FOLK IT: A Brand by Mary Beth Brackmann

Mary Beth Brackmann is a supporter of the local music scene, a graphic designer, print maker, photographer, and well basically an artist to the core. Ms. Brackmann has been working at her craft since she was little. She has worked on some pretty special things, and on that list is; creating the back drop and logo for The Whispering Beard Folk Festival since 2008, various posters and artwork for The Tillers, artwork and merchandise for Buffalo Wabs & The Price Hill Hustle, Ben Knight and The Welldiggers, and the list goes on and on. 

She is graduating from the Art Academy of Cincinnati and her senior thesis show is Friday at the AAC. Performing at the AAC this Friday will be The Tillers and Buffalo Wabs & The Price Hill Hustle. The exhibition starts at 5p and music starts at 6:30p.

I sat down with “Beth” to gain some insight in this artist’s life.

Moose: How did you get your start in the art world?
Beth: As long as I can remember, art has had a huge impact on my life. I decided as a young girl that I was going to be an art teacher when I grew up. Although art class only took place once a week, it was always my favorite. When I started at Oak Hills High School, I wanted to carry forward my dream of teaching. After taking every art class possible at Oak Hills, in 2001 I decided to continue my learning at the University of Cincinnati studying Art Education. I was there for about a year and half until I had the realization that college was not for me. Having been more focused on partying and socializing, my college career and my love for creating art came to an abrupt end. I worked a few odd jobs, none of which inspired my passion. It wasn’t until 2008 when I was approached by some great friends with their own artistic vision. They wanted to start their own music festival called Whispering Beard Folk Festival. It was essentially a backyard bash with exceptional music and close friends. I wanted to do my part and offered to help in any way that I could. Someway, somehow, I had the chance to create art again. I volunteered to paint the stage backdrop for the festival and it felt so amazing to have a paintbrush in my hand again. I quickly realized how much I missed making art and decided that I would never stop creating again. I continued working for a few more years and decided to return to school in 2011. This time I decided to study graphic design at UC Blue Ash College. Honestly, I had no idea what I was getting into. I knew it was a creative field and all of my art credits from my prior schooling experience were still active--so I went for it. I didn’t know anything about computers, logos, packaging, or design but I thought what the heck, give it a try. If it doesn’t work out I can fall back on my contingency plan of becoming a Vet Technician. The first year was arduous but I made it through with satisfactory grades. During my second year I became more comfortable with classes and with the design process. I was on the Dean’s List every semester, did an internship at my school, and earned the honor of Communication Design Student of the Year. I felt like I was on the right path and had become even more passionate about design. I decided to continue my education by earning my Bachelor’s Degree so I transferred to the Art Academy of Cincinnati. While at the AAC, I have studied graphic design and print media. I love being able to design gig posters, t-shirts and whatever else and actually screen-print them myself. I am now only a few weeks away from graduating and couldn’t be happier!

Moose: What is your earliest artistic memory?
Beth: My earliest artistic memories would have to be asking my dad, “What should I draw?” He would hand me a National Geographic book of animals and I would try to replicate every animal in it. In addition, I always drew fruit baskets. It was my childhood attempt to pay homage to the great still life works from the past. 

Moose: Who has been a big supporter or influence?
Beth: My biggest supporter would have to be my dad. He has always worked in the field of construction, creating things with his hands. I remember wanting to help him with all of his projects and quickly realized this was his form of art. He has always told me to follow my dreams and to work hard to achieve them. One of my biggest influences is my high school teacher Mrs. Sheila Kappa. She was always so optimistic and taught me to believe in my art. A couple of years after I graduated, she passed away from cancer. She still lives through my art and probably many of her other students work as well. Another influence of mine is one of my professors from UCBA, Lisa Timman. We had similar backgrounds, especially being both graphic designers with roots in fine arts. Lisa helped me to believe in my ability as a designer and has taught me so much about design. I will never take my education and the support I have received from everyone for granted. 

Moose: Where does the inspiration to create your art come from?
Beth: I would say the biggest inspiration for my work comes from folk music. The Cincinnati folk scene has become a second family to me. I have met more creative people in this community than I ever imagined. We are all so supportive of each other and I would not trade it for the world. 

Moose: How did you get involved in the art scene here in Cincinnati?
Beth: I would say music has helped me immensely to become involved in the creative art scene in Cincinnati. I have wanted to work in the music field ever since I had the chance to work with Whispering Beard on their first backdrop. Since then, I have had the opportunity to design and print quite a few gig posters, designed a few albums for local talent and branded Whispering Beard Folk Festival and The Good People Festival. I really couldn’t ask for much more. I love my folk community!   

Moose: How do you balance personal life with professional life?
Beth: Balancing school, personal, and professional life can be difficult, but at the same time a lot of fun. I have spent many days and nights working 15+ hours straight. I tend to get so involved with projects that I don’t even notice how long I have been working. I attempt to manage my time so I can still do the things I love, like going to concerts around town. I would love to attend every show in town, but it’s a juggling act sometimes, so I have to pick and choose carefully. 

Moose: Where did the idea for your brand come from "Folk It?"
Beth: “Folk it.” actually started as a letterpress print that I did my junior year at AAC. I had to start with a word and have it represent its meaning only using letters and symbols. Big surprise, I chose the word folk. I noticed that I could use the “o” as the head of the banjo. I placed the letter “l” above that with two colons on either side representing the neck and tuners. The mark was so simple and clean and represented folk music nicely. For another class, I was required to make a brand of clothing. I decided to use the letterpress piece as an inspiration for my brand. I had the idea to make t-shirts with simple yet humorous sayings inspired by folk music. The first design was “Folk it.” From there, I came up with five other clever shirt designs. “Go commandolin.” “Bass man.” “Spoon me.” “I harp music.” and “High fiddlety.” I had such a good response from friends and family that I wanted to make this my Senior Thesis project. I designed and printed all kinds of merchandise for my brand collective. I made everything from shirts, hoodies, messenger bags, hand bound books, koozies and prints.

Moose: What is next for Mary Beth Brackmann?
Beth: After my thesis show on May 1, I hope to continue to spread my brand to music fans everywhere. I started an Etsy shop recently and, to my surprise, have sent shirts all across the U.S. I also plan to vend at a few music festivals and art shows whenever I am able. Further down the road, my dream is to own an R.V. and to see the world while working from my traveling “home.” 

Moose: Why art? Of all things to do or pursue, why this?
Beth: Why art? Well, since I was young I felt like my artistic ability kind of came naturally. I was always making something with my hands, whether it be a mud pie with my name embedded in sticks, to painting my fruit baskets. It just felt right. In my mind, I have always been a bit of an odd ball. I never wanted to do or be the "norm." I feel like most artistic folks can relate to that in some way or another. It is meditative, therapeutic and rewarding. But all and all, honestly it is what makes me happiest in life. It is my dream and I am living it. 

Mary Beth Brackmann, MB DESIGN, FOLK IT, is an artist in this town to be on the lookout for. She is doing big things and has big aspirations. Her thesis show will be on Friday May 1st.  She will have her Folk It brand t-shirts, hoodies, messenger bags, a journal bound with guitar strings, and other pieces for sale and to view as well.  These wares will be available to view beginning Monday April 27th and will be up till her closing reception Friday May 1st. Just a note: if you cannot make the closing reception May 1st you can still view the various pieces, but these will not be available for purchase until May 1st.

She is simply living out a dream, and doing what she is passionate about. Do what you love and love what you do is a theme she is most certainly living.



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