where are you from and how long have you been illustrating?
I am from Cambridge, Ontario Canada. It's a smaller city just west of Toronto. I've been creating images all my life. I've been professionally illustrating for a little under two years now.
you've had quite a bit of "out of the gates" success, can you attribute that to anything?
In my opinion it has a lot to do with hard work, persistence, patience, passion, and a little of the "I really don't care" attitude. What I mean by that last part is that when you send out promos for example, you need to not care about the response. Maybe not caring is the wrong choice of wording here but it's just that you need to just keep doing and less worrying whether or not an art director is saving your card or throwing it in the trash. The fact is that you have NO control of that and not to mention you have no idea of how busy they are. They could love you to pieces and want to work with you badly but just not have an assignment suited for you. Then one day whamo. They call. But to get to the question I really just don't think too much about what I'm doing. That is I observe very carefully as to what the most successful illustrators are doing, I take notes, I apply what works for me, and then run with that.
how crucial has Levy Creative Management been in that success?
Um...well I'd like to think of myself as a good networker and capable of getting lots of work. However. My rep has been amazing to me. She has had my work in the hands of some people that I don't think would have seen it otherwise. I think she's been crucial to the speed at which I've seen some success. I also have learned an awful lot about the business really quickly and she's been very supportive the entire way. It's like having a coach in your corner all the time. I'm really grateful for all Levy Creative has done.
how important in promotion for you, what do you do to promote yourself?
Promotion is overrated. ONLY KIDDING. It's so important. Well obviously I have my rep to promote me. Other ways I guess would be by keeping a blog and Facebook. I've really enjoyed the networking aspect of Facebook. It's amazing to be able to connect with so many talented illustrators, designers, art directors, and art buyers and all around good people just by a click of the mouse on that old Add as a Friend button. The more you do that and the more people you connect with the greater your chances of more people seeing your work. I think a little blind faith helps. Just put it out there anyway you can and hope your work catches the eye of the right person. Oh and emailing. I found more success from emailing art directors then I did with sending them direct postcards. However I know they like to have the physical thing so keep doing that.
what are your thoughts on the popularity of the pen and ink style right now?
I think it's great. It puts an emphasis on drawing. I think it also forces people to think more about concepts. At least that's been my challenge. I find myself trying to push my concepts farther. I think it's a trend right now. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm in it. I mean if you look way back in the day there was a lot of work like this. Just pick up an old mechanics magazine from the sixties. They were full of pen and ink style of work. I'm sure the style of the day will move on. We'll all adapt to the change and as a result we'll all change with it. It's like fashion. But really I don't really think about it much. I know my style will change slightly as time goes on. I hope it does. If not then I'm probably not really growing much as an artist.
how was your experience at sheridan college? - did you find yourself prepared properly for the real world?
Sheridan is a take it or leave it program. I recommend the illustration program to anyone I come across. However I know others who think it's a waste of time. It's what you make of it. I was in it more for the connections I made then the actual content. That being said I think it definitely prepared us for the real world. We learned so much about the business aspect. It was great because it was like being sent out into the real world with a tiny little pocket sized safety net. I'm really glad I went to that school.
your work is always so playful, the concepts always seem so "twisted innocent" to me. how do you go about solving problems / coming up with ideas?
Well the first thing I do is think of how can I make it funny. How can I make myself laugh? Even if it's a serious topic there's gotta be something in there that will put a smile on someone's face. That might change slightly if I get a really serious topic. I haven't yet had an assignment that was SO serious I had to be calm. I just try to think of the ridiculous because really the world is a little ridiculous at the moment so why not add my little bit to it.
stylistically, how did you wind up where you are now?
Well I guess I'm an influenced by old images so I like to add that messy look to things. Also I'm too impatient to make my lines perfect. I also really love color. If possible I try to make my pieces really colorful.
where do you see yourself going?
For now I just want to build my client list. I see myself winning lots of awards, being published in all the big magazines, being featured in all the industry annuals and showing in galleries all around the world. The major thing I'd like to see come out of all that is that I inspire other people that are in the position I was in back in school. Just little sponges eager to learn. I plan one day to open a "Passion Centre." I need more help for that and I'm sure I'll find it when the time comes. It will be a place that people will come to get inspired to find the passion or "fire in their bellie" and pursue it with vigor.
thoughts on working traditionally vs. working digitally?
I think both are important. It's funny because I was all digital thinking oh it's faster. HA. Aren't I the ignorant one. In fact working digitally can be even slower. It's just more convenient at times when an art director calls and asks if you can change the sky from blue to red. Click, Click, Click and it's done instead of doing the whole thing over. It's been a bit of a saver for me.
you come off as a super positive, caring guy - would you like to give a little on your life philosophies?
Sure. We're all gonna die. So if that's the case, then why not have fun. I try not to take life too serious so that I can seriously live. For me it's just way easier to be positive then negative. I feel so drained and tired after a day of feeling negative. I also just love making others laugh or putting a smile on other peoples faces because in return I get filled with joy from doing that.
how has illustration helped you grow personally / spiritually?
I've learned a lot about the business which has helped me act and be a little more professional. Also I've learned - slowly - how to really put who I am into my work. I guess I'm more conscience of who I am as an illustrator because I'm constantly finding out who I am as a person.
whats your turn around time like?
Oh lightening speed. I'm super fast. I get stuff done in an hour or so. But that's when I actually get down to it. That's after the days of procrastination and I have a few hours until the deadline. Who am I kidding? It takes several hours to get something really good. I've been able to do it faster for tight deadlines. The pressure helps speed things up.
how are climbing (not sure of the technical term for this) and illustration linked? How important is it for you to get out of the house and do these things.
I suppose the connection can be that you're the only one who can really push you to get better. In climbing it's a matter of how strong you want to get or how good you get. If you don't put your mind into it you're not going to make it to the top. You don't have a team to take over if you're tired. You gotta push on. The same goes in illustration. When it comes to your career you're the only one that determines how high you get. I find it super important to get out of the house and be social. I think it helps generate fresh ideas. I come back refreshed and ready to get down to some work.
your graduation year seemed to hold some amazing talent - are you still close with anyone from your year?
I keep in touch with a few people from my year. There are definitely a lot of us who are doing really well. I'm really proud of all the people I graduated with.
think you'll ever teach?
I'd love to teach one day. I think I need to do what I'm doing for a while longer so that I have a leg to stand on but I would love the chance to give back to students the same way that the teachers I had inspired me.
anything in general you'd like to see get more hype (good movie, book, food, dog etc)
Slumdog Millionaire, my friend Chris and his music, italian food, and um Empire of the Sun.
advice for new / young illustrators
Be confident in yourself, your work, and your future. Leave your egos at the door. I'll also borrow what the wonderful John Hendrix told me once. Meet your deadlines everytime, all the time, and don't be a dick and you'll always get work.
advice for established / old illustrators
My advice for the established people is to keep killing it like you're doing. Keep doing your stuff. You're inspiring people more then you know. There really isn't much advice to give them because I'm still getting so much advice and inspiration for the old illustrators. They are my heroes and heroines.
all images copyright Michael Byers
check out his work! www.michaelbyers.ca