A city could do worse than be pigeonholed as a hub for craft breweries, local food, flannel-bedecked residents, and environmentally friendly mindsets, right? Beyond Portland’s ability to inspire pop culture parody, designer Will Bryant insists that the best thing about the city is truly its people. Even outside the close-knit design community he counts himself lucky to be a part of, Bryant is amazed at how passionate he’s found the greater Portland community to be as well.
Bryant vividly remembers visiting Portland for the first time with his wife in 2008—riding bikes around the city on a beautifully gray, not-too-chilly day. “We were both enthralled by the sights and sounds as we pedaled around the charming neighborhoods,” he says, adding that Portland’s geographical makeup is a huge draw. “Just outside the city, you can go skiing, go to the ocean, and between all that you have waterfalls—Field & Stream magazine covers scattered throughout, basically.”
After finishing his BFA in graphic design at Mississippi State and a post-grad stint working in Austin, Bryant landed in Portland just over three years ago, pursuing a graduate degree from Portland State University’s contemporary studio art program. Though he wouldn’t have made the move without his Mississippi State mentor’s appointment at P.S.U., Bryant was also struck by how many Portland-based designers and creatives he’d connected with via the internet. “I thought to myself, ‘How do all these people live in one place?’ And that maybe I should be there, because they were doing it, and it seemed wonderful,” he remembers.
Once he and his wife bit the bullet, Bryant found himself steeped in a thriving creative environment, one in which revered, established companies (Nike, Wieden + Kennedy, Columbia, Adidas) and independent studios were able to coexist. And thanks to frequent events and the familial vibe of both Portland’s design and contemporary arts scenes—which he describes as “very inclusive, inspiring, and supportive”—Bryant has been able to link up with many of his peers in-person, prompting collaborations and forging deeper connections.
Though he’s meeting illustrators that may have a similar style—essentially possible competitors—Bryant loves that he hasn’t encountered much of a cutthroat attitude in Portland. “There’s a great sense of hustle, but everyone’s also happy for you if you land a gig. There’s plenty of work to go around,” Bryant says.
What’s more is that the relationships he’s formed have often translated beyond a professional capacity into true friendships. “I love the fact that I can play a five-on-five game of basketball with people from the creative industry,” he says excitedly, recalling his upbringing in a small-town where he didn’t find many people who shared his love for both sports and art. Portland, with its vast community of designers each wielding a variety of hobbies, has thus proved to be a breath of fresh air for Bryant, who has found camaraderie in this city, both artistically and personally.
Thus, Bryant’s visual love letter to Portland for the GOOD Cities Project is a testament to the opportunity and acceptance he has felt in this city. His design is characteristically exuberant, playful, and colorful, a mesh of lively representations of things that he holds dear, and that Portland has allowed him to explore—basketball, nature, creativity, the culinary scene, and his favorite people, to name a few. To this, Bryant has added an over-arching message to the city he, his wife, and his four-month old daughter, are happy to call home: “Dear Portland, Thank you for supporting my interests.”
Will’s visual love letter to Portland was on exhibition as part of the GOOD Cities Project throughout November.
The GOOD Cities Project is a five-month collaboration with Ford, exploring how we make our cities and how our cities make us. As part of the project, GOOD and Ford have commissioned cultural creatives across the country to help illuminate and celebrate the rich and vastly diverse points of view that make up each city's individual character. Each week, we will be exploring attributes that we believe are fundamental to living meaningful urban lives.