Mike: If I want to be sentimental about it, I could say that I’m most proud of my daughter, who is creative and prolific in ways that I’m nearly envious of. If she keeps it up then I can only imagine the level of work she may create.
However, since we’re talking art work, rather than parental work, a piece that stands out in my mind is one I made of Billie Holiday for a group show about musicians past with a Day of the Dead theme. It remains one of my largest recent pieces at 16x20”. I usually work at 12x12” or smaller, often because it is more convenient or manageable. The larger piece was a nice challenge for me and it stretched my approach to the subject.
I was also rather inspired by a music poster artist named Emek. He often has an independent theme running alongside his representation of a musical artist, and yet the theme can complement a musician in unexpected ways. Aside from familiar Day of the Dead elements, I included “Blue Notes” which were little skull and bones that represented what Billie may have been singing. The piece is mostly black and white, with splashes of color. Most of it is in ink and watercolor, with touches of acrylic marker for some additional visual impact.
Do you have a favorite medium and/or tools to create in? What is/are it/those and why?
Mike: When I really got back into making art to share and sell, around 2015, I was motivated to create more color pieces, because the visual punch was more striking. Most of my work prior had been black and white, because I like contrast and tone as the anchor for any art.
Least to say, at this time of revitalization for me, I got motivated to play with some mixed media. I hit upon a favorite combination of ink, acrylic, watercolor and color pencils. However, I did eventually find a media called ink tense, which is basically a watercolor pencil that dries more like ink. It provided me with richer color on some of the substrates I was using and I have simply stuck with it.
What other media do you work in?
Mike: I have tried a lot of different media over the years, whether it’s pencil, pen, charcoal, pastels, oil and acrylic paints, a range of printmaking types, ceramics, plaster sculpture, stone sculpture, and making things out of found objects.
The media I currently use most is digital, at least for commercial work. I like to think that everything I have previously done informs what I can make in various apps. I happen to work predominantly with Photoshop, because it’s the most versatile for my needs and I know it best. However, like any media, I will have to learn a new tool if there’s something different or specific I need to accomplish.
There’s a lot of media I’d like to play with still, but the one I miss is charcoal. I’d like to find time for it again, but it’s fairly messy and needs a dedicated space. Same goes for oil painting, whereas digital art has the added benefit of not needing to be cleaned up.
Tell us about your process - do you have a time of day you prefer to create or make? Where do you find inspiration and how do you start?
Mike: This is kind of the hardest thing for me currently. Finding time is difficult these days with family obligations. However, as a night owl, I have found that working in the late hours tends to be best for me, since I have the fewest overall distractions.
If I can get myself motivated during the day, I have found that I really like to get stuff done in the morning as well. However, this means that more things need to align so that I have time to work. So, my default is to focus on the wee hours, even though it gets more difficult as I get older.
With that said, when everything does come together as it should, I tend to find the majority of my inspiration in pop culture. I have tried to focus on ideas or themes so I can create a series, whether it’s luchador animals, pirates animals, or gnomes. I get a lot of enjoyment from anthropomorphizing characters, which actually goes further back to my childhood and a lot of the hero comics I used to read.
I always begin with sketching the ideas, and sometimes I’ll stitch together reference images to create a basic composition. From there, I attack the image in stages, depending on the media.
When did you first know you wanted to make art and what motivated you to start?
Mike: From an early age I loved to draw. I think my only motivation was wanting to see fun stuff which I had in mind, and sometimes take requests from friends. I also knew I wanted to make art for a living, though that was perhaps the biggest failing of my youth, because I never really had a grasp on how that part was supposed to happen. I basically thought it just would happen, though not quite as I envisioned as a kid.
The expression “do what you love, and the money will follow” was something I only understood in concept, not practice. So, rather than jumping into comics, or other area I had no idea how to break into, I went to college. I got my BA in art, though not at an art college. In a circuitous route, I went into creating design and graphics, and eventually completed the Multimedia program at PCC before coming back around to my art roots.
