It took around 6 years through the constraints of letterpress and screen-printing before part time designer/ illustrator Mikey Burton from New York really felt he had developed his own style, and boy has it paid off! So much fun, colour and talent! Clearly. Mikey shares 5 big lessons he has learnt along the way, along with some other useful resources.
When did you fall in love with design and how did you get started? I fell into graphic design the way most do I imagine. I really loved drawing as a kid, and that love continued through high school. I wanted to go to college for something creative, but I also didn’t want to be a starving artist. I blindly went into graphic design, my only context being that I might get to make some CD packaging (ha!).
I went to Kent State University which is known for their rigorous design program. For the very first class, I had to buy over $1,000 worth of drafting supplies (not a computer) as the first 2 years were completely analog. I hated it. It was super technical and I really just liked doodling. I wanted to quit, but my dad told me to stick it out for at least the first semester, So I did. It sucked, but I slowly began to really enjoy it. I fell in love when I took my first Typography class the beginning of my sophomore year. My professor Chris loved teaching and up to that point, I had never seen a professor that was so passionate about their craft. It left a big impression on me and made me so excited to learn.
How did you develop your style as an illustrator and what tips would you have for others? It took me 6 years before I was making work that truly felt like me. My style developed through the constraints of letterpress and screen-printing. The limitation of using just one or two colors made me more thoughtful about solving problems, and the handmade quality of the process informed my aesthetic. I made A LOT of gigposters, and looking back many of those initial designs “borrowed” heavily from other artist styles. Eventually after doing it long enough, It slowly became my own thing. There’s no short cuts here, It definitely takes a bit of commitment.
Who are your top five design crushes right now? 1. Lan Truong – Lovely geometric illustration with beautiful textures. I love her work because she loves drawing food just as much as me.
2. Chi Birmingham – I’ve been following Chi for a long time, and his work constantly impresses me. His usage of color is the best in the biz, and his concepts always make me giggle.
3. Simone Noronha – Illustration juggernaut! Her work keeps getting better and better.
4. Elias Stein – A vector man skilled in the art of monoline. His portraits do so very much with so little.
5. Dylan C. Lathrop – Keeps it real loose and fun, just the way great illustration should be. Excellent type too!
What are your three must-read design books/blogs/podcasts and why? I’m going to go all podcasts here cause I listen to them quite a bit. Not graphic design themed ones specifically, (although, I do really like Andy J. Miller’s Creative Pep Talk) but ones that are interview based. My three favorite have to be WTF with Marc Maron, Nerdist, and You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes. All the hosts are amazing interviewers in there own ways, and glean a lot of insight from their guests. Specifically though, all the hosts are also comedians, so they often (and frequently) interview other comics. For some reason these episodes are often the most inspirational to me. Maybe it’s because a comic with a writing background is speaking in more general terms on the creative process so everyone can relate to it. If you can locate the Aziz Ansari interviews on any of these, his thoughts on process and self promotion are spot on and apply to any creative field.
What has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way? 1.Commit and be patient. Things don’t happen over night.
2.Be nice and don’t talk shit. The design community is so very small, and social media makes it smaller every day.
3.Nothing is owed to you. You will have to cut your teeth and pay your dues (several times over)
4.You will always have to follow up on every invoice ever at least once.
5.Don’t focus on promoting yourself, focus on honing your craft.
Whats the big goal in the next five years? A couple years back I wanted to lose some weight, so I decided to visually record everything I ate on a daily basis. I never really shed any pounds, but through the project I found that I LOVE drawing food. My girlfriend Anna and I love to cook, eat and host parties and are making a fun collaborative project out of it. We are working on a top secret food site that will document this through words and illustration. The ultimate goal is to become the Anthony Bourdain of drawing food!