In Morgantown, Bryn Perrott has stumbled onto an artistic career with a life of its own.
Written by Shay Maunz
Bryn Perrott has that kind of effortless cool everyone else—or at least those of us who preoccupy ourselves with such vain concerns—can only aspire to. It doesn’t work for us because we’re trying too hard, we’re self-conscious, we make it look like work. Bryn doesn’t do that. She just has great taste and makes cool stuff. If she’s working very hard at any of it, you can’t tell. The same could be said of her career. She’s arguably one of the most successful young artists in the state right now, but it feels like she fell into it practically without trying. It’s not that she doesn’t work hard—she does—it’s just that most of her efforts go directly into making art. The sales and promotion part, where artists so often struggle, has come almost on its own.
Perrott grew up in Morgantown and studied printmaking at West Virginia University. Back then the major seemed like an obvious choice—she’d done some printmaking in high school and liked it, and she’d long considered herself an artist above anything else—but now she realizes how little she considered what the degree would eventually do for her. “I didn’t think very far ahead,” she says. “I think I was like, college is going to be four years to not have to think anything out.”
When she graduated she wasn’t quite sure what to do with herself and started working retail jobs around town. “At that point I was like, I’m just going to have to work crappy jobs and make art when I want to,” she says. “I didn’t think I’d ever make any money from art.”
Right around that time she began experimenting with the medium she works in now. Basically, Bryn starts with a slab of flat wood painted black on one side, then carves into it to form images. The process is similar to what she would do if she were making a wood block for printmaking, except then she’d carve the block first, then slather it with ink and make prints. But after Bryn graduated from WVU she didn’t have access to the university’s art studios with their elaborate, expensive printmaking equipment—so she decided to just make carved blocks for their own sake.
She had taken a common medium and given it a novel twist. “I did them partially because they’re interesting and not that many people do them, and partially because I couldn’t print them,” she says. She still finds it difficult to find a descriptive term for her work. “I call them relief carvings, or you could call them woodcuts because that’s kind of what it is,” she says. “It’s really hard to explain to anybody without a physical piece with you.”
One other thing about Bryn: She collects tattoos the way some people collect oil paintings. She’s covered in them, and they’re beautiful and colorful and eye-catching. One of those post-graduate retail jobs was at Wild Zero Studios, a tattoo shop in Morgantown. Her art is hugely influenced by tattoo imagery and culture—think skulls and mummies and naked ladies. Working those images into her art was a natural thing for Bryn to do. She spends a lot of time hanging out with people in the tattoo world, thinking and talking about skin art, plus her black and white relief method lends itself really well to tattoo-like images. And it turns out the world of serious tattoo artists is filled with people who really love and appreciate good art. “Tattooers spend money on art, at least the good ones,” Bryn says. “They expect money for their tattoos, so they expect to spend money on other people’s art too.”
Bryn started taking photos of her work and posting them to Instagram—she’s known on there as “deerjerk”—and pretty soon attracted a following that is loyal, laudatory, and huge. She has more than 44,000 followers and counting. “Instagram is the reason I have a job,” Bryn says.
Ask her how that happened, though, and she just shrugs. “I think I was on it pretty early when it was still small.” Bryn doesn’t say it herself, but it’s also undoubtedly true that her work is just so unique—and so good—that it attracts a lot of attention.
Either way, Instagram has played a huge role in the growth of her career. “I’ve found incredible people to be connected with,” she says. “The visual community really likes Instagram—we all rejoice at the limited amount of writing you have to do. You don’t have to be a poet—you just post an image and put a few words at the bottom of it.”
Bryn’s followers are quick to snap up just about anything she posts for sale. She can hardly keep work in stock for her website because it sells out so quickly. She also accepts commissions and has so many orders she’s constantly backlogged by at least several months. And while many artists bridle at the thought of following customers’ orders, Bryn embraces the challenge of doing commissions. “It’s great to do whatever you want, but it’s also interesting to try to make a really weird image work,” she says. “I had a commission once where this guy said, ‘I want you to do a portrait of my miniature doberman, and his name is Dracula. It would be great if he were wearing a Dracula cape.’ I had a really fun time making that work as an image.”
Overall, Bryn’s philosophy for art is a lot like her philosophy for social media—and also for life. “If you sell yourself too hard I think people are turned off by that,” she says. “If you just do what you want to do it works better. It’s sort of about being vulnerable—you can’t try to be too cool for everything because cool kind of sucks. If you just talk about cats all the time because that’s what you want to do, people will connect with that.”
Tips from Bryn Perrott
Do whatever it takes. Even commissions.
“I might not be as good if I didn’t have to push myself so much. Doing the amount of commissions that I had to do allowed me to practice—and I was asked to do things that I wouldn’t do otherwise. I think when I was younger I would have been like, ‘I’m not going to be somebody’s puppet,’ but when you’re an adult you get over that, and that’s important. Money shouldn’t always be the driving factor but it’s certainly important to make it.”
Consider the customer.
“I have to remember to make a lot of similar things sometimes. You think that everyone wants to be an individual, but really everybody wants the same thing. They want to be part of the group, or to have the one thing that is most representative of what you do as a whole. So I try to give them that.”
“You can’t bank on anything. I’ve been making it work, but it’s only been a few years. Maybe in another year I won’t be able to. But if that doesn’t work out I’ll think of another way to be creative and make money.”
Don’t complain too much.
“There are days that I complain about having to work all the time and you’re allowed to complain. But it’s rare to be able to make money in art doing something that is even within the realm of what you want to do. So few people get to do that.”