Mike Forester, Graphic Artist
Mike Forester was born into a family of two working artists; he grew up knowing that he probably wouldn’t become a doctor or a lawyer. At a young age, he was fascinated by complex images, understanding perspective, color combinations…and it only made sense that he had to draw every day. What did you want to be when you were a kid?
When I was young, I wanted to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Then when I realized that I wasn’t a mutant, or a turtle, I wanted to draw comics and fight crime, although, I can’t remember which came first. However, as I grew up, all I wanted to do was play music full time, and snowboard. Funny how things evolve…if anyone knows of a Mutant Turtle Crime Fighting punk band…let me know, I’ll play drums for ’em!
How did you get to where you are today?
Hard work, curiosity, unwillingness to accept defeat and dedication. Since I was young, I wanted to make snowboards (aside from being a Ninja-Turtle, obviously!) and see my graphics in the magazines. However, that process doesn’t happen overnight. I started small, working at a skate shop and slowly meeting people and gaining connections. My friend Pete, the first company rep I ever met, is a huge fan of design, art, culture, and took time to give me feedback on my ideas – which were absolutely awful at the time. I sent ideas to companies, and got rejected and discouraged, but he pushed me to keep creating. Eventually I won my first contest, which turned into an internship and later a job, mind you, over a span of three years. Nothing worth doing comes easy, and I feel as the generations get more and more entitled for whatever reason, there is no better way to create a name for yourself by showing up early and going home late. I don’t think I’ve slept properly since I dove into design, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
What do you LOVE?
Well I’d get in trouble if I didn’t say my lady, so first shout-out goes to her. My heart goes out to any spouse or relationship with a designer involved, because we’re a weird bunch, and our constant need to create often manifests itself in different ways. She knows that if I’m not responding in a conversation, it’s because something is computing in my brain, haha, it’s weird but she’s so patient with it. Aside from her and more design centered, I love seeing an idea come together. It’s really a wild thing, I’ll sit down and sketch some ideas, and put it on paper and just never see it work. However, seeing types work with each other, illustrations looking exciting – it’s so relieving. However, I wouldn’t be able to design without a good playlist, so again, one of my first loves, great tunes.
What is your process like?
My process is pretty different depending on the project, but for most of my recent work it’s been pretty straight forward. A lot of my work displays some kind of irony or humor, so I’ve got a good collection of sites and books that will make me laugh, and play on that. Usually start with a sketch, just paper and pen, and then i’ll make a final sketch, trace the good lines and bring it into the computer. I try not to rely on the external stuff to “get me in the zone” like I’ve seen some people do with coffee and energy drinks, I usually just need to be in the mood. I think once you work in-house somewhere, you learn to have your “go-to” design techniques that are tried and true, no matter your mood. I would say I do need music, and good pens, pencils and markers. It does throw me off when I don’t have the proper sized sketchbook or style of pen, but like my earlier point – our parents graduated college without the internet, so I try and shut up about “not having the right tools”.
What is something you had to learn the hard way?
The most valuable thing I’ve learned that has cost me, is that there is always someone willing to take your place. I’ve had projects come up that I’ve thought weren’t worth my time, or didn’t seem fitting for my style – and when I see what the project turned into, I’ve kicked my own ass over it. I’m “hungry” – and by that I mean I’m always looking for another thing to try and experience, but a lot of times I’ll forget that other people are too – and when a great opportunity slips from me, I try and let that serve as a reminder.
Best advice you could give to someone who wants to be a real life professional designer?
The best advice I can give is from my own experiences, which I am a firm believer in hard work is the only way to make something happen. For college students (the most relevant to my age group) – you need to really reflect on what it is that you want to do with your life. A lot of the people you think are important, won’t be. The parties and things you think you absolutely need to go, won’t matter. However, looking back on your progression as a pixel-pusher turned professional is what is REALLY cool. I mean, by all means, go have your fun, but I’ve seen some incredibly talented people blow a lot of golden opportunities because they didn’t know when to turn off the “party/cool guy” mentality. Again, you get one chance to make an impression – be prepared and let your love of creativity really shine.
