This month I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the most talented artists I know, Barrett Biggers. He was one of the first five artists to join Pixel Empire and has been one of our best selling designers month after month ever since.
If you're a fan of pop culture, video games, and anime and you have an internet connection, you've probably seen his amazing pieces somewhere online.
When Barrett isn't knocking out new designs faster than they can be printed, he's exhibiting at conventions and successfully starting his own print on demand company. As a graphic designer and business owner myself, I honestly don't know how he manages to do it all.
And now, with no further ado...Barrett Biggers!
I've seen your incredible art circulating the internet long before Pixel Empire was founded. At what point did you decide to pursue designing full time?
Well first of all thank you! Yeah, I haven’t been doing art for as long as many other artists - I only started in 2012 making and trying to sell my art online and shows. At that time I was working as a graphic designer for a network marketing company which was kinda boring work most of the time but it did help me create a foundation.
My love of art started well before that since I was a kid I had been drawing painting but nothing very serious or good - just a fun hobby. I have a degree in Biology so I focused on life science. My first professional job was with wildlife environmental permitting here in Florida. After the housing crash in 2008, I decided to take a risk and make up a bunch of fake advertisement designs for fun and made a “portfolio”. I wanted to try to become a graphic designer. I was super fortunate to land my first junior job in advertising which taught me all the “trial by fire” laws and rules of good design, layout, color theory, etc. It was a tough 3 years but I got more confidence and ended up as a senior designer at a larger company and then freelance design with a small talented group making brands, websites, and videos.
During that time I was quietly making more art and bought a large format printer so I could offer many prints and sizes on my Etsy store. It paid off over time and since 2013 I have been able to be fully independent - living only off my own art. But much of that has also been thanks to websites like Pixel Empire that actively support and partner with indie artists. Also, I am fortunate to have a very supportive wife who helps me a lot especially at shows.
Legend of Zelda Vintage Potion Advertisements by Barrett Biggers
Breathe of Destiny Poster by Barrett Biggers
After browsing your storefront I see that there's no shortage of video game inspired designs. Growing up were you a Nintendo or Playstation household?
Yep. One of my customers once said “Just HOW much Zelda did you play as a kid?!” But to be honest I love the stories, the character designs, the landscapes and concepts almost more than actually playing the games. I am definitely more a Nintendo kid; I only got PlayStation 2 years after it was already out LOL. That’s when I caught up on all the PS1 classics and PS2 games. But overall Nintendo. Super Nintendo games were my jams growing up. I still remember getting my first one with Mario Bros and Duck Hunt in 1986.
Rupees of Hyrule Poster by Barrett Biggers
But I’ll admit I’m a Legend of Zelda super fan! Overall my favorite games were Ocarina of Time, Breath of the Wild, and Twilight Princess. I think it’s because I always saw the Zelda series as the great fantasy books of video games. I also loved the Final Fantasy series for similar reasons. Star Fox and Metroid are also top of my influences because I love Sci-Fi and alien surreal worlds. I admit I am more a fan of the older games because of nostalgia.
Starfox Inspired Alternative Video Game Poster by Barrett Biggers
I love how you incorporate 'movie poster' elements for video games. Do you have a favorite design that you've done this for?
Thanks! Well that’s part of me being an 80s kid and a huge fan of 70s/80s/early 90s era of poster graphic design. Drew Struzan was my hero! My Star Fox “Do a Barrel Roll” poster is one of my best in regards to being true to the 80s airbrushed painting realistic sci-fi aesthetic. My Majora’s Mask one is probably my most well known and most epic dark design. I even fooled some Zelda forums blogs back in 2015 - they all thought my poster was an official announcement from Nintendo making a movie. HAHA that made me laugh but it also was nice that people thought of my work with such a regard.
Majora's Mask Alternative 'Movie' Poster by Barrett Biggers
Many of your bestselling designs, like your Super Saiyan and Nintendo Inkblot posters, are part of a series. Did you design these with the intention of making more in the same style, or did it just happen after you struck gold with the first design?
My Dragon Ball designs were a happy accident - I love Dragon Ball for many years but it was never my end-all-be-all reason for being an artist. Nevertheless, it turned out to be my most popular arts by far with part of the reason that series was in popular demand. I just thought it was a cool looking composition painting. The idea to try to visualize what Frieza saw when Goku first went Super (sorry if you haven’t seen the show or manga) So after like 8 more character designs I realized it was distracting me from other things that I really wanted to work on and I didn’t ONLY want to be known as that Dragon Ball fan artist so I moved on to new things.
Dragon Ball Z Super Saiyan Series by Barrett Biggers
The inkblots were a funny idea I had one day after a long game of Smash Bros. haha. My love of human behavioral psychology led to the idea each character has a unique diagnosis and people can also identify with that. But doing a series in art tends to do better overall and might get you more potential re-blogs and interest online. That’s the fine line of being a pop-culture artist only. It is an easy way to get attention but after a while, it becomes your identity for better or worse.
Nintendo Inkblot Series by Barrett Biggers
One reason I have so many styles was because I was trying to be as fun and original as possible. At this point, however, I am trying to be more focused on original art ideas. It’s funny how you never see yourself or your style so much but others tell me all my work feels like it’s a “series” so that is very hopeful for the future.
