, you can never have too many creative skills or tools at your disposal.
Who are some of your favorite designers or artists?
There are so many designers I love, but one of my all-time favorites is the brilliant Alan Fletcher. His bold, bright and witty work can alway get my creative juices flowing. Alan was more than just technically gifted; he was extremely creative, and had a seemingly-natural ability to create truly inspiring work time and time again.
As for art, I’m a lifelong Andy Warhol fan. His work has resonated with me since childhood. I’m drawn to repetition in art, so Andy’s work is like visual crack. It’s big, simple and fun, I just can’t get enough of it.
Do you have a favorite among all the projects you’ve worked on?
I’ve worked on so many awesome projects over the years, but one that really stands out is Insect Interviews (pictured above), which I did with the brilliant Entomologist Dr. Susan Villarreal.
Dr. Villarreal was looking to create a free online resource to introduce children to the fascinating world of bugs. She wanted the website to be fun and engaging, and was open to my whimsical ideas.
So we came up with the concept of Insect Interviews: goofy audio interviews with adorably-drawn insects like Becky the Bee, Kevin the Katydid and Tony the Beetle., describing their habits and daily lives.
From the very beginning, the development of Insect Interviews was a collaborative process. Dr. Villarreal was passionate about creating something that was not only beautiful, but also effective at getting kids excited about insects. The project had so many different components: web design and development, insect character creation and illustration, and of course the recordings of comical insect interviews (I’m the voice of all the bugs). When it was all said and done, the finished project was something we were both really proud of.
Is there a project that stands out to you as having been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
All projects have challenges. That’s a great thing about them. Challenges mean you’re trying something new or innovative. You can’t get better without getting outside your comfort zone and creating work you never thought would be possible.
One project that stands out as being a real challenge was when I needed to fabricate a 7-foot-long fiberglass banana with eight insect legs, called The Banana-Pillar. This piece was commissioned by the City of Ithaca to be installed on a busy downtown street. When I pitched the idea, I had never made anything this large out of fiberglass and steel before. When the design was approved I was excited, but I couldn’t help thinking: “Oh sh*t, now I need to actually build this crazy banana creature.”
After about a month and a half of long nights and failed attempts, I was about to throw in the towel. Budget constraints didn’t allow for me to purchase large carving foam to form the main banana shape, and my attempt to form it out of wall installation panels glued together failed miserably.
It was June 1st. The piece was scheduled to be installed on July 1st, and all I had after my failed attempts was the steel skeleton, with eight legs … but no banana. I decided to forget the foam and simplify the molding process with paper. I formed the entire banana out of paper and tape. Once the banana shape was made I was able to start fiberglassing. If you’ve never worked with fiberglass, it’s a nasty medium with an unforgiving working window before the resin hardens, and I needed to apply three layers to make the banana strong enough for people to climb on it. After the fiberglass came a smoothing bondo layer, and all of these layers required so much sanding that I gave myself tennis elbow.
It was an exhausting project because I was working 10 to 15 hour days to have Banana-Pillar finished by July 1st, while still working on the rest of my daily grind design projects. But there’s a point where you just have to keep working without regard for the pain you’re in, or the amount of time and effort you’re putting into a single project. I wasn’t going to let Banana-Pillar beat me.
On July 1st, the huge, yellow, absurd sculpture was finished and I was able to install it on schedule and without incident. Banana-Pillar was well received and the talk of the town (good and bad). During its stint on the streets of downtown Ithaca, it probably had its picture taken a million times. It was a magnet for the drunken college students.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
What don’t I hope to accomplish in the future would an easier question to answer. 🙂 I’m an anti-procrastinator who can’t and won’t stop creating. I’ll of course continue designing and developing brands for my beloved clients, but I also have some pretty crazy whimsical pictures I need to create, a steel bug art car to fabricate, and a handful of experimental businesses and personal projects to launch.
What’s your best advice for designers today?
Try everything you have interest in at least once, and don’t be afraid to quit if you don’t like it. Learning how to quit well will free up time for the things you love, or the new things you want to try. You don’t quit because it’s hard, you quit when there is no benefit to your well-being. Wasting time on things you hate is the worst thing for any designer because it will make you distraught and you’ll get burned out.
If you’re not happy, you won’t be able to put passion into your work. And without passion, you can’t develop your skills or design awesome stuff.
Don’t take jobs you have no passion or interest in just for the money. Money will come in due time, but before you can be paid well for your work, you need to hone your skills and prove your worth. The only way to become a design superstar is by working with amazing clients, designing with passion, pushing your perceived limits, and working through challenges with a smile.
Below is a selection of McGuire’s unique photography. You can find photographs like these on his website Gratisography, where he offers free high-resolution pictures you can use on your personal and commercial projects, free of copyright restrictions.
Ready to develop an understanding of the visual arts and explore your artistic creativity? In this wide-ranging course, you’ll take a tour of the art world, exploring paintings, sculptures, experimental pieces, and more, critiquing their composition and decode their social or political purpose. In each exercise, you’ll analyze art themes and create your own art pieces to deepen your understanding of course topics.