Interview by Tina Essmaker
Photo by Paul Sobota
Mikey Burton is a part-time designer and a part-time illustrator who has worked professionally for about a decade. During that time, he’s done a lot of work for clients such as Converse, ESPN, Target, the New York Times, Time Magazine, and Esquire, among others. Burton spent his formative years at the great Kent State University in Ohio where he earned his master’s degree.
TINA: Describe your path to what you’re doing now.
It’s been a long path. Growing up, I think I was like many kids who eventually go into this industry: I liked to draw. My parents were also very encouraging. My mom bought me pencils, pens, and crayons to ensure I was fully stocked all the time!
In high school, I really liked art class and wanted to do something creative, but didn’t know what that meant. I wanted to be an artist, but not a starving artist—I wanted to make a career out of my work. I blindly decided to go into graphic design because it sounded like I’d get to use a computer and design CD packaging for a band or something, which is really funny to think about now.
I attended college at Kent State University and it was very different from what I thought it would be. I wanted to quit for the first couple years. When I started in 2000, the program was still all analog. I had to buy all these drafting supplies, and the first few projects involved inking lines and circles in a grid by hand with a T-square. Everything had to be perfect—it was graded down to 1/64 of an inch—and I didn’t like that at all. I wanted to do something creative, but that seemed to be the complete opposite. But my parents encouraged me to stick with it, so I did. Eventually, school became easier, and I started doing well. Kent actually offered a degree that combined a master’s and a bachelor’s, so I was able to earn them both at the same time. If anyone asks me if they should go to grad school where they went to undergrad, I’d probably say no, but that package deal was nice for me.
“I wanted to be an artist, but not a starving artist—I wanted to make a career out of my work. I blindly decided to go into graphic design…”
I made good friends at college, many of whom I’m still friends with today. We constantly challenged each other to try new things. In 2004, there was a giant resurgence of gig poster work, and we thought it would be cool to do that. We didn’t know how to screen-print, but we haphazardly taught ourselves how and just started doing it. We didn’t necessarily think we’d make any money—it was just something fun to do. At that time, we took on any opportunity we could, whether it was putting our posters in a coffee shop or including them in a little gallery show. This was before any social media awesomeness, so we took it to the street and did everything locally. We contacted local venues and started printing posters for friends’ bands. READ MORE…