March Member Spotlight: Ryan S. Tarbell

Ryan S. Tarbell is a graphic artist and digital illustrator working freelance out of his Charlotte, NC studio. Some of his work can be found online at the following sites:

Reach out to him on social media, he is always excited to make new friends in the design industry!


What attracted you to the design profession? Did you have particular mentors or experiences that opened the door to the profession for you?

I studied graphic design, photography and illustration at the Ringling College of Art & Design. It was an amazing experience to join a community of incredibly talented artists at the start of their careers. We fed off each others’  inspiration in those early days, and it created a wonderful network of friends and colleagues that continue to support and inspire each other to this day.

How and why did you get involved in the AIGA?

Having a network of like-minded individuals with similar goals and desires is massively important to any artist or designer. When I moved to Charlotte, I wanted to get involved in the design community here, and AIGA has a great reputation. I feel privileged to be a part of such a great group. The Charlotte chapter is brimming with serious talent, and I’m looking forward to making stronger connections here.

Where do you see yourself as a designer in five years. In ten years? In other words, what issues do you envision will be important to you as a designer at those benchmarks in your career?

What’s most important to me is that I stay committed to making art. Success as an artist or a designer is difficult to measure. It is making a living? Is it being known? Is it being innovative? I don’t have an answer. What I do know is that as long as I continue being creative and expressing myself visually I won’t have failed.

I also think that continued education is essential for any artist. Just like any other skill, while you may never lose it altogether, you have to continually practice and be willing to learn if you want to learn new things. I’ve taken two courses in the last year, and watched countless tutorials, and I have more on deck. I cannot understate how much I have benefited from these studies. Continuing education in the arts is critical to any artist or designers success.

As professionals, there has never been a better time to either break into the industry or sustain your continued success. Recently, the online Professional Artist Client Toolkit—aka PACT—launched thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. PACT is an online gathering place and resource for illustrators to get together and discuss business issues, clients, and relationships, something that doesn’t in my experience get adequately covered in art school. I was fortunate to be an early backer of PACT and I think it shows the incredible things artists and designers can accomplish when they get organized behind a common goal.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

There is so much great advice out there for a designer that I don’t think I can boil it down to a single platitude. However, I have had to opportunity to read some valuable and well-written books lately.

James Gurney recently published two absolutely essential reads for any artist. The are Color & Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter and Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist. These books, while obviously aimed at illustrators, lend themselves perfectly to anyone who is interested in design. I would even go as far as to say that even someone who doesn’t consider themselves an artist would get something out of them, if only for the brilliant illustrations of Mr. Gurney himself. I think what is particularly relevant is the fact that even though Mr. Gurney is a traditional medium painter and well established in his field, he has recognized the impact of digital tools on the creative industry. Rather than shrug off a program like Adobe Photoshop, Mr. Gurney has embraced it and in his books gives it the same treatment as he does oils and acrylics or any other traditional medium. Excellent reads, both of them.

These books were recommended to me by Creative Professional Mike Linnemann after I reached out to him on Twitter. Social media presents an unprecedented opportunity to connect with other creatives and learn from their experiences. I would encourage any artist or designer to expand their online footprint as much as possible, and expand their network of industry peers. I have my work on several sites and plan to publish more.

The last book I would recommend is David Bayles & Ted Orland‘s Art & Fear, Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Art Making. This was another recommendation by an artist I met online, the legendary Noah Bradley. I wish I had read this book years ago; it’s a quick read and really raises some essential thoughts about the struggles and successes of your typical artist and designer. Noah himself keeps a blog that is always worth reading and he is committed to sharing his wisdom with up-and-coming artists.

What are you currently working on?

At the moment I have a few plates up in the air. I am working on the imaging and branding of a new restaurant opening up soon outside of San Francisco. A friend is in need of some help putting some of his spoken word live videos online, so I am helping him out with that. My own personal work right now is mostly digital illustration, and I am trying to get the quality of that up to a more professional level. I have a few pieces I am trying to generate gallery interest in and I am planning on doing some traveling this summer to some art fairs and festivals around the south to show more of my work. You can check out my personal illustration website here. And I’ve got about a dozen other projects I would like to get some traction on if I could find the time! No rest for the wicked!

Each month, AIGA Charlotte strives to highlight one of its members. If you have any ideas for our next spotlight, please contact Mark Iafrate at

By aigacharlotte
Published March 24, 2014