When Brad Gibson (02) takes the time to reflect on the numerous directions his career has gone since he graduated from Morehead State University, a few expressions come to mind.
“It’s been random, but it’s been awesome. It’s been fun to look back and say ‘holy moly!’” he said. “If somebody told me when I was little this is what you were going to do when you grow up, I would say ‘that’s amazing.’”
“Amazing” seems like an appropriate description for someone’s career where sharing the stage with country legend Dolly Parton and illustrating a national best-seller are among the notable accomplishments. He’s performed on cruise ships and has worked for marketing companies that have collaborated with professional sports teams like the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.
Much of Gibson’s career has been something special because it’s never been just one thing in particular. But Gibson knew his initial range of talents from an early age.
Gibson grew up in the small town of Raven in Knott County, Kentucky. He can remember that each time he picked up a crayon as a kid, it just clicked. His early attempts at art as a child even caused a bit of controversy…at least by small-town Kentucky standards.
“The people at this county-wide art contest told my teacher I traced the drawing,” Gibson said, describing his attempt at a Cabbage Patch Kid. “And she told them, ‘I watched him draw it in class.’”
Gibson found additional interests outside of art as he went through school. A naturally talented singer, he picked up the trombone in the sixth grade and learned other instruments along the way. When deciding on a college, he liked MSU due to the familiarity he had with the campus after going to visit his sister Jolene, who went there for two years before joining the military.
He came to MSU on a scholarship and when deciding on a major, he couldn’t just pick one. He started as a double major in music. While he took voice and guitar classes and was active musically through student organizations like the Baptist Student Union, art won out in the classroom. He said his initial plans were to attend MSU for a couple of years before transferring to art school. He decided to stay and took his knack for illustration and complemented it with knowledge in graphic design, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Art with concentrations in illustration and graphic design in 2002.
As Gibson pursued his passion and excelled in his art classes, he credits several professors with his artistic development. It was professors Lisa and Gary Mesa-Gaido who pushed him to think outside of his creative boundaries. Gibson said the late professor Deeno Golding helped him in gaining knowledge of Adobe programs and finding his artistic voice. He remembers a semester-long graphic design project in Golding’s class to create a children’s book about the planets in the solar system. Gibson plowed through and completed it in a week-and-a-half while incorporating “spacey ‘Mega-Man’-looking kids” throughout as a nod to one of his many pop culture obsessions.
“Deeno pulled me aside and said, ‘I think you’re done. There’s nothing else to do. You kind of did everything,’” Gibson recalls. “He was a big supporter of my style and what I did.”
After Gibson graduated from MSU and moved to Atlanta in 2003, he decided to focus much of his energy on performing, saying the art degree was something he could capitalize on when he “was no longer a spring chicken.” He interned at the Infinite Movement Dance Studio, which previously worked with platinum-selling artists like Usher and TLC, and later worked for the Culture Shock Dance Troupe. He also auditioned for a season of “American Idol” and worked as a theme park and cruise ship performer, rotating between stints with Six Flags Over Georgia and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines from 2004 to 2012 and landed a gig at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. During that season with the theme park, the highlight was being selected to open for Dolly Parton during her benefit concert at Smokies Stadium, where he joined Dolly Parton’s band to perform in front of 15,000 people. All the while, the art never stopped. He continued to do work on the side as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer.
“One thing led to another and it was a set of really crazy circumstances,” Gibson said of his wide-ranging performance opportunities. “I just followed the path that was put in front of me.”
Later, Gibson would redirect his steps toward a career in marketing, first as an account executive for Urban Enterprises and then as the event coordinator for Atlanta’s Ponce City Market. He began work at Active Production and Design, where he currently serves as director of marketing and business development. In addition to his marketing duties, Gibson has slowly been growing his brand through various artistic avenues. His design company, Neon Horror, showcases his obsession with everything from ’80s pop culture and comic books to Japanese anime, graffiti and “The Simpsons” on various t-shirts and other items.
“I put everything that was in my head in a blender and it came out to who I was,” he said.
As an active member of Atlanta’s LGBTQ community, Gibson also helps design merchandise for local and national drag queens and puts his visual spin on the letters and responses to Project Q magazine’s advice column. His illustrations recently ended up in a more broadly-seen publication when Ross Mathews, famous for his appearances as Ross The Intern on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and as a judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” asked Gibson to contribute chapter illustrations to his book “Name Drop” published by Simon & Schuster.
As Gibson continues to help brands achieve marketing success while sharing his designs and ideas, he said a lot of what he has achieved came from taking advantage of his time and opportunities at MSU.
“(Other students) just wanted to learn what to learn for the assignment ahead of them and I wanted to learn all of it,” he said. “I just wanted to do stuff I loved, and I found out I could do a lot of stuff.”
For more information on Brad Gibson’s work, visit www.bradfordley.com.