Welcome back to the Old Bag. Last week I briefly wrote about the illustration scene in Detroit and then showed a piece from my Illustration II class while briefly mentioning Mike Mikos the instructor and Bob Blanchard, another instructor that was the subject of my illustration. This week I would like to go back to Illustration II, and shine a little more light on Mike Mikos. Before I had gotten to CCS I had heard about Mike from another student on his, Tim Racer. Tim was my History of Illustration teacher at the Academy of Art and had gone through CCS in the 1980s. At that time Mikos was the Illustration department head and apparently a whip cracker. By the time I got to the Center for Creative Studies, Mike had changed. Physically, I have no idea how Mike looked before I met him but will always remember him as a Santa Claus archetype. He had the personality for it too. He spoke in a jovial way about life and illustration. He had a way of curving his expectations to the individual student which made the mood of his classes a little bit lighter. If he thought you could do better on a piece he would still call you out on it during a critique. If his approach to teaching had softened, his love for illustration had not. Mike was a sponge in regards to the industry. He was paying attention to the Annuals and trade magazines. Shortly before I got there he had even taken a West Coast sabbatical, touring animation and visual effects studios to better help his student market themselves towards that industry.
Somewhere early in the semester Mike came into class with a bunch of articles that he had clipped out of different magazines. He threw a pile of them onto a table and had his students come over and grab one at random. I got an article on drunk driving. I started my approach to the piece as I had done since my first illustration class-I read the article, jotted down key words and phrases, and sketched out ideas. Everything was going along, my ideas were probably trite and obvious as I remember that the article itself did not really grab me. And then something happened.
I got a phone call from a friend in California. She was calling me from the hospital having been run over by a hotel shuttle bus. The importance of that friendship is hard to express. At that time we were true friends with nothing sexual between us but the importance of that friendship is undeniable as today we are married and the proud parents of a healthy boy. When I got done with that phone call I struggled with a monster of mixed emotions. And I outletted them right into my drunk driving piece. I remember that I had Mikes class a day or two after that call. When I put my sketches on the board I surprised him.
Aside from the emotions of that phone call a couple things happened in my thought process. The first was that I felt I had a duty as an illustrator to catch the magazine reader’s attention regardless of how I felt the article was written. I also saw that the article was in subtext to the greater concept of drunk driving and with that thought in place I gave myself permission to explore drunk driving as an archetype. Once I looked at the bigger image of drunk driving I concluded that it was ugly and mean. I had purchased Jill Bosert’s Pro Illustration Books 1 & 2 at a previous time and remember reading Marshal Arisman’s blurb-that he was hired for emotional content. I used his technique as a guide for starting my drunk driving assignment. I wanted to get emotional and I felt like this guy knew how to do that. First off, at that time, I had never painted on a large scale. For this piece I bought a 2’ by 3’ piece of canvas board-not true to Arisman’s technique but having the solid backing was something that gave me a little comfort. Secondly, this guy painted with his fingers. Up until I found out about Arisman finger painting was something that kids did with really cheap paints. The idea of finger painting all of a sudden opened up a new doorway and gave me the ability to physically push emotional content into this piece I was about to paint. By working big and painting with my fingers I turned this painting into something other than an illustration-the act of painting became just as important as the painting itself. I remember getting done with the under painting (I did a dark mix of Burnt Umber and Thalo Blue instead of black) and feeling great about where it was at. I was afraid that I would screw it up. It took a good swift kick in the butt from Mikos to get me to jump off the fence. What you are about to see is an ugly, mean piece of art-which is my visual answer to the idea of Drunk Driving. But the piece is also an emotional release of my fears and anxieties over having a good friend run over by a bus. I still own the piece. I have it framed. For me, it’s a power piece. It’s not just an illustration. To steal from Marshal one more time, its magic.