Between my day job and this blog, it sometimes feels as if social media is running my life. However, social media is also incredibly awesome. You can find such inspirational, interesting people from all over the world, or in your immediate area. Such is the case with my new friend Mick.
Through some serendipitous events, I started following her on Instagram (p.s. her account is currently set to private) because her illustrations are BOMB, only to notice 6 months later that she was living and working in Chicago! Um, of course I had to reach out because I pretty much low-key wish I was a designer, and needed to meet her/pick her brain for the blog (obvii).
The only thing I have to apologize for — aside from calling Ira Glass a “she” during my at one point *facepalm* — is that it took me, um, like almost a year to publish this interview. I’m only sorry that it took so long because 1. Mick is awesome and doesn’t deserve that and 2. You guys are awesome and could’ve been enjoying this lady’s wisdom MONTHS ago if it weren’t for me.
But hopefully you can forgive me and give this a read. Because Mick’s a pretty incredible, creative lady who’s bound to do great things. #justsayin
WHERE ARE YOU FROM ORIGINALLY?
I’m from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Did a little stint in Chicago. And then London. And then Chicago.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE GROWING UP IN KALAMAZOO?
It was like a typical Midwestern town. I mean, technically it was a college town so there was a little bit more going on, but it was just, normal. You had a high school football team and you went to watch their games on Friday nights. I did sports, like water polo, and was part of the National Art Honors Society.
DID YOU GROW UP IN THE SUBURBS?
Technically the suburbs yeah. Not like Chicago suburbs, though. Definitely lots of green-ness. If you went 10 miles out of the city, you’d start hitting farmland and stuff. And then there’s a lot of lakes around. I didn’t grow up on a lake, but there’s a bunch.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE WORLD OF DESIGN?
My mom was always super artistic. She wasn’t so much a painter or an illustrator, but she was always redecorating the house and moving things around and doing things like that. So I always feel like I got my artistic bug from her.
I took a bunch of art classes. I loved it. In elementary school, art was my favorite subject. And I’ve always been more of an art kid than a science or math kid. Though, I don’t think I actually started illustrating, like how I’ve been doing recently, until about 2 years ago.
HOW’D YOU GET TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?
I took art classes all throughout high school, including this one class called Digital Media that taught you how to animate in Flash and make websites and really touched on all those sorts of things.
I enjoyed it, and looked for colleges with similar focuses. Ultimately, I ended up at Columbia College here [in Chicago], where they had a major called Digital Media Technology, which they renamed to Interactive Arts and Media. It was a Bachelor of Arts –not a a Bachelor of Fine Arts–so that’s why I’ve always been really good on the computer, but not so much the fine arts part. AND That’s why I wanted to learn how to illustrate, because I never really had that background.
On my computer, they call me Fast Fingers because I can make revisions super quick and on the fly, but when I have to go sketch out my ideas – since I am in advertising – I struggle. Because my instinct is to go to the computer and not to the paper. Which is why I’ve just been trying to teach myself how to be more comfortable actually drawing out my ideas.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE ROLE YOU’RE CURRENTLY IN?
Columbia has a very “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. The teachers don’t really spoon-feed you. If you want to make something out of yourself, you have to go and do it. It’s a little more of an independent place. And when I was a sophomore, I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’m a first generation college kid and I’m paying through the nose to go to this place,’ and I wanted to make the most out of it. So I was always constantly working on my own portfolio. One of my teachers had a senior portfolio review coming up, but her seniors weren’t that great, and so she brought me in.
At the review, there were a few creative directors from Digitas who wanted to get me an internship at their agency. And I don’t want to put anyone down, but my work was a little bit better than the seniors’ work. But I told the creative directors I couldn’t take the internship because I was just about to leave for a study abroad/internship program in London. And the they were like, “Okay, well if you’re looking for an internship, let’s hook you up with our people in London.” They were really nice and helped me get my foot in the door.
The internship in London was — I don’t know if it was because they were a little bit more on the fly — but it wasn’t as structured as places I’ve seen. They treated me like a junior designer because they didn’t know I was an intern. I was in client presentations and I’m thinking, ‘This is wrong. This is not supposed to be how it goes.’
But I stayed there, then came back to Columbia for one semester because you had to finish at school. And then I moved back to London and stayed there for another year or so.
OKAY, BUT HOW WAS LIVING IN LONDON?!
