Today’s Artist’s Spotlight features talented multimedia artist, Mike Brennan. I’ve known Mike for a few years now and am continually inspired by his dedication to his craft (he posts at least one sketch just about every day!). Enjoy his enthusiasm in this interview!
Roaring Out: How long have you been creating art and in what types of media?
Mike Brennan: I’ve been creating art for as long as I can remember. Drawing was my main go to, mostly pencils and ink. In high school I was introduced to chalk pastels too. I really loved the vibrancy of them. I was fortunate enough to have exposure to a variety of mediums along the way, and so I feel like for me it’s trying to figure out the best (or most interesting) media for a particular concept.
RO: What first inspired you to art?
MB: My earliest memory of creating art was making cards for family members. And I also used to trace comics from the Sunday newspaper, Comic books, and when I was a little older I also remember recording cartoons on my VCR, pausing them and taping paper on the TV so I could trace them. I wasn’t aware of light boxes at the time 🙂 Tracing helped me understand lines and shapes.
From there I took as many art classes as I could in High School, and started to gravitate towards graphic design. I knew I wanted to go to art school for college, so I was fortunate enough to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology earning a degree in Advertising and Design, and then the School of Visual Arts majoring in Graphic and 3D Design.
That set my career course in graphic design. Sadly with each passing year I did less and less personal drawing and painting, because really, who has time for that when you are creating all day for someone else? I also convinced myself somewhere along the way that I really couldn’t draw because I couldn’t do realistic renderings. I swallowed that lie until I didn’t even try anymore, until I read an important book last year by Danny Gregory called “The Creative License”.
RO: What types of media are your current favorites and why? Is there a different type of medium that you would like to try in the future?
MB: Watercolor has been my media of choice lately, but I’m starting to experiment into mixed media a bit too.I still like drawing with inks, pastels, colored pencils. I try to mix it up from time to time, but not at the expense of being a jack of all trades master of none, 😉
RO: Could you please talk a little about your creative process?
MB: It depends on what I’m working on. Lately, I feel like I’m trying at adapt and change my process as I continue to learn new things. Sometimes I get inspired by photographs, or books I read, other art. I tend to try to collect ideas BEFORE I need them. I use an app/website called Evernote. It lets you collect and organize your ideas so it’s easy to find them later. Once I want to move ahead on something, I usually start with a sketch or loose idea and begin developing as I go. Most times I just give myself over to the process to see what comes rather than have an established final image in my mind I’m trying to force myself to create. Happy “accidents” (and even not so happy ones) can be great learning opportunities.
RO: What is the longest time you’ve spent on a piece of art?
MB: I’m pretty impatient and get bored easily. Most days I spend an hour to three on a piece, before I feel like I need to move on. When I was attending the School of Visual Arts, I had the opportunity to design a 3-D skeleton based on the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat. I designed a life sized skeleton made of dog biscuits that was selected for a show in the Whitney Museum in NYC. It took me several weeks to create. That piece was a turning point in my art & design. The basic thought going into the design process was to come up with a strong concept, then figure out how to do it. In other words, don’t let cost, knowledge or skills, materials or anything else be a deterrent from a strong creative idea.
RO: You make a habit of taking art courses (a habit that is certainly admirable and necessary for any artist!) What is your favorite art class you’ve taken recently and why? In that vein, do you have any plans to perhaps teach a workshop in the near future?
MB: I hadn’t taken any art classes for years until recently. There was a million excuses of no money, no time, no energy, etc. What broke me out of the cycle was just deciding one day that if I really wanted to reembark on this creative journey aside from my day job as a graphic designer, I needed to do something different. I enrolled in a printmaking class. It was great because it put me in a place where I was experimenting just for the fun of it, meeting new people who were artists too and peaked my curiosity on new techniques and processes.
From there, I’ve taken a few watercolor classes as well. I really have loved those. It’s been a great mix of learning techniques, being in art community and setting myself up with challenges to grow and learn.
