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MICHELE MELCHER



I was born and raised in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania where I spent the majority of my childhood drawing unicorns and being chased by goats. After hiding in the high school art room for the next three years I went to college where I eventually obtained a BFA in illustration from the University of the Arts. I have been working as a freelance illustrator ever since. My work has been commissioned by a diverse group of clients in advertising, publishing, editorial and the web. I also enjoy working on a variety of side projects including private fine art commissions and exhibits in galleries. 

When I’m not in the studio, you can usually find me at the nearest ice cream stand.  

www.michelemelcher.com 


When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?

Well, drawing pictures that tell stories is something that I have done for as long as I can remember. When I was a little kid I used to sit on the floor in the family room and make up comic strips and stuff.  As I got older there was a lot of hiding the sketchbook under my desk going on during class to the disapproval of many a teacher (they were confiscated more than once). So I guess it was just natural that I became an illustrator. I didn't want to be a painter and I pretty much suck at graphic design but I can draw the heck out of an article or story.


Who or what inspires you? 

Okay, this will probably be one gigantic run-on sentence so I apologize in advance. Traveling around and seeing new places is inspiring. It can be something as fancy as jetting to another country or just a simple day trip to a place that I've never been. One of my favorite things to do is get in the car with my husband, Brian, and just go explore. Sometimes we might pass by a really cool-looking antique shop filled with vintage junk or an old diner from the 1940's and have to make a U-turn to go back and check it out. I love roadside kitsch. I love animals. I love interesting places and faces. I love spending time with friends, they are very important to me. Hanging out, having a good time. Being around positive people. Avoid negative people and their bad energy like the plague - all they do is drag you down and suck that life out of you. Stay fun. Stay young. Stay adventurous. Don't be afraid to be yourself.  When I go through stretches of not doing anything fun, I get bored. When I get bored I get stagnant and uninspired. Brian jokes that I have this imaginary "fun cup" that needs to be re-filled at regular intervals. It's so true! Life goes by quickly, so make sure that you live it.




Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?

I suppose my training is half self taught and half formal education. I have always had the natural ability to draw and would spend the majority of my time as a kid doing just that. I grew up in rural Bucks County and there weren't a whole lot of other kids around to play with so you pretty much had to entertain yourself. If I wasn't playing outside until well after dark, I was usually drawing.  In school, art class was my favorite subject. Later on, when I was older, I took up Fine Art and Graphic Design in college and then transferred to the University of the Arts to study illustration. I'm always learning new things every day though. I have used traditional media forever and only recently bought myself a graphics tablet to work on. I LOVE it. I'm teaching myself how to use it and am gaining more knowledge with Photoshop in the process.




How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?

I think to keep fresh you always need to be learning new things and constantly creating new art. And you have to pay attention to what is going on in the world around you. If you get stuck in a rut or you make your world into a small little bubble, it shows in your work. I find myself always evolving as an illustrator. It's great to have a style and a look, but don't get stagnant. And it's great to be inspired by others work but don't try to emulate it too much. As with everything it is a balance. Yes, definitely check out what other people are doing. You want to see what kind of work art directors are buying: this guy always has super clean vector stuff or this girl has a really primitive look to her drawing and they are a super big deal right now or whatever. But you have to be aware that what might be hot now will inevitably be replaced by something else. I enjoy looking the work of my industry peers, especially really good work. But sometimes I find that there are an awful lot of illustrators who seem to be doing the same thing and that gets boring. 




What are some of your current projects?

Lately, I've been doing a lot of editorial work. I just had work in the May 2012 issue of Redbook, the August and September 2012 issues of Louisville Magazine and am currently illustrating a feature article for the upcoming October 2012 issue of Benefits Selling Magazine. I'm also in the process of doing some advertising work for a client, but I'm not at liberty to say for whom or what yet until it launches.  




Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?

One of the jobs that I was really proud of is the work that I did for American Express. You know those credit card window decals that you see everywhere on businesses? I got to illustrate one for them. Amex picked different artists from several major cities in the USA to illustrate decals. I was honored to be asked to represent the city of Philadelphia. It was a really cool job. I still get a kick out of it when I walk around and see it everywhere - and it IS everywhere! 

Another job that was really cool was having the opportunity to do all of the illustrations for Citadel FCU's new website. They didn't want the same run of the mill stock photography that is used in so many other financial institutions' printed material and websites. I had the chance to collaborate with the really great crew at a local Philly based experience design company, Think Brownstone, on the project. Think did the whole site re-design and I did the illustrations.




Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?

As I said before, I think you should always be open to learning new things. I'd like to someday maybe try working on a Cintiq. I've seen them in action and the technology is really amazing. And one potential upcoming projects that is in the works involves taking my illustration work and animating it. I haven't had any experience yet in that area, so it should be really interesting to go through the process. And one of these days when I have some time to paint I'll crack open that beginners oil set that Brian got me going on 6 years ago...yikes.




Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?

My advice? Lets see:
- Know your worth. Never EVER work for free ("spec work", "test work", "pro bono" are all working for free). If you don't respect the time and work that you put into something nobody else will. When you are starting out, it's really tempting to do free work on the promise of "more work in the future" or "great exposure". I know many people who have fallen into this trap. I know I have. It's not worth it. You are setting a precedent and devaluing your work by doing this. Unless you are doing it as a huge favor or for charity to a worthy cause, you should not be doing it at all. Does your doctor work for free? What about the contractor that you hired to install your new kitchen? If you do not act like a professional don't expect to be treated like one. Yet, there is always some idiot out there who will work for pennies and devalue the whole industry. Why would a client want to pay a fair rate for your hard work when someone else will work just as hard for FREE? We're all trying to make a living here. Don't be afraid that you "won't get the job". If someone doesn't want to pay you adequately for your time then it wasn't worth having them as a client anyway.

- Know how to write a contract. Learn about usage and buyout rights and other terms of use. Know how to negotiate with clients. Money is always a sucky subject for many creatives to talk about, but you gotta do it. It gets easier the more that you do it. 

- Never EVER miss a deadline. Always answer emails and phone calls from clients as soon as you can. Follow up. You are being paid to do a job. The life of a freelancer is not 9 to 5, so get used to it.

- Stay motivated. Always be making new work. You have to have a really good work ethic if you want to be successful as an illustrator. Don't sit and rot and watch bad TV every night. Create something great and show it off to the world!

- Promote Promote Promote.  Nobody's gonna come knocking' down your door for work if you don't show it off. And you can't rely on an art rep to do it for you. (I speak from experience) Have a website or portfolio site some kind which you update regularly.  If you can afford it, get an Adbase account and send out email campaigns and post cards. Blog about your work, Twitter about it, make a Facebook page and get your work OUT THERE. There are so many free avenues to promote yourself these days, take advantage of them! Use your slow times to make really great promotional pieces. If you do decide to go the art rep route…keep in mind that they will take 25 to 45% of your money. So make sure that they are doing their job - they work for you and are supposed to be managing your career, not the other way around.

 - Remember to stop and smell the roses. :) 




What makes a design or illustration successful?

Sometimes, less is more. Over thinking or trying to make something work that just won't just gets frustrating. Sometimes you just have to take a step away for a bit. 




What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?

Refill my fun cup.




Finish this sentence. "If I weren't an illustrator I would have been a..."

…zoologist of some sort but since I'm not I'll just have to settle for being a crazy-cat-lady-in-training. 




And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?

I don't watch too much TV but I LOVE the Walking Dead! Of course.




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1 comment:

Tomas Bjornsson said...

I really like your work, especially your cityscabes. Great linework, colours and atmosphere

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