What is something that bothers/bugs you about design?
Good question! I would say the pretentiousness that exists in the field. Designers are competitive, don’t let any of them tell you otherwise. They always think how they could do it better, some are just more vocal about it. I’ve dealt with some really elitist people, and it’s gotten so bad that sometimes I get hesitant about calling myself a “graphic designer” just because of the bad experiences some people have had. I try and keep my mouth shut and just work hard, hopefully that gets recognized over the “Ewww…Trade Gothic bold, again?” comments.
What is one thing most people would be surprised to learn about you?
Surprisingly, that I’m still a nerd and that I don’t take myself or anything I do too seriously. I have to come across as stern and confident to let people know that I really do want to complete work for them, but at the end of the day, I make pictures and get to play on my computer professionally. C’mon! How hard can it be? I do take my work seriously, but I always try and remember that I was the kid that used to roll my bike off a jump and into the thorn bushes just because someone had a VHS camera. Come to think of it, I should upload that to YouTube.
How do you define success?
I define success as when you’re happy, TRULY HAPPY, doing what you’re doing. Guess what? You’ll never have enough money, and your car will never be as cool as the guy’s down the street, so find something that makes you excited to wake up in the morning and go do that fully. Live simply and enjoy the little things – I wish there was a way I could say that without sounding cheesy!
What personality trait do you think is most important to success?
Personality traits – the most important is confidence. Confidence will let you take a few punches and not waver, and it’ll remind you that after the client has refused your first three sketches, your fourth will be the best. It will show someone you can handle their job, and it will make you proud to create something. However, you do balance a fine line between confident and cocky, so be sure to know your limit. Or in my case, have a good girl that tells you when you’re being an idiot!
Favorite photoshop keyboard shortcut?
Haha, has anyone NOT said Command-Z? Possibly Command-I in Photoshop for inverse..I’ve found more accidentally awesome colors by clicking those two buttons.
What do you enjoy designing? and why?
Recently, my favorite things to design have been band merch, posters, and always branding for people. I love being able to take a company and be able to visualize their efforts and story into creative language. The band merch is a blast because there’s such a human aspect of creating for each other, I’ve been able to meet some pretty big bands and seeing their face when I show them a poster I’ve done for them – it’s great. Instantly there is this connection of “you made this for me?” when every time I listen to their music, I feel the same exact way. It’s cool to connect that way – definitely refreshing. I’ve always loved designing snowboards – nothing more humbling than seeing some kid throw a huge trick off a jump with your graphic. I’ve definitely thanked a few people for keeping me in business in the chairlift line!
Who are some designers that you admire?
Inspiring designers – Jack Kirby, the man behind the illustrations of most of the Marvel Comic heroes, Draplin Design Company – we have very similar upbringings- both from Michigan, grew up in the skate/snow culture, turned bearded designers and share the same “the harder you work, the luckier you get” mindset. Last but not least, I think I’ll always admire Shepard Fairey and Obey, for keeping true to their style and mentality from the beginning. Say what you will about his tactics, but I’ll always have respect for that program.
How do you think we can make the world a better place?
I think as designers we can look at the big picture. I’m talking the REALLY big picture. Essentially, everything needs to be designed in some way, so being able move and flow and not create walls for ourselves is important. I’ve been struggling lately with the ups and downs of the city of Detroit, where I went to high school and spent a lot of time, living just four miles north of the city. There are some great design programs in Michigan, and once students get their education, they go and leave our state to go make places like Austin and Portland “better and progressive” while our city continues to run into problems! You want the biggest re-brand project of your life? Re-brand the city of Detroit, or at least go visit and see how awesome it can really be. I feel as designers – we can do more than what we think. At times I feel like my only talents exist within a screen and creative suite, but once you start thinking like a designer – it applies to every aspect of your life, so don’t be afraid to shut your computer and explore – design may not be able to save the world, but it CAN really make an impact!
If you liked this interview, stay connected by following our Facebook page.