Even if you can’t enroll in a class at a local art center, I would advise checking out Craftsy.com. I purchased two art classes for around $20 each, where you watch a video instruction at your own pace and there’s even a place to ask questions and upload your progress.
The bottom line is if you really want it, you will find a way.
As far as teaching – I would LOVE to do that at some point. I’m always watchful to see what opportunities come my way, so who knows, maybe one day. It would be great to combine my love for art and my people-oriented heart.
RO: You recently opened up a wonderfully quirky Etsy shop. What lessons have you learned from running the shop? Any advice to someone who is thinking of opening an Etsy shop?
MB: It’s a big undertaking, honestly. I started mine as a way to keep me doing some of my art, and have an outlet to sell some of my photographs as well. It’s like anything – what you put in, you get out. I haven’t been the greatest on keeping up with all the promotion that should really go into it. I find that I lack the energy/time/focus when I’m done creating my art to switch hats to PR and marketer.
RO: What subjects are your favorites to sketch? Any subjects you’d like to sketch more of in your work?
MB: Mostly people – Men, women, faces, poses, feet (much easier for me than hands). I also like to sketch dogs, birds, fish…I suppose it’s the organic nature of these subjects. I was just talking with someone the ether day about how I hate to do buildings, or mechanical objects, basically anything that requires me to be precise and controlled in my art.
My faith is a big influence in not only themes of my work but also in how I do my work. But not in a propaganda or preachy sort of way. I want to create art that engages people, moves them, makes them think, smile or see beauty. For me all those things trace back to my Creator.
I also have to be authentic in my art. Hence, doing what’s important to me or had influence in my life. That’s what led me to the Star Wars themed greeting cards I have on Etsy – combining two things that had tremendous influence in my past as a child.
RO: Is there anything handmade that you own that is particularly meaningful to you?
MB: I feel like I should say yes…But honestly, the only thing I can think of are 2 things: 1. I have a picture that hangs by my desk at home from my youngest daughter Faith that says “Daddy, I enjoyed being with you”. That reminds me of how important it is for me to stop working and just be with my daughters, as well as a reminder for me to spend some time with my Heavenly Father like that.
The other is an illustrated note that an artist friend of mine had sent me during a difficult season. She’s a fellow old soul.
RO: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
MB: That’s a tough one. I loved so many different super heroes when I was younger (and still do). These days, maybe teleportation. But perhaps that’s a byproduct of living in the traffic infested NY/NJ area. When technology catches up to offer this, I’ll want to renegotiate.
RO: To conclude, what is a lesson you have learned from creating art that you would like to share with others?
MB: Ok. Can’t decide on just one, so forgive me…
Be in it for the long haul. Don’t look for shortcuts. They will only hurt you in the end even if they advance you in the immediate.
Practice your skills but also put time into figuring out who you are so it impacts the art you create. The world needs YOUR art, but it needs to be YOURS, coming from the unique blend of who you are – your skill set, interests, influences, experiences (including pain and “dark” seasons of your life).
Never stop learning. Read. Observe. Asks questions. Be in community. Take a different approach to something that you consider yourself really good at.
Do the next best work you can do right now and don’t worry so much about being “successful”. Make art because you HAVE to. Because to not do it would stifle your soul.
Establish a challenge for yourself. I decided to do a daily drawing or painting for an entire year. It’s been tough at times, and sometimes i only manage a five minute line drawing, but the experience and journey is something that could never have happened apart from putting in all that time. April will be the year mark for me and it’s also fun to look back on my Instagram feed to see my progress over the past year.
Invest in a sketchbook and draw something daily. If daily sounds too daunting, just do something more than what you are doing right now. Then in three months increase that again. Just keep moving forward.
Have Fun and figure out how to make your art a GIFT to those who experience it!
Mike, thanks so much for sharing your heart for creativity and people! If you’d like to check out more of his work, visit his blog, website, and Etsy shop.