I still like seeing fun stuff that I have in mind, and I’m always striving to make things I haven’t seen before. This is more and more challenging in this day and age, and I’ve realized that I just need to keep creating rather than having to worry about pure originality. That was perhaps the greatest realization of my adulthood. Nothing is entirely original. We’re always building upon what came before, to some degree, and that is a fine way to be.
Is that still your motivation or has it changed? How has your art changed?
Mike: I’m not sure how my art has fundamentally changed. However, it has been refined with better techniques, tools and technology. Plus, a lifetime of art study has better informed my compositions, and to recognize more quickly what’s working, what’s failing and how to be more consistent.
Mike: What is your background and education as an artist?
You’re also a teacher, how has that experience shaped you as an artist? What do you bring to your students and what do you hope to achieve as a teacher?
Mike: I think teaching what I know has made me respect all the good and great teachers in my life. I personally think I have a lot of room for improvement, since I have been learning that process on the job. I’ve been attempting to refine my classes to include streamlined tutorials and make lessons more about interactions rather than just lecturing. Long story short, it seems almost like it’s harder to teach someone how to make art than to just make art.
What means “success” to you as an artist and do you feel you’ve achieved that to any degree? If so, tell us about that and if not, what would make you feel you’d been successful?
Mike: The terms “success” has definitely shifted meaning over the years. When I was a starry-eyed kid it meant that I was a making bank as a big-time comics artist. Later I thought I might be a commercial artist who could make a good living with my career.
Nowadays, I believe anyone who can support themselves with their art is successful. Anything above that is cream, though it certainly still appeals to me if it should happen. However, I have tempered my expectations, and know full-well that I need to apply my time more fully and wisely to actually reach any goals I might have had in my youth.
I do not personally feel successful, but I can count my successes. I’ve had good shows, and I’ve sold enough in some months. It seems I may even have some fans. I just need to stick with it. That was another lesson in adulthood. Consistency is something an audience enjoys, and maintaining a pace without burning out is something I’m striving for in the coming year.
Does art have value to society? What do you see that value as? Do you feel you’ve given that value and how do you want to give that value?
Mike: Art absolutely has value in society, but it shifts so wildly that it’s often difficult to pinpoint what that value may be. A Gustav Klimt painting may break records at auction, but some incredible talent might offer $50 pinups to “make the rent”.
Art in society is both highly appreciated and massively taken for granted at the same time. The recent run on AI art apps kind of proves the latter part of that statement. However, the fact that I buy art despite being an artist might prove the former part of that statement.
Honestly, I feel like I’m both yin and yang on this issue. I can appreciate beautiful art, but I also like a deal. I want people to pay me well for my art, but I also want it to be affordable.
And yet, that’s not even the deeper part of your question, which is really how does art impact society? It’s difficult to summarize that one. I believe that art, especially good public art, can invigorate a community, stimulate conversation, and beautify the neighborhood. I’ve been watching a fellow artist named Alex Chiu create murals for the past 5 years or so. They revolve around community, family and culture. Some are simply nice to look at, but there’s definitely an appealing quality to having a piece up on a wall that everyone is going to see and have an immediate reaction to it.
What haven’t you created yet that you want to create?
Mike: I’d love to create a machine that gives me more time to work.
However, since I’m no engineer, I will have to focus on the arts. I would love to make murals in the years to come, though even making just one this year would feel like a feat to me.
I would also love to try some stop motion animation with my daughter, but I think, time wise, it may be best to encourage her to collaborate on an art book or comic. She’s creative and prolific, and I would love to help her harness that into something cohesive. Or at the very least, I would like to get her work someplace she can start selling it to start saving for school.
What would you most like to say to other people about art and creating art?
Mike: Anyone can create art, and everyone should try it more as an adult. Temper expectations, because it’s rarely good until you practice it regularly, like any good thing.
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