I’ve always grown up appreciating British humor and stuff like that, but you feel really American there. And it’s not like I was wearing UGGs and drinking Bud Light. I think the funniest thing was that they thought I had an accent and I’m like, “I don’t have an accent – you all have accents!”
And then, advertising over there is really rooted around the pub. That’s where you go and concept — you go down and have a drink. And then after work, because London’s huge and everybody lives so far away, everyone meets after work to have a pint or whatever.
It really was really communal and fun. I had a great time there, but I did really miss my Midwestern roots and being in the States. I guess I had my quarter life crisis and then was like, ‘I gotta go home!’
HOW WAS THE ART SCENE THERE?
Oh it was amazing. All the art museums are free – you can just walk into the National Portrait Gallery and hang out there. It was really cool. And everybody just felt like – kind of like New York – where it feels like everybody is just on a higher level. Especially being in the advertising industry. It just felt like everything was much more creative and really inspiring.
WHO DO YOU THINK HAS HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOUR DESIGN CAREER THUS FAR?
I had a teacher at Columbia — though I’m not sure if she’s still at Columbia — that was really motivating. Her name was Tracy Taylor. She was the one who pushed me to apply for that internship. And she was the one who brought me into that portfolio review. She was really great, but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a lot of mentorship. I’ve always been self-motivated and seeking inspiration from other people. Stuff like that.
Though I will say, my old ACD (associate creative director) at Digitas, Alana Beseau, who actually had a writing background, had a huge impact on me. She had a larger than life background. She’s really funny, she’s just super conceptual person and she’s really quick-witted. When I think of my designs, I always think ‘What would Ellena write as a caption?’ I feel like she says witty things in her sleep. She’s always on and she’s such a great person to be around. And it’s always going to be a fun time when she’s around.
DO YOU THINK THERE’S ANYTHING IN THE MIDWEST OR MICHIGAN SPECIFICALLY THAT’S FOSTERED OR HINDERED YOUR CREATIVITY?
I don’t feel like there are a lot of art scenes in the Midwest, which has always pushed me to get out of the Midwest and go explore. That’s what took me to London. And even now, I feel like I’m hitting a little bit of a wall. Like, I go to New York or LA and I’m constantly inspired. I can Instagram every nook and cranny of those places and then I come here and sometimes I’m like, “Aww..I guess that’s cool?”
It just feels like I tapped a lot of my resources here [in Chicago]. Because I’ve also been really into nature photography – I see so many Instas of beautiful shots of nature — but we don’t have much of that here either. Because Chicago, right now, is stuck in the middle a little bit. There’s not really a ton of outdoor stuff.
Granted, this place [Chicago Athletic Association] is so nice. And I’ve never been to the bar [Cindy’s] but apparently that’s got a beautiful outdoor patio. There’s also certain little outfits, like Land and Sea Department that help create lots of cool little places in Logan Square. But you go to New York and walk down the street and there’s all these cool, conceptual type of restaurants and I wish we had more of that here.
FAVORITE PLACES TO BE INSPIRED?
I love that little stretch of Armitage – between Elston and South Port. Or the South Port Corridor is super cute; it feels like a microcosm of New York. I just like walking around there. Otherwise, I really do like Logan [Square] just because it has so much greenery.
My husband is from the Muskegon area and Lake Michigan is 15 minutes from his doorstep. And in Kalamazoo, I was an hour away from the nearest lake. So when we visit Muskegon, he takes me to the Silver Lake Sand Dunes, which is so pretty. It’s so funny because I spent most of my life trying to escape Michigan and now I desperately want to get back to it.
ANYTHING YOU WOULD CHANGE ABOUT THE CREATIVE COMMUNITY HERE IN THE MIDWEST/CHICAGO?
I don’t know. I don’t feel like I’m in it enough and I really wish I were. I just wish there was more creative opportunities. I see people on Instagram who do “Ladies Drawing Nights” and I would love to get involved in that sort of thing, but maybe I just have to start one…
DO YOU WANT TO ILLUSTRATE FULL TIME? IS THAT YOUR GOAL OR ARE YOU JUST FEELING IT OUT?
Yeah, I think I’m just feeling it out. Just trying to have some fun with it. I don’t want it to ever feel like work.
It’s something I’m still trying to figure out because a lot of it is really personal right now. And I don’t know if it’s an artist’s plight to never feel good enough, but I always have this wall that comes up where I think to myself, ‘You’re not good enough to ever commission.’ That made me sound really sad, but I swear I’m not a Debbie Downer about it.
