Get to Know UK-based Freelance Illustrator, Michael Driver 🖊
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The world can be a serious, dark and disconnected place. With less and less genuine and meaningful human interaction and more reasons to stay plugged into things that fail to serve us emotionally, creatively and mentally, you need color, life, and inspiration to remind you of the good in the world. That's where UK-based freelance illustrator, Mike Driver comes in (and no, we don't mean "Great British Bakeoff" Mike). Mike Driver (@mikedriver) is a creator that strives to break the gap between illustration and the human experience through both his personal work and professional illustration for magazines and publications. Driver explores the power of storytelling and the emotional impact art can have on subjects we all understand and relate to, proving that there are many ways art can be engaged with IRL in this new, social media age we're living in. Read more to meet the illustrator behind some of the most eye-catching publications and learn more about bravery and honesty behind freelancing as a working artist, IRL.
See more of Mike's work here.
-Introduction by interviewer Mayah Taylor (@mayah), Ello’s Community Creative Manager. She loves tacos, fashion, Doctor Who, and wears too much black.
How did you begin making art? Have you always wanted to be a professional/working artist?
Mike: When I was really little I was terrified of art, the fear of making something that was wrong or that wasn’t very good was terrifying, that fear is still a very real fear even now, I guess I've just got a lot better at managing the disappointment.
I remember to this day, the very first thing I made, a teacher gave me a tray with some paper in it and a few dollops of paint and asked me to roll a marble around in the tray, I’ll never really be able to explain the feeling of watching that marble roll around in that tray and after that I was really hooked, every birthday I’d get art supplies and slowly work my way through them, drawing cartoon characters and making things out of cereal boxes was one of my favourite past times.
I was never really too sure about what I wanted to do when I was younger I knew I really liked art but the idea of being able to make a living from art didn't really cement until I was in my late teens around that time I had started earning money to afford the luxury of being able to fritter it away on going to see gigs, exhibitions, books and toys which in turn made me realise that illustration as a career path could be viable.
What inspires your work? How did you define your own style as an illustrator?
Mike: Great question, more recently I've been trying to do a little more self-initiated work with the intention of launching some sort of online shop early next year and it’s a question I seem to ask myself a lot.
I draw inspiration from a lot of stuff, I’m a big collector of stuff, emphasis on ‘stuff’, Books, Vinyls, Prints, Toys, Ceramics and all sorts of bits of printed ephemera, staying visually interested in the world seems somewhat important to me and if I'm struggling or feeling like my own work is stagnating I'll sit down and look at what I've collected to try and reinvigorate my practice and stay inspired.
It’s hard to describe how my style came to be, I suppose it has a lot to do with filtering through what I like and what I think is good and what I am technically able to draw, I'm always looking to push my work and its changed a lot since I started seriously pursuing illustration as a job.
What does your process look like?
Mike: My process is a bit of a nightmare, a brief comes in, I read the brief a few times, I'll do the roughs fairly big and work them up quite well, this is not really for the client but more so my brain understands vaguely what an image might look like before taking it to the final, once the rough is signed off and the client is happy, I'll then maybe redraw the rough bigger, create a colour rough and then finally start making the final artwork which will be a mixture of photoshop and hand-drawn elements depending on the amount of time I have. I could probably trim down my process but at the moment this works for me and it provides enough room and time for me to feel like I can experiment before everything is too far gone.
Your illustrations are becoming impactful with the clear messages they convey. How do you feel art can change culture, innovation, and ideas within society?
Mike: I think that expression is incredibly important for all of us, I think art is a necessary vessel to explore ideas and challenge the norm. Globally we are in a pretty terrible place at the moment and I think we should all be looking more closely at how the arts react to the actual mess we are in.
Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on this past year? What did you learn from creating and executing it?
Mike: Yes! I just recently finished a piece for a Berlin-based company, I pitched in a type treatment, which is something completely and utterly out of my comfort zone, I'm pretty happy with the outcome and can see loads of room for improvement. As I’ve moved forward what I've realised is challenging yourself is really important for general progression.
What do you wish you knew 5 years ago as an artist that you know now?
Mike: I wish I’d spent more time making my own work, focusing on projects I want to make and experimented more, I really rushed to get into the [sic] industry and I think in turn I missed out on some of the fun that comes with having nobody to answer too.
How is the process of illustrating art for publications different from creating your own art?
Mike: In some respects making work for a client can be easier when it comes to decision making, there’s a brief and a set of guidelines and I just have to do a good job following those rules and accepting that it’s a process of working with another person, with personal work all of the decision making is on my shoulders and that can be very hard, there are so many things I could make and so many ways I could approach something and it can get very overwhelming. I spoke earlier about questioning what it was that I was interested in as a means to figure out what I want to make and I think that has helped me to start making work for myself again.
What was the first publication your illustration was featured in? Do you have any advice for freelancers entering the industry?
Mike: I think the first publication I was in was Left Lion Magazine, Left Lion are a Nottingham based monthly culture and arts magazine. I had contacted them whilst I was in university seeing if they needed anything illustrating, it took a year for them to get back to me but eventually they started asking if I was available to work. They didn't have any budget but they let me have complete creative control. Working for free is very taboo but at the time I thought it was important to get commercial work into my portfolio ready for when I graduated.
Additionally, what was the last thing you listened to or watched?
Mike: Music-wise I'm listening to a lot of the NPR tiny desk series, I really like just sticking them on and letting them run through, it’s a good way to learn about new artists. My favourite session is probably the Mac Miller session, I really loved ‘Swimming’ as a record it seemed somewhat upbeat and yet at the same time incredibly sad and reflective and it's just nice to listen to that session and enjoy some of those emotions.
I’ve not been watching too much TV recently, I’ve been very busy recently and sitting down and watching TV doesn’t seem to be doing too much for me at the moment, I'm very fed up with the constant criminal docs that Netflix tries to bombard me with every time I log on to my account.
Having said that I watched a really great documentary about Vivienne Westwood the other week, it was really great, I watched it six times, I think I really appreciate her need to want to make clothes that she likes and the struggle that comes with operating a big business. Over watching and over listening to the same thing is one of my favourite past times, none of my friends understand it.