The in-demand creative chats influences, methods, and the benefits of being pro-active.

Crack’s office is cosy to say the least, though it’s not blessed with the gift of great space.

Cut-outs of various imagery and photos clutter the walls, and among those are the various posters designed and submitted to us from previous issues. One of which is an image we received over a year ago from an up-and-coming young designer / illustrator – Mike Lythgoe.

‘The more you put in, the more you get out’ is a phrase often thrown around with varying degrees of truth, but it’s certainly a saying that can be applied to Mike.

Armed with an enviable mix of creative flair, coupled with a sharp business sense, which he uses to successfully promote and expose himself, this year has seen him go from working part-time in retail, to designing for some of the biggest clients in the world today.

Crack caught up with Mike to talk about his quick rise to the top.


Since creating a piece for our centre-page poster, you seem to have had a very successful year. How have the last 12 months been for you?

That centre page poster for you guys was where it all really started, it was my first published illustration and has thankfully opened doors to a lot of other commissions. Since moving down to London in April it’s been non-stop for me. I’ve been doing extremely long hours interning and spending most of my time on my freelance work.

What was it like working with Alexander McQueen and taking your designs across to fashion?

Working at McQueen was a great experience. It was the first place I applied for an internship and a day later I was doing 14-hour days, six days a week. Designing a pattern one day and then having it sent over to Italy to be printed, within a few days you could walk into the room next door and see your print being made into a garment. Although it was a shock to the system, working in such a fast paced environment really set me up for what to expect from a job in the design industry.

What have been your biggest influences?

Like most most designers, I am continually influenced by ever-changing subjects. I think it’s best to be influenced by things outside of the industry you are most involved in. At the moment I mostly look to architecture for inspiration. Flicking through the pages of Mark magazine never fails to fill my head with potential compositions and forms that are waiting to be transformed into illustrations.

What artists and designers are inspiring you at the moment?

There are loads of illustrators and designers out there I admire and for whom I have lots of respect, although I try not be influenced too much by other people’s work as I think it is really important to make your own way in design. For me the most inspiring illustrators are Valero Doval and Mario Hugo; they are two of the most consistent illustrators out there. I’m also really into what Rob & David are producing at Inventory Studio. Their client list is varied and their output is certainly something to admire.

How did you first get into design and what’s your background?

I’ve had an interest in design since I was really young. My dad is a successful artist, so growing up around it definitely influenced me in wanting to pursue my own career in the design industry. After finishing my degree in illustration and taking some time out to live in Vancouver, I moved to London, which is where it all started working out for me.

Can you talk us through your creative process?

My work process is always pretty organic; I don’t like to plan too much. I will spend a while looking through my image banks and coming up with a few ideas, but without forging too much of how I want the final image to look. Then I get straight to work and see where it takes me. I think that having a mental image of what you want the finished product to look like can sometimes stunt the creative process. There is a balance to be found between communicating the intended message and not being too preconceived in how the image will look.

Where do you source all your imagery? Do you use any of your own photography and illustrations?

A lot of my imagery comes from my forever-expanding collection of found imagery. I spend a lot of time trawling the internet and secondhand bookshops for images. I also have a few photographer friends with whom I collaborate if there is a particular image I need. I think it’s really important to collaborate as often as you can, there’s always something to be learnt from other like-minded creatives.

Do you have any advice on how to land briefs, as it seems you have an ever-improving client list that includes Nokia, Diageo, Becks and 55dsl?

I think being versatile and also making sure your work is commercially viable is really important. I love everything I do, but I also want to make a living out of it. I have a lot to thank my agent at YCN (Young Creatives Network) for as I have had some great commissions in the last year. It’s really important to put yourself out there and get as much exposure as you can, but being part of a recognised agency is a great avenue to attract more clients.

You seem to have been very proactive with approaching magazines and various platforms to feature your work. Have you found this useful in successfully raising your profile?

Definitely, you can never have too much exposure. Some clients do come to you directly, but you can’t bank on it happening all the time. You need to put your self out there and show them what you do. Some of my biggest commissions have come from companies seeing my work in blogs and in magazines.

What’s your job involve at YCN and how do you still find the time to freelance?

I started out at YCN as an intern and then went on be a full-time member of the design team working on projects. I worked a lot of long hours and had to find time in the evenings and weekends to pursue my freelance projects. Eventually I was getting enough freelance work to not have time to work 9-5 as a full-time designer. I was lucky enough to be offered studio space at YCN to continue with my freelancing work. It’s perfect really. It means I get to work for a greater variety of clients and on a wider range of projects that aren’t just solo
illustration briefs.

How have you found the current job climate has affected finding work and securing briefs?

I think the creative industry as a whole has been affected, but there is still a lot of work out there. It just means that you have to look harder. On the plus side, a lot of companies that had to tighten their strings as a result of the economic decline have been turning to illustrators to do the work that might have previously been carried out by other types of creative. For example, in the execution of a photo shoot the turnaround is quicker and they only have to pay the illustrator and not a crew of people needed for the planning. It’s given illustrators a lot of creative control.

Do you have any advice to pass on to aspiring designers?

One thing my dad always told me was “the more you put into it, the more you get out of it” and this is especially true of the design industry. You have to work really hard to get to where you want to be, and then don’t stop once you are there.

What are your favourite websites / blogs?

I have a long list of blogs and sites that I visit on a regular basis. I think my favourites would have to be Visuelle, MOOD and Convoy. The other day I stumbled across the most useful site I’ve seen for a long long time; www.wordmark.it. You can type in any word and it previews that word in every typeface you have on your computer – amazing.

What’s next in the pipeline for you?

I have a few things coming up in the near future. I recently completed a big commission for Hewlett Packard, which will get me some great exposure. I’m also starting to venture into more graphic design-based projects as well as my illustration. I just got asked to design a new website for a record label so I’m looking forward to learning some new things and broadening my horizons in 2011

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Words: Thomas Frost

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