Michelle moved to Loughborough to attend the University and get her BA(hons) in Illustration with Animation. Upon graduating in 2011 she opted to stay in the area and has had a few different jobs, but continued freelance illustration alongside them. Now it’s her main role at a dozen eggs, so she gets to do it all day long.
Michelle, why did you decide to become an illustrator?
Peer pressure! When you draw all the time, one of the most common encouragements you get is “Oh, you should become an artist!” “Oh, you should sell that!” in a way that people who like psychology or physics or geography often don’t. It was down to this or History, and I’d figured I’d probably just draw in the back of the history books anyway, so I should just try the art first. Honestly, I really didn’t think it through enough to make me look clever.
Has there been a person or event that majorly influenced how you think?
It’s a cliche but there isn’t one. I think if I only had one influence in my life I’d be a terrible artist… actually I’d be a plagiarist! Imagine that! Someone that said “I like Salvador Dali and everything I do is like Salvador Dali.” What you’d get is a load of Dali knock-offs. There can’t be a big audience for that.
And what would you do when you ran out of Dali ideas to copy? You can’t get all your good ideas from one place, it’s just not sustainable. You’d never evolve, never change your mind or keep up with current design, and end up just doing the same four things over and over again.
What is your strongest skill, and what habits helped you develop it?
I’m a decent mimic. Because we work with a lot of different clients, having my own defined style isn’t nearly as important as being adaptable or being able to match pretty closely with an existing brand. If the style I’m emulating uses a method I don’t know, I have to learn it or figure out a workaround. What hones that is just experience – every time we get a new client style, I have to do it again!
Do you have a favourite type of brief or project to work on?
I enjoy whimsy. With corporate illustration, a lot of the time it’s designing icons for web navigation or drawing people holding clipboards, which is fine. That’s your bread and butter. But occasionally you get to draw dinosaurs wearing space helmets, or a fox dressed as Prince Harry, or make puns about sea creatures. Projects that give me the chance to be a bit peculiar and cackle at my desk.
What is sparking your interest right now, and how is that appearing in your work?
I’m potentially fascinated by everything, especially if it’s a bit obscure and esoteric. I’m always the one in the office that goes “I don’t know the answer… To Google!” Once something interests me I can be reliably obsessed with it for several days. How to tell apart seven different kinds of black bird, what ‘Aposopesis’ means, the function of leit-motifs in film soundtracks, fractal patterns formed by un-manned bicycles falling over repeatedly. I am a deep well of mostly useless information… but it’s INTERESTING.
I think being able to look at things and really see them is vital for illustration. To find a topic or an object, pick it up and turn it around inside your head, take it apart, make some decisions about it and reassemble it again. Maybe add in some bits from somewhere else, rebuild it in a different shape. That’s basically what drawing is. It’s mental mechanics.
What are you into besides your work?
I just bought a house so right now I am extremely into DIY. It is taking up all of my attention, which I’m sure is very annoying to everyone that has to hear me talk about it, but I’m having a lovely time. Patching and plastering ceilings, power sanding, screwing up mug hooks, cutting back overgrown trees… I learned to tie a bowline knot so I could hang up a washing line outside. Also it turns out I can get a nicer line of paint cutting in by hand than I can with masking tape, so my design skills have come in useful there! My dad is delighted to have such handy offspring.
Tell us the best advice you’ve heard that you always pass on.
Arty people are notoriously self-critical, and that can lead you into a state of paralysis where you never actually begin your projects because you KNOW the end result won’t be up to your (unreasonably high) standards of what is ‘good enough’. I’m still working on this myself, so my advice is something I read recently:
Done is more important than Perfect.