photo by Emma Holland
Illustrating the City: Q&A with ATTAGIRL album cover artist Mike Ellis
story by Heather Reid
Toronto is a city drawn on by artists. Mike Ellis is one of those artists; adding his own vibrance and imagination to posters, album art, and in print. Urban culture is a vital part of his work as a commercial artist, where he blends illustration and design. He defines his artistic style using words like, “colourful, retro, simplicity,” and his illustrations have been featured in The New York Times and The Globe and Mail. Attagirl provided the music for the recently released dandy video: Super Spin. You can watch the video here.
photo by Emma Holland
Ellis did the album art for the Toronto band, ATTAGIRL, whose song Keep You was featured in the dandy video SUPER SPIN directed by Hiep Vu. SUPER SPIN is currently on the dandyhorse homepage. You can read our dandy interview with the band ATTAGIRL here.
Mike is currently doing an illustration series for the 1THING App, a “public gratitude journal”, where people post each day about something they are thankful for. Each day he picks one of the gratitudes to inspire an illustration. Check them out on his daily blog.
DH: We just released our dandyhorse Youth and Employment issue. What advice would you have for someone trying to become a working artist?
ME: Work all the time. Whatever kind of work you find to be enjoyable – do it all the time. Reach out to people that inspire you – any artist, musician, anyone who inspires you. You’ll never know who might get back to you, encourage you, and mentor you. If you’re young and serious and passionate about what you want to do, people will pick up on that. I think that’s the first step
In our recent Youth and Employment Summer 2012 issue, we were asking all our profile subjects why they thought youth should be hopeful for their own job prospects considering our current economic climate. As an artist why do you think youth should be hopeful for the future?
There’s no sense in pessimism. There's no sense in looking back at the past with a longing for a simpler time. Basically we've inherited some big problems and it is our responsibility as a more mindful generation to bring a fresh perspective to these issues. Even with the tough economic times, in Toronto we’re very lucky. It’s not the best time for the arts, but our economy is pretty good and there’s lots of development going on, and we can be positive about that. I’m fairly young, so I don’t have a lot to lose right now. No one’s really certain what their future has in store. ...you just have look forward with both eyes open.
How do you think biking in Toronto could be improved?
If we had physically separated bike lanes that they have in Montreal and Vancouver.
I also think we could improve the sides of streets. The gutters are filled with potholes and they are really hard to maneuver. More trails for long-distance rides, too.
Do you bike long distances in Toronto? Are there specific neighbourhoods you like to pedal around in?
I think I go on at least one or two long bike rides every month. It doesn’t take that long to get out of the city, and I really enjoy going long-distance on trails.
A good one is the Don Valley trail. What’s cool about the trails is that you can actually go off the path, and there’s mountain biking trails throughout the entire Don Valley. Even if you don’t do mountain biking – as long as you have a little bit thicker tires it can be pretty fun.
There’s also the trail to Etobicoke along the lake – and Hamilton isn’t that far either.
What did you feel you got from your experience at OCAD?
I think I’m the kind of person that benefits from school. I believe in institutions even if there may be things wrong with some of them. I learned mostly the ability to communicate ideas, and how to interact with the viewer. In class we would engage in a lot of open critique, and that not only taught me to be very vocal about what I’m thinking, but also made me look critically at not only my work but the work of other people. It does help you grow as an artist.
Even when I was at OCAD, the best work I did was outside of school. I ended up working for art shows and volunteering, so that before I left school I had pretty good understanding of what it is to be an artist before working professionally. It’s your responsibility to teach yourself the things you want to learn [especially] while you’re in school. It’s your life, you’ve got to take advantage of what you have in front of you.
OCAD has a great community. I met countless numbers of people and faculty that I still keep in touch with and always will.
How did you end up hooking up with ATTAGIRL for their album cover?
Speaking of the OCAD community – I met Dan, the guitarist, at OCAD in first or second year. He just approached me asked if I wanted to do that art. They gave me full creative freedom, which is great – whenever anyone says that I will automatically sign up.
photo courtesy of mikellis.com
Does life in Toronto have an effect on what you do?
Yeah, definitely. The people that I live with, the people I work with, the people I have conversations with, all affect what I do. I did my thesis on how where you live really affects who you become as a person. It's not just the physical environment, but also your emotional environment. There are things people can complain about in Toronto, but there are lots of great people in the city. If you’re not pessimistic, the city will inspire you.
Related on the dandyBLOG: The making of SUPER SPIN a dandy video, with ATTAGIRL