DO YOU THINK THE MIDWEST INFLUENCES YOUR WORK AT ALL? AND IF YES, HOW?
I think so. I think Midwest people are really humble and not braggarts.
I once had a creative director come in from New York and he was a total asshole. He was all about being the biggest and the best. And I just wanted to make something really good that I’m proud of. From an experience design (UX) background, I want someone to play with it and have fun and not just do something to win an award at a show. I want it to have a little bit more meaning and purpose.
But being from the Midwest has definitely made me a humble person. It’s made me put a strong focus on family too. I want to have a nice work life balance, I don’t just want to do the rat race.
WHAT IS ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’D GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
To have more confidence. I was always worried about what other people thought and if it was good enough. And I wish I could’ve been happy with what I was doing; be more of my own cheerleader.
ADVICE FOR ANY FUTURE DESIGNERS?
Don’t be so critical of yourself. The internet’s a scary place and can lead you down a dark scary hole of constantly trying to measure yourself up against other people (dribbble, Pinterest, even just in the office), and it’s hard not to feel like you’re not good enough. Be patient and go at your own pace. Your own happiness should be your main focus.
WHAT KIND OF LEGACY DO YOU HOPE TO LEAVE BEHIND?
I hope that the legacy I leave behind is one of new experiences. As much as I am a creature of habit, in my short time I’ve noticed that I’m always trying to push myself a little bit out of my comfort zone. Whether it’s moving to an entirely new city, or just trying to finally touch my toes with a new yoga practice, I hope I inspire people to never sit still and always look forward to tomorrow.
DO YOU CONSIDER THE MIDWEST HOME?
Oh yeah. I’m Midwest through and through. I love corn, sweet potatoes, hearty meals…
ARE YOU CREATIVELY SATISFIED?
No. I think that’s why I’m trying to teach myself how to hand letter and illustrate. Because sometimes client work can be really draining and not as fun. You see all these incredible case studies featuring fun projects that people got to work on for big brands, and then you get stuck on something like KitchenAid. And I was actually on that account for three years, and you’re selling steel boxes, thinking ‘How can we make this interesting?’ and, sure, we got to a point where we were doing cool stuff, but sometimes it just feels like you’re selling socks. It’s not always going to be creatively fulfilling. That’s why I’ve been trying to figure out something on the side; a creative release.
HOW DO YOU STAY INSPIRED?
I like traveling a lot. That’s something that definitely inspires me. Just going and having new experiences and seeing new things. And I like to live locally when I travel. I don’t want to stay in the penthouse of a hotel. I’d rather stay in a super cool Airbnb. And I don’t need to go and visit the Top 10 Things to See or that touristy stuff. I’d rather go off the beaten path.
I’m also always looking at Instagram for inspiration, and Pinterest. And different blogs, like DesignLoveFest. I’m also a huge fan of ban.do or whatever Jen Gotch does. I really like those sort of brands because they’re really being true to themselves. They don’t care if you don’t get their sense of humor, they’re just balls to the wall.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT LIVING IN LOGAN SQUARE?
When I first moved to Chicago, I lived in Lincoln Park. I swear we [transplants] all started at the same crossroads: Diversey and Clark. Everybody’s lived in that area. And so I started there and then moved to Bucktown, which is kind of like a Lincoln Park, but more inland.
But my boyfriend, now my husband, had a place in Logan Square. I remember feeling like you could get a lot of space and have some breathing room in that neighborhood. And we’ve been living there for 4 years now. And he was there even longer than I was. Logan Square just feels a bit more like Michigan, or home, in the city without it being like this big urban city sprawl.
WANT TO GIVE A SHOUTOUT TO ANY CREATIVE FRIENDS?
I actually have a bunch of friends who are super talented, who inspired me to start illustrating. My friend Rachel, she draws all the time and does a daily drawing thing on Instagram. And my friend Summer, she can just doodle and it looks like a masterpiece. And her husband is this guy who makes flip books for a living. Here are all their handles (and then some) if you want to find them:
BUBBLER OR WATERFOUNTAIN?
Water fountain because that’s what you call it.
THIN CRUST OR DEEP DISH?
Thin crust. I know it’s sacrilege, right?
STOP LIGHT OR TRAFFIC LIGHT?
WHERE CAN WE FIND YOU ONLINE?
*This interview was edited for clarity.
**All images were borrowed from @mickchampay and are def hers to own.