UDC: “We Are Black History” – Brian Thompson

UDC: “We Are Black History” – Brian Thompson

Black History web banner


UDC: “We Are Black History”

Brian Thompson

UDC Alum – Designer of the New $100 Bill at the Bureau of Engraving
Brian Thompson was given one of the most important tasks that anyone at the Bureau of Engraving could undertake — taking the lead on designing the new $100 bill.

The new sleek $100 bills were released by the U.S. Federal Reserve on October 8, 2013. The design was the creation of 47-year-old Thompson, a University of the District of Columbia alum, who graduated in 1997 with an Associate’s degree in Advertising Design. He recalls being strongly influenced by his art professors at UDC, Professor Rufus Wells, Meredith Rose, and Dr. Yvonne Carter, who emphasized the importance of self-control as an artist.

Thompson walks in his father’s footsteps, who served as a cylinder maker at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing in D.C.  His father saw a call for artists and knew his son would fit the bill.  Starting as an apprentice for seven years at the young age of 19, the lessons his UDC professors taught came in handy.

“UDC prepared me for the job,” Thompson said. “I started out as a youngster working with adults as an apprentice. My art professors helped me to be able to handle it. They taught me discipline and self-control.”

Thompson has been working at the bureau for 28 years, and is one of only four designers in the country, and he is the only African American — making history with his design of the newly release $100 bill.

The new bills included new security features to stump counterfeiters and help people tell whether a note is genuine. Thompson’s design includes a blue 3-D security ribbon with images of bells and 100’s, a watermark and a color-changing bell in an inkwell. The number 100 appears to be orange with a border of white and blue, and upon closer examination, there’s another color striped inside to prevent theft.

When designing the bill, Thompson hoped to keep elements of historical versions of the bills.  On the new note, Thompson redesigned the quill, a facet that he included on previous designs to signify Franklin’s signing of the Declaration. Through significant places on the bill, the 100 serves as a beam of light onto Franklin’s presence. The scripted words from the Declaration are sequenced to ensure that it could not be easily copied by counterfeiters.

Thompson’s design was handed off to engraver William Fleishell, who spent five months engraving his design so that it could be printed on plates. That was accomplished through handwork and digital engraving.

When Thompson began working at the Bureau in 1989, he was among a staff of eight designers, with more artists and designers added over the years. While he can discuss the work that is completed, details about current projects are never shared.

The secrecy of Thompson’s work means that his office is one of the most secure in DC, with several layers of security just to get to his desk. Creating currency that represents the country is not done in isolation. Thompson had to get advice and conduct historical research even before starting on a design. He also had to stay in contact with stakeholders including the Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence steering committee. Thompson compares the thought process for working on the banknote design to putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle with the goal of making a unified picture.

Thompson said he was influenced by two artists that he has enjoyed since his art high school, Suitland High School Center for Visual and Performing Arts: M.C. Escher and Georgia O’Keefe. “They’re on very different aspects of art: one’s very linear, or very strict drawing, and that’s M.C. Escher. It’s a lot of puzzles and morphing. O’Keefe, she works very loose, very close into flowers, very loose watercolors. They’re on two different sides of the spectrum. And that’s why I like them both: because if I’m good enough, I’ll meet right in the middle where I can pretty much design anything.”

He loves discussing his job and career path with students and the community, hoping to inspire others to follow their dreams. While he has garnered a lot of attention because of his efforts, he humbly sums it up a quote from Dr. Yvonne Carter, which has inspired his life’s work: “Let your artwork speak for you.”

For more information, follow the links below: https://www.valuepenguin.com/2015/10/being-banknote-designer-career-talk