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Interview With Illustrator Michael Byers

May 12, 2011

Escape From Illustration Island is collaborating with Dripbook to produce a series of interviews with some of their featured Illustrators, beginning with the following discussion with artist Michael Byers

Michael Byers is an Illustrator living in beautiful Canada. Michael has been drawing all of his life. Michael uses a combination of loose, organic, spontaneous line work to create fresh, whimsical, and witty pictures. He uses these devices because he is a witty guy who believes that life doesn’t have to be so complicated and taken so seriously. He believes that there is plenty of room for fun. His ideas and concepts are generated from many sources, such as personal experience, general observation of what’s going on in the world, and a very interesting imagination. He is a graduate with a Bachelor of Applied Arts Degree in Illustration from Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning. His work has appeared in a variety of exhibitions and print

Partial Client List: New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, BusinessWeek, Atlantic Monthly, Harvard Business Review, Runner’s World, Bicycling, Baltimore, Family Circle, The Village Voice, BBDO, Cole & Weber, and more.

EFII: Your work features an evocative combination of dynamic color and drawing. Could you talk about your experience in developing these elements of your style?

Michael Byers: I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to reflect on how my style has developed the way it has. I think that I’ve always been attracted to color. It’s important in that it helps set tones and moods. I generally try to use bright colors to help lighten up the topics since I tend to go with the humorous side of things. In terms of drawing I’ve always felt like i can do better. I see so many other amazingly talented drawers out there which pushes me to get better at drawing. I had a teacher in college who said if you think you’ve drawn everything then you haven’t drawn enough. I think about that when doing assignments or personal work. I am constantly challenging myself to draw things differently than I have and I try to use color and drawing to create movement and add energy to the piece.

EFII: You seem to be pretty busy with a steady stream of editorial work. What’s your approach to reaching Art Directors and getting your work in front of the right people?

MB: I found it helpful to have an agent. My rep does a lot of the promo stuff. She’s also been instrumental in exposing me to things like Luzeur’s Archive and Communication Arts. I’m sure timing has a lot to do with it. I also use a lot of the social networks a lot of people use. I’m on Facebook, I blog my work, and I use twitter quite a lot. Twitter has helped me form a group of friends that eventually led to us forming a collective called 4to7 club. The 4to7 comes from the idea that a lot of us were working from 4PM to 7AM and on twitter late at night. I will occasionally send Art Directors random emails just reminding them of my stuff and saying hey check me out. I’ve also been fortunate to have a good illustrator friend, Christina Ung pass on work to me when she’s been too busy and vice versa. That’s an example of how important I feel it is to just be a great person and get to know as many people as you can. You never know when you’ll get helped out like that. I owe her a bunch.

EFII: What role does personal work play in your business and your craft?

MB: Personal work plays a large part in my work. I draw one thing everyday. That is to say that I make sure I am drawing something whether it’s a piece i’ll take to final or just a little doodle on a scrap piece of paper. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m making final illustrations everyday. It’s just not possible for me. I really do think it’s important to do personal projects because it’s a great chance to experiment. Personal work is also a great way to build your portfolio with new work if you’re a little slow and waiting for new assignments to roll in. I’ve found it’s been my personal work that has gotten into annuals and competitions more often than the assignment based work. Now that I say that I guess that’s a comment on the fact that I need to change that. I need to loosen up with assignments I guess.

EFII: Could you share your mental approach to developing concepts for your Illustrations?

MB: My mental approach to concepts is that I try to find the humorous side of the piece. I realize that I’ve done a few pieces that are a little more serious but I try to make even heavy topics a little lighter. There’s enough negativity in the world these days. I also try my best not to repeat myself. I usually do tiny thumbnails of ideas or write lists of ideas. I then do more refined sketches of some of the compositions or ideas I like. If I’m really stuck I’ll just go for a walk or meet up with a friend and ask them what they think. Sometimes it helps to get input from someone else.

EFII: What do you like about your work, and what do you think Art Directors like about it?

MB: I like the finished product. I love seeing a piece come together from my original idea to the final art. A friend of mine once proposed the idea that what we do is magic. I love that. I love how magical my work or anyone’s work is. We take an idea or concept and then make something out of nothing. Then presto, there’s some lovely artwork to look at. I think that most Art Directors like the fun I bring to an assignment. At least that’s what I’ve been told. I will get assignments that usually already have a fun tone to them. I think Art Directors like the versatility of my work as well. I’ve found that helpful in getting assignments. I try to just do the best job I can do.


Special thanks to Michael Byers and Dripbook for making this interview possible.

You can view more of Michael’s Illustration work here, and you can learn more about Dripbook’s promotional tools for creatives here.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2011 6:59 AM

    Great interview. I like the idea “if you think you’ve drawn everything then you haven’t drawn enough”. It’s something I work on quite a bit in my work, and something I try to instill in my students. Drawing is the most important skill for artists to have, yet one of the most neglected.

    • May 12, 2011 10:38 AM

      Thanks David. Michael’s responses were so down to earth and relevant to artists. So many nuggets of humble wisdom peppered throughout.

  2. May 12, 2011 3:46 PM

    This is great work. Though Michael discusses his humorous side I find his approach and style a little strange and disturbing also (in a good way) and certainly thought provoking.

  3. Snoring Dog Studio permalink
    May 13, 2011 4:26 AM

    One of the great take-aways here is to always see things from a different perspective – try using different perspectives in your work. That’s what makes it interesting and helps draw viewers in.

  4. May 13, 2011 4:44 AM

    I think Mike’s work demonstrates the importance of having a readily identifiable style. I also liked his points about reaching out to people and drawing something every day. Good reminders.

    Good interview, very helpful, many thanks.

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