In addition to your many pop culture inspired designs, you also have a huge collection of original surrealist paintings. What is your inspiration for these original pieces?
I love my pop culture tributes. I do feel most of them are super unique. But my true desire is to be more of an original artist with dark nature and surrealism as the general feel. I am slowing getting better at a hybridization of trying to bring in the pop culture into that look and feel to make it even more original. It’s difficult to do because you have 2 ends of the fan spectrum in regards to pop culture art.
Some fans that get really annoyed if the character/places/objects are visually altered in any way and then there are fans that LOVE the twist and original fresh take on them. I hope to appeal more to the latter moving forward (like my Star Fox Heroes of Lylat piece or my Banjo Kazooie one).
Starfox Heroes of Lylat Surrealism Painting by Barrett Biggers
Banjo Kazooie Surrealism Painting by Barrett Biggers
As for my own surrealist work it is strongly based on nature and animals because I am a real nature lover and love to play with both dark and light in the same composition. Many of my pieces focus on a large shape form that has a very complex scene inside of it that tells a story. The story however is interpreted uniquely by each person - which is what is at the heart of true surrealism. I feel this is why people become emotionally invested in art and the artist. I love the complexity and texture. I continue to enjoy blending collage photography and painting with texturing in a mixed media approach, doing vintage advertisements, or just abstract flowing dreamy stuff.
Dreams of Gravity Surrealism Painting by Barrett Biggers
Stardust Surrealism Painting by Barrett Biggers
Forest of Illusion Surrealism Painting by Barrett Biggers
I know that you sell your art at a lot of conventions. I imagine as someone who primarily sells online it is nice to actually interact with your customers.
Yes, honestly my favorite part of any show is to meet my buyers and get to talk to them, listen to their feedback, and just say “thank you” to them. I also enjoy meeting and being inspired (and sometimes overwhelmed lol) by all the other incredible artists. I will not lie, for a strong introvert like me, shows can be a major test of stress tolerance and even a pain in the butt because I set up a large booth and bring tons of prints, canvases, setup, etc. It is very exhausting to do it for 3-4 days straight but in the end, it is always a good experience.
However, with the current state of the pandemic, it is now too risky to be holding huge conventions so my online stores have been saving my butt this year! I am looking forward to a renewed better 2021 hopefully at shows. Remember to shop online for other indie artists too who are having it rough from not being able to do shows! I have thought about Patreon as a possibility but I’m not a commission artist so not sure it would work for me.
Barrett Biggers Exhibiting at DragonCon in Atlanta Georgia, 2019
What are your favorite conventions to attend and why?
I like DragonCon the most in Atlanta. I just love the quality of art I see and the amount of people who truly are there to support smaller indie artists like me. It’s a crazy weekend but well worth it (but sadly not this year for me). I also love MegaCon in Orlando it’s my longest running show and made many local fans there who I get to see each year which is awesome.
Do you have any new designs you'd like to talk about?
I am planning on doing more animals in my nature conservation series - hummingbirds, polar bears, panthers, etc. Recently been working on a new 3 series of epic motivational landscape posters based on Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time. I would like to get back into the vintage black and white funny gaming advertisement series I took a long break so I think it’s time to start up again. I have my Tarot Cards series I am very slowly working on - I hit a speed bump on inspiration in the past year so it was on my plate but never a super priority, just for fun.
Limited Edition Legend of Zelda Motivational Series by Barrett Biggers
Are there any artists that you'd like to shout out that inspire you?
Absolutely! In general, the artists I’m the most inspired by are Yoshitaka Amano, Ayami Kojima, Hayao Miyazaki, H.R. Geiger, Zdzisław Beksiński, Augustine Arrivabene, Michael Whelan.
Some of my closer art friends and favorites are Medusa Dollmaker, J.P. Perez, Creative Outpouring, TeeKetch, Cory Freeman, Dan Fajardo, Olipop, FamousAfterDeath, Art of Hump, Robo Ohno, Robo7, CoD Designs, Dylan West, Patrick Towers, Genki Goth, Vincent Trinidad, and many others.
Before my last question, I just want to say thanks for including me in your list of inspiring artists. I'm super flattered. If you could go back to before you sold your first design online, what would you do differently?
I probably would focus more on the basics and practice more. Sticking to and finding my style faster. Also viewing my own original art as a serious career choice instead of thinking “nobody makes a living on their own art”. Still, I honestly think everything that happened the way it did only helped me get stronger and try harder. I am fortunate to not have been strongly influenced by art school and gallery elitism that some artists complain about. Having a blank slate and starting later in life might have helped me try harder and be passionate about building myself as a brand and business.
I’m so happy that I found what I love to do I just hope I can keep it going without burning out. The way the future is now even more uncertain with selling art I still think staying the course online is the best idea. I will do my best to not give up and refocus on what I LOVE to make and not being so pressured by trends as much as I used to be. Thank you so much for the chance to have this interview!
Cloud & Tifa Portrait Set by Barrett Biggers
Fictional Breweries from a Galaxy Far Far Away by Barrett Biggers
Well there you have it. If you'd like to view more of Barrett Bigger's incredible art, you can view his storefront here.
and since you made it this far...