After spending 27 years working for top-level marketing agencies in London in key director roles, he now runs his own freelance graphic design business, splitting his time equally between brand consultation and design and illustration projects.
We caught up with Mike to find out more about his work, the challenges he’s faced since becoming a freelancer and his top tips for making it in the world of design.
Mike, tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative background.
For me, it all started the usual way with a design and illustration course at both Exeter and Plymouth Art and Design Colleges. Coming from the West Country, I suppose the last thing any of us wanted to do, at the time, was work in London, but sooner or later you start to realise that if you wanted to become involved at the centre of things, then you really didn’t have much choice.
After several years working as a Graphic Designer and Visualiser for design agencies in the home counties, I then went on to become an Art Director for one of the early specialised marketing and advertising agencies, Clarke Hopper. This was my launchpad, and from here, I spent the next 27 years working for the top marketing and brand activation agencies in London. First as an Art Director, then moving onto a Design Director and finally a Creative Director role.
What led you to go freelance?
I suppose it was that usual thing of becoming too far removed from the doing and being more about people management that finally made me want to go back to the things I like doing—creating my own design and illustration solutions.
Tell us about the work you do now and what a typical working day looks like.
The majority of the work I currently undertake is split fifty-fifty between brand activation consultation and illustration and design. A recent project for Cilwendeg Mansion has covered the full spectrum of building the brand, design and illustration of the various activation elements.
I’m sad to say this has been on hold for the last year due to Covid 19. When I’m not doing client meetings by video conferencing, project research or physical creation, I’m a mentor for new start-up business clients through Prime Cymru.
Talk us through your workﬂow; how do you usually develop your illustrations?
Generally, once briefed, I’ll spend a couple of days researching the subject, bouncing ideas off the client in order to create several solutions that answer the brief. I usually look for any hidden, creative value that sometimes isn’t always apparent. That’s my brand activation side at work!
This usually comes in the form of black and white scamp layouts to flesh out the concepts and mood boards, once signed off this is followed up with the colour illustration render.
How long have you been creating with Affinity and what tools/features do you like most?
Like most creatives of my age, I’ve many years of experience of the Mac, right from its introduction into the creative industry. Being involved in the launch in 1986, understanding and using the application software has always been second nature to me. Affinity first caught my attention in early 2016 and from a freelance point of view seemed like a godsend without the monthly fees! Affinity is just so intuitive. The thing that has really hit home is the ease I can work across all three Affinity platforms: one minute I’ll be laying out a vehicle in Affinity Designer, and the next I’m adding exhaust fumes in Affinity Photo, in pixels! And then back to Affinity Designer again.
“Affinity is just so intuitive. The thing that has really hit home is the ease I can work across all three affinity platforms: one minute I’ll be laying out a vehicle in Affinity Designer, and the next I’m adding exhaust fumes in Affinity Photo, in pixels!”
Transport is a reoccurring theme in your work. Where does your passion for transportation and military vehicles come from?
As a child, I was amazed by all things mechanical, being from the Tonka Toy generation! And that has carried on all through my adult life, being influenced by illustrators and artists such as Terence Cuneo, David Shepard, John Batchelor, Chris Foss and a college tutor, Peter Battersby, all had a part to play on my illustration style.
We love your vector landscapes. Can you tell us more about these and what inspires you to create them?
My visualising style has always had a strong link to that of fifties poster art, and it was an easy transition to carry that over to digital illustration. If I’m honest, I have always loved working in vector art, and this style seemed a natural progression for me. Using a select number of colours, my landscapes have tried to capture some of that fifties feel.
“My visualising style has always had a strong link to that of fifties poster art, and it was an easy transition to carry that over to digital illustration. If I’m honest, I have always loved working in vector art, and this style seemed a natural progression for me.”
Can you tell us what you’re working on right now?
Most, if not all, projects that were in the pipeline have been kicked into the long grass due to the Pandemic. Up until last spring, I was involved with the brand activation of Cilwendeg Mansion, a new venture that’s planning to open up as an exclusive use private hire venue, where only extended family &/or friends stay together. Recently I started working on a couple of projects, one of which is trialling a new approach so as to keep things fresh, needless to say, they are transport based!
You have decades of experience in the creative industry. Is there a favourite project which stands out that you most enjoyed working on?
Gosh, that’s a tricky one! There have been several over the years that stand out. Recently a branding execution for Bewl Water Activity Park was a joy to do. I suppose one of the largest branding activation jobs over the years was the long term involvement with McDonald’s on global communication and visual branding design implementation.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced since becoming a freelancer? And how have you overcome them?
Good question! Being adaptable and flexible in your approach. Long term relationships can be beneficial and help resolve issues of trust when it comes to your client buying into your solutions. I often find taking a client through a well-structured presentation, outlining the objectives and possible solutions with a sound rationale for the designs are key to allowing the client to decide and understand your creative work.
Do you have any ‘top tips’ for success in the world of design and illustration?
Don’t stop learning. I haven’t! There’s always something new happening out there. There’s more than one way to solve a brief. Discover. Be surprised. There’s always a smarter solution if you keep looking.
Are there any dream projects that you would like to work on in the future?
Having spent many years in the industry at the highest level, I think any project you work on has to be approached as your dream project; keep the energy levels high with a freshness of eye and originality to the execution. Above all, we should all be adding value to the things we do.
“I think any project you work on has to be approached as your dream project; keep the energy levels high with a freshness of eye and originality to the execution. Above all, we should all be adding value to the things we do.”
You can see more of Mike’s illustration and branding work on his website and Facebook. Check out @therailwayillustrations on Facebook to see more of his amazing railway art.