Mikey’s the kind of designer/illustrator who can cram the most complex ideas into the simplest symbols. We love the way he incorporates his identity and geography into his work, and his playful style is right up our alley.
I drink coffee all the time. It would be impossible for me to get through the day without a cup of coffee. If I don’t have it, I wake up with a headache and it’s just not gonna happen. The day’s not gonna happen without it.
I usually use the old-fashioned percolator pot, and I’ll just drink that in the morning, and I’ll have that probably twice a day.
“I need to be completely slammed with work, completely overwhelmed to get everything done. If I have ten things to do in a day, I’m going to keep working until they’re done. The lack of work makes me lazy.”
I think it’s just working all day until I get it right. Depending on which state my brain is in, I’m most fertile and ready to produce ideas right when I get up in the morning. That’s when most sketching and idea generation is going to happen because I’m fresh. And then midday is mostly designing, making, illustrating. So I usually work all day and then wrap stuff up at night, since it doesn’t require as much brainpower.
I find that if I try to stay up at night and illustrate something, it never really works out. But if I need to start an article the next day, I can read through it before I go to bed and I wake up with solutions. I always find that really fascinating.
I’m a big proponent of sketching. Before I ever pick up my mouse and start pushing pixels around, I always need to sit down and come up with my idea. Even infographics, which are all computer-based, I’ll sit down and come up with all my ideas before I pull out my computer.
Most people who work from home say they like to wear sweatpants all day or something, but that doesn’t work for me. I need to be dressed like an adult and have shoes on or nothing gets done. It’s like a regimen. I have to be dressed, I have to avoid all the things around, like doing the dishes and stuff. Because I’m at work. There has to be some process to that or I just end up doing whatever.
I need to be completely slammed with work, completely overwhelmed to get everything done. If I only have one thing to do during the week, it’s going to take me all week to do it. If I have ten things to do in a day, I’m going to keep working until they’re done. The lack of work makes me lazy. I say I’ll just get it done later.
This has been the first week in a long time that I can remember not being busy. I have one thing to do this week, which is to write a guest post on a blog. And I just can’t get it done. I should really maximize that time to do stuff, too, with pushing my personal work. But it’s way easier to do that when you have a lot of stuff to do.
Since I work from home, dirty dishes really are a big obstacle. If there are dishes in the sink, I want to do that. But it leads to cleaning something else. And emails are always really distracting. I try to clean out my inbox and put them in a different folder so I know I have to reply to them later, but that’s another really distracting thing.
After school, I had only done a really small internship and I went directly to work for myself, which is always a gamble. Me and my friends in grad school really liked poster art and we started doing it. Other people would see our posters on the street or in a coffee shop where we had a lot of stuff hanging up, or at an art show. And then they’d ask us to do design work, which led into us starting our own company. I always thought that was a big risk because if you never work anywhere, you don’t know how other people do it. So there’s a lot of trial and error and second guessing yourself, you know?
When I first moved to Philadelphia, I was working for an agency and I told myself I’d give it at least two years, no matter what. And I left two years to the day, which I guess shows the immediacy of me wanting to get out of there. So that was a jump because it’s always scary to go out on your own, but I basically had two jobs while I was at the ad agency. I had the normal ad agency hours, and after work I’d come home and make stuff for me. I had a little editorial job and I’d get branding and identity jobs, so when I left the agency I kinda hit the ground running and had a bunch of work, which was cool.
The other risk that I always preach about is making stuff for yourself. People have ideas and keep them in a sketchbook and never make them. It’s just always this idea, they say, “I want to do this thing.” But if you never make it, it always remains the idea that you’ll regret. Making it is a risk because you have to see if it’s a good idea or a bad one. It’s putting yourself out there and making something. And if it takes off, great. But if it doesn’t, well, you know it wasn’t that good and you can make something better next time. It’s just that creative risk of trying something and seeing where it goes.
It’s a tough thing to deal with when you’re on your own. You get feedback from whatever art director or client you’re working with, but it’s not actual critical design feedback.
This is weird: I actually have a secret online blog that I share with a couple people who are in the same position as me. But they’re very talented people, and a lot of the time I’ll just look at the site and it makes me sad. Sometimes I end up avoiding it because I’m like, Oh man, I’m making horrible work in comparison to that.
