Michael Arnold is a self-taught designer and illustrator. At the tender age of 21, he has established a bold, iconic style that lends itself perfectly to the fashion industry. His patterns and colours are ideal for t-shirt art and will appeal to kids as well as adults.
Michael also writes a column for the Design & Culture site called The Fox is Black.
Michael Arnold is represented by George Grace Represents.
The Fableists > Tell us a bit about how you got in to this crazy world of art and design.
MA > Well, I left school and initially wanted to get into Graphic Design. At that point I wasn’t interested in going to University and was just eager to get started so I set up a small print shop online called ‘The How To Project’ – the aim being I would teach myself along the way whilst finding my way into the industry. After a while I realized I much preferred creating the images themselves and made the move into Illustration. I picked up a few clients here and there and started to build up a portfolio and a style – I rather ambitiously started to contact agents which is where I met George who decided after some practice he would take me on.
The Fableists > What, or who are your influences?
MA > I have quite a lot of influences but it’s never one person wholly. My main influences are artists that work quite boldly like Julian Opie and Lichtenstein – Lichtenstein did a whole series of works later on that many people aren’t as aware of as his others and I love those ones. Current artists like Kevin Lyons and Kate Moross who have been able to translate their style into many different areas and ‘canvases’ are also a great inspiration to me.
The Fableists > Where do you live and do you take inspiration from those surroundings?
MA > I live near Cheltenham, near the River Severn (Gloucestershire, England). Generally I don’t take too much inspiration from my surroundings however these days there seems to be more of a creative vibe around here notably with the Cheltenham Design Festival which I went to during the Summer and the opening of the Cheltenham Art Museum which I’m definitely going to visit. Also, Bath Spa is quite near me and I often go to visit my sister there. They also have an awesome creative community round there.
The Fableists > What is your work process? Do you draw every day?
MA > My process is a difficult one to really nail down. It differs from project to project in terms of ideas but with illustrating it’s pretty much the same: I’ll take out my notebook and usually write the idea out rather than sketch anything, I may doodle some very rough (read: terrible) line drawings to put some shape to the words. Then I’ll take it straight to the laptop and begin blocking out shapes and colours at the same time, gradually refining and tidying and tightening areas up until I’m happy with it. For typography – that’s all hand drawn, scanned and then redrawn digitally in the same manner as my other work.
I do draw every day. I have quite a backlog of ideas already in my head so whenever I have a free moment I begin on one of those. I think it’s important to draw or design every day, I’m of the mind set that it’s similar to being a sports player – you have to practice to build up that fluency and confidence if not just for your hands then for your ability to visualise things. Malcolm Gladwell once wrote a book about having 10,000 hours of practice to be considered a master at anything – so that’s what I’m aiming for.
The Fableists > Your designs for The Fableists are already proving very popular with our team. What was the inspiration behind them?
MA > Well, after being given the new tagline which is ‘Play Hard, Live Forever’ it made me think of that ‘Live Fast’ phrase that was associated with bikers and rebellious youth! I played around with the type first as I knew that I wanted the ‘Live Forever’ part to be illustrated in a script like style – the kind you might see on a biker patch. From that it sort of clicked and the image of a biker with a Wind-Up key came to mind, the idea then leant itself to series with other wind-up toys that could be illustrated in the same manner.
The trickiest part was creating the humour in it, balancing out the reality of the motorbike being a child’s toy with the fantasy of it riding into the sunset. It was as much for the children to enjoy as it was for their parents to appreciate. A throw back if you will!
The Fableists > Which is your favourite t-shirt from The Fableists’ first collection and why?
MA > I really like Crispin Finn’s Dress Good design, it’s one of those ideas that’s so simple and makes you jealous you didn’t think of it. In terms of design I feel it’s strong enough to stand on it’s own but subtle enough to be able to work with the other collared shirts and clothes you have to offer.
The Fableists > What do you think about The Fableists’ mission to make sustainable clothing for kids?
MA > I think it’s great. There are so few interesting companies that involve the kids themselves in the ideals of the company. Most children aren’t aware of how their clothes are made and the brands that try to educate them often come out as preaching to them – and in most cases in a way the kids won’t understand. I think there’s a fine line between creating something that will make kids aware whilst making something they will wear. That was quite pithy! I think you’ve nailed it.
The Fableists > How do you hope that kids will see your t-shirt designs?
MA > I hope they’ll see it how I see it – as an image that gets their imagination going. When illustrating it I tried to strike that balance of how a child would see those toys in their imagination – the bike with the sunset cruising down the highway but at the same time not taking it too seriously. I hope they’ll get a feel of wanting to go on adventures with it on.
The Fableists > Can you tell us about one of your favourite pieces of work you’ve done? What was it for and what was it?
MA > My favourite piece so far was a pattern I designed for shoe company Bucketfeet. It’s finally going into production this spring and I’ve been able to see some product shots of the samples they had made it looks amazing. As an illustrator the best thing in the world is seeing something you’ve made on a screen become physical. Getting a shoe made was one of my dream jobs and I’ve been able to cross that off a lot sooner than I imagined.