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8 amazing West Michigan illustrators that you've probably never heard of

Their work ranging from children’s books to corporate ad campaigns, West Michigan is home to a diverse community of professional illustrators. Drawing upon the region’s rich cultural history and natural landscape, as well as artifacts and memories of their travels beyond, each of these area illustrators is making a distinctive contribution to West Michigan’s colorful legacy of design.
Their work ranging from children’s books to corporate ad campaigns, West Michigan is home to a diverse community of professional illustrators. Drawing upon the region’s rich cultural history and natural landscape, as well as artifacts and memories of their travels beyond, each of these area illustrators is making a distinctive contribution to West Michigan’s colorful legacy of design.



Ashley Bryant

Edgy and imaginative, Ashley Bryant’s work traverses the space between the hyper realistic and the surreal. Recently graduated from Kendall College of Art & Design, Bryant works as a full-time graphic designer at local greeting card company Design Design while also pursuing freelance opportunities in design and illustration. A lover of books and travel, Bryant is drawn to narrative and fascinated by nature and nostalgia. “A lot of my work has been a response to the places I’ve visited and the people I’ve met,” she says. “Experiencing different cultures and landscapes has been essential for my creative process.”

Fan Wu

Originally hailing from Beijing, China, Fan Wu graduated from Kendall College of Art & Design in 2016, and is influenced by the natural landscape of West Michigan. “The natural environment gives me rich inspiration,” says Wu, whose whimsical illustrations can be found in more than 10 books and magazines in China and the U.S. “A lot of my work has animals and plants, so a short walk at a park or zoo is always inspiring for me,” he says.


Libby VanderPloeg

Growing up in Grand Haven, Libby VanderPloeg’s work is much like the Lake Michigan shoreline: crisp, colorful, and lively. VanderPloeg, who received a BFA in Sculpture from the University of Illinois at Chicago, worked in art and design for Saveur magazine and Conde Nast in New York City before recently relocating to Grand Rapids to work as a full-time freelance illustrator. “One of my big goals as an illustrator is to inspire young women to be smart, dream big, and pursue their goals,” says VanderPloeg, whose animated work for International Women’s Day went viral on social media. “So I create a lot of work that puts women at the front, leading with confidence.”


Josh Kulcher

D
ramatic, punchy, and raw, Josh Kulcher’s work draws upon the illustrator’s love of narrative, iconography, and history. The Grand Rapids designer’s client roster reads like a “Who’s Who” of West Michigan industry, including Amway, Bissel, Founders Brewing, Haworth, New Holland Brewing, Steelcase, and Van Andel Institute. “Although the West Michigan creative landscape hasn’t had as much time to develop as larger, more quintessential urban hubs like New York, Chicago, or LA,” says Kulcher, “it has always felt, to me, like a community that generally cares about having art and design play a big role in its culture.”


Damian Goidich

Walking the line between realism and abstraction, Damian Goidich’s illustrations are ethereal and mysterious, as the artist aims to “bring the interior to the exterior.” Goidich earned a BFA in Illustration and an MFA in Drawing from Kendall College of Art & Design and currently works as an independent illustrator focused on editorial work. “The grainy quality of early cinema and the overexposed blurred effects of some late 19th century photographs are a direct influence on my illustration style,” says Goidich, who also teaches illustration at Kendall. “Someone once described my art as having a ghostly quality, and I think that’s a good summation of my style.”


Todd Freeman

Deeply influenced by the natural world, Todd Freeman creates illustrations that tell stories from science and history, pulling objects, animals, and other forms together in carefully controlled scenes. Freeman earned a BFA from Grand Valley State University in 2005 with an emphasis in printmaking, and the Grand Rapids-based artist has been a visiting artist at Kendall College of Art & Design, GVSU, and Illinois Wesleyan University. “It’s not vital to me that the viewer is completely aware of the specific story behind the piece,” says Freeman, “but I strive to make images that read clean and complex, and offer something new to see with each interaction.”

Yolanda Gonzalez

Noting her work often suggests “a little bit of silliness,” Yolanda Gonzalez creates illustrations that are colorful and playful, including a well-known series for Opera Grand Rapids. “I draw to entertain myself so humor is important,” she says. Gonzalez, who studied graphic design at Ferris State University, worked as an illustrator for the Grand Rapids Press and did freelance design and photography for agencies before founding the creative studio Mr & Mrs with her husband and fellow designer Mike Gorman in 2012.


Jody Williams

After years spent in New York City illustrating for such venerable titles as The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, and TIME Magazine, Jody Williams moved back to the Midwest to work with a diverse corporate clientele that have “allowed me to explore countless styles in dozens of mediums.” Williams, who earned his BFA from Kendall College of Art & Design in 1991 and a MFA from the School of Visual Arts in 1993, began freelance illustrating full-time in 2001 and has worked with a full spectrum of West Michigan heavyweights, including Steelcase, Meijer, Bissel, Herman Miller, and Stryker. “There are good people everywhere,” Williams says, “but I am a big fan of the character, warmth and benevolence of West Michigan. There are a lot of very successful businesses that are based here that also just happen to be great to work with.”
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