Some things are set in place for feedback, but they get used for something else. Like Dribbble. It’s supposed to be for sharing bits of something that’s in progress, but nobody uses it for that. They make little pictures of stuff, and people like it or don’t like it. Or I’d love to say I use a blog where I show people my sketches and they say, Oh, you should really push that idea to the art director. But I usually show work to people and say, Guys, here’s the finished product. Is there something that’s glaring that you really think is bad or good?
I’ve been doing a lot more lectures lately. I did this online lecture the other day, which is just me talking in a room for an hour with no noise on the other end. People are listening in, but it’s just me talking. And I thought it was okay and I got some nice comments, but then there was this one comment where a guy said, “What is this, what’s he talking about? This is terrible, this is the worst thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” And I saw that at the end and I’m like, what?! It really hurt my feelings. Ha, and I know that’s just one of the many people who were listening and I shouldn’t be a baby about it, but it made me think. It’s actually great. That’s a little bit of feedback because I don’t get a lot of it. You have to take it with a grain of salt, but there’s always something I could do to improve what I’m doing.
My computer is a big tool for what I do, even with promoting myself and all that. So that’s a necessity, and it’s a big part of my process.
I also have a printer that is a really shitty old HP LaserJet printer and I’ve done something to it over time. I put the wrong cartridge in it and now it makes really crappy prints. And in my process as an illustrator, it’s something I always use just to generate textures and interesting half-tones that make my work what it is. It’s one of those things that, when it breaks, I’ll have to figure out something new to do, which is terrifying.
There’s this one book that I always use, and if I showed you my actual copy, it’s just beat to shit because I always look at it. It’s called Handbook of Pictorial Symbols. I don’t know who wrote it, I can’t remember. But it’s this awesome collection of symbols and it basically has visual solutions for everything ever made. It shows how this guy solves every little simple graphic thing ever made, whether it’s an apple or a guy melding something or somebody sitting at a desk. It’s just all these simple shapes. And most of the time I’m doing something, it’s solving a visual metaphor. It’s not as much about the illustration as it’s about the idea, so the book helps me unlock that in some way.
I have a specific sketchbook and pen that I use, which has been a process of finding the right one. Because if I get a sketchbook, I’ll use it for a day and just throw it out if I don’t like the paper or if I don’t like how it works. So I like the Moleskines —¬†the thin blank ones that come in a three-pack. And then I use a certain Micron pen that I like to draw with.
I always listen to music when I work, and if I had to narrow it down to one album on a desert island, I think it’d be Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, right? Because that album is just a perfect album. If you’re on a beach and you’re listening to that, you’d probably go crazy at some point, but that’s a good album to go crazy to.
I really want to keep growing. Because I started out as a graphic designer. That’s what I went to school for and that’s what I wanted to do when I graduated. And then from there, I went into advertising, which is the dark side of graphic design on some level. It’s taking all those things you like about graphic design and then selling it to somebody else. And then I went into being an illustrator, which I really like. But I feel like there’s this time limit of how long you can make something as an illustrator before it’s not cool anymore. So that’s where I’m at now because I really enjoy what I make, but how long is that going to last? And what is the next thing to do?¬†
I’ve always had an affinity for letterpress printing. I’m not saying I want to be a sole printer, but I’ve had a letterpress for several years and I’ve just never got it set up and started using it. I guess that’s my next goal, my next way to further myself. Instead of going further in time and designing for the web or something, it’s going back in time and incorporating a very specific thing like letterpress. I think I’ll just keep going back in time.¬†
I hope to be in the woods eventually. Ha. There’s a documentary, Alone in the Wilderness, where the guy goes into the woods and builds a cabin out of nothing. Even to the point where he’s making hinges and stuff. I guess I’d be doing that and then letterpressing at the same time.
I would say Yes. I get to work on what I want to work on. People are like, What’s your dream project? And I don’t know if I have one anymore because I’ve gotten to do some cool work for some cool people that I never expected I’d get to do. So I guess on some level, I’ve made it to the point I wanted to make it. And now it’s terrifying because it’s like, what do I do now? I have to have a bigger dream about what I want to do? I feel really lucky and I don’t know how long that will last, but right now I’m just enjoying it and just trying to make work.
Jessica Hische just did all the titles for the new Wes Anderson movie, which I was like, Yeah, I’d love to do that. But if someone says, Think of a dream project, you couldn’t even think that up.
I guess that’s the next thing. I hope somebody that I respect would like what I do enough to let me make something for them. Look at Tibor Kalman. He used to make stuff for the Talking Heads. That’s pretty amazing. It’s a creative making something for another creative you really respect. That’d be the next dream job.