Review of the Year 2015: illustrator Michael Driver


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In our seventh review of the year article we catch up with Michael Driver who, fresh out of university, has had a year to remember.

In July we chose Michael Driver as one of our 2015 Graduates and since leaving Kingston University the London-based illustrator has had a whirlwind year going from one commission to the next. His textural and brightly-hued work, full of long-limbed characters is a joy to look at. Their crispness and clarity suits print wonderfully but his use of both digital and analogue techniques keeps things interesting.

Michael’s client list is long and illustrious having been commissioned by The Guardian , The Sunday Times , Wired , AnOther and The Wall Street Journal among a whole load more. The trust Michael has already built with his clients is a testament to his ability to continually deliver great work and it’s impressive to see this amount of commissioned work coming from someone so soon out of university.

As well as commissions, Michael has shown his work at various exhibitions throughout the year. He was also awarded a wood pencil at the 2015 D&AD Awards with his entry for the D&AD WeTransfer brief, a piece of work that depicted the illustrator ten years into the future, crammed into an Eames chair and hunched over a desk.

We asked Michael to tell us about his year and how he’s managed to overcome the challenges of going freelance straight out of university.


Michael Driver: Mosaic Science


Michael Driver: Mosaic Science

What was your creative highlight of 2015?

It’s a tough one to call but I think out of all of the stuff I’ve achieved in the last year the creative highlight was probably the chance opportunity to illustrate live at the launch of the second issue of the Eighty Eight journal, which was put on at the Design Museum during London Design Festival. The journal commissioned a lot of illustration for their second issue and almost all of it was way better than the stuff I did for the issue, so it was really surprising to be picked out from everybody to illustrate live at the launch by Kate who art directs the magazine.

I think the Design Museum technician working that night had kind of clocked that nobody was really too fussed about me drawing, so at the end of the evening he managed to persuade the staff to project the image I’d drawn on the side of the Design Museum which was really kind of nuts, I’m forever thankful for that technician and if you see this, drop me a email and I’ll buy you a pint. It’s my highlight for two reasons, one being that The Design Museum is such a reputable institution and a museum that I really love, and the other because it was something I’d never imagine doing after graduating. 

What was your lowlight of 2015?

I’ve been really lucky these last five months with work, I’ve had a steady flow of continuous work up until about three weeks ago when I dropped off the radar a little bit. Luckily I’ve picked back up again and things seem to be a lot less stressful – as this is my only source of income when things go quiet I tense up a bit. All in all I’ve worked on a good 50+ projects this side of the year and this isn’t including exhibitions and bits that I’ve done for free for smaller publications and projects. Most of my work has existed in a editorial setting, which is great, this is where I like being most, art directors working in this field are very open to ideas and experimentation and seem to get me, or at the least the ones I’ve worked with have.

Among all the editorial work I’ve done in the last few months I have also pitched on a couple big budget advertising and branding jobs, none of which I landed in the end. I understand now that the advertising side of stuff comes once in a blue moon and sometimes things just don’t happen, ad clients are gambling a lot of money and if their wavering on whether you’re the right guy to take the work on it makes complete sense if you don’t make it past pitch level. Some of those larger jobs I pitched on were for clients I really like so one of the lowest points was being told by one of those brands that they didn’t think my work was really suitable for them. 


Michael Driver: Noblerot

What do you think are the markers of a good year creatively?

I think a good creative year is an amalgamation of a few things including; crossing names off the long list of people I want to work with, taking part in group shows, seeing things in print, having a continuing working relationship with old clients, meeting new people, pushing myself to say “yes” to things that make me feel uncomfortable, feeling like I’m still learning from every job I’ve done, pushing my craft, experimenting and leaving time to continue to stay inspired.

Most of this is pretty much a given, however I think it’s really important for me to set goals so I feel like I’ve got something to work towards and stay really focused, I spend most of the day working in a basement studio by myself so having goals is really important otherwise I can get into a bit of a pickle. 

Which piece of work from the last year has been your favourite to work on?

There’s been a couple of pieces I’ve really enjoyed working on but my favourite piece was the editorial work I did with Peta Bell for Mosaic Science about reverse integration through wheelchair basketball. The article touched on how sport can break down the boundaries and stigma attached to disability. My brother only has one hand and he works for Remploy who are a charity that focuses on getting people who are less able into work, so it was nice to work on a set of images around a theme I could really identify with and I really felt like I put my all into it. I didn’t go to bed on deadline day because I cared so much about delivering six of my strongest images.

From a technical point of view I think this project was a bit of a turning point regarding how I approached colour, from then on I’ve tried to brighten up my palettes and tried to stop sticking to the same four or five colours I originally was using. I also had a little bit longer on this project than most editorials I’ve done so far so it gave me a bit of time to focus on experimentation and doing all those fiddly bits of detail that I really love.


Michael Driver: Georges Magazine

Which piece of work from the last year do you feel has been most significant to your portfolio/career?

It’s a bit of a toss up between the self-initiated editorial work I did before I graduated and the poster I did for this years Bristol Comic and Zine Fair. My self-initiated work was a good way for editorial clients to understand that I could work to a editorial brief. The Bristol Comic and Zine Fair poster was really fun to work on and it was nice to have a lot of people I really admire selling under the identity that I did for this years fair. At first I felt like I was an odd candidate for the job because I don’t really make comics or zines, but Simon Moreton who commissioned me seemed keen to take me on and the poster over all seemed genuinely well received, which I’m really pleased about.

How has your work evolved over the last 12 months?

In the last six months my work has changed a lot through natural progression and working with clients. Experimenting with textures and how I make work is a big part of what keeps me going. I’m fresh out of university and I’m not in a huge rush to settle on a style or stagnate, I’m always trying to fix and explore how I make things. I know at the moment I’m working with some sort of visual identity but I feel like I’m just grasping at something else, and I’ve still got a long while to go until my work feels truly mine. I’ve had a bit of client feedback in recent months asking me to thin my characters down a little bit which I’ve had no real problem doing, at the end of the day Illustration isn’t art as such, it’s commissioned for a client who has an idea or aesthetic in mind and it’s my job to meet their expectations. I don’t have any sort of prima donna feelings about how people are trying to change my work, illustrating for a client definitely feels like a collaborative process for me and on the odd occasion where the client has asked me to make changes I’ve almost always walked away feeling really happy with how the images have come out. All in all I think my characters are starting to feel like they exist in their own world, and the colour palettes have gotten a lot brighter.


Michael Driver: Womens Health


Michael Driver: Womens Health

What’s been the most important thing you’ve learnt in the last year?

It’s been a really hard year but one I will never forget. I finished university, moved into a shambles of a house which came with a few rodent housemates, learnt how to do invoices and all the practical stuff which is a must for freelancing but I think the most important thing I learnt was actually that university doesn’t teach you how to be an illustrator. Looking back I really loved university, the tutors were great and they taught us a lot of important stuff that contributes to being a illustrator, but ultimately you can’t teach someone how to freelance.

Who has been the most influential creative for you in the last year?

I think its been a great year for the graphic arts in general, I can think of numerous people who have done really well but when I think about who has had a unbelievable year I can’t deny that Jean Jullien this year really stole the show. He seemed to constantly be doing new stuff and creating lots of exciting, fun and engaging work and I think that’s admirable. I can’t really mention his name with out also mentioning the Paris peace sign image he made, which became a symbol of remembrance, peace and hope for hundreds of thousands of people. With photography and video being so accessible it’s becoming harder for the illustrated image to have a mass impact on the world, but that image was so successful in achieving that.

Describe 2015 in five words.

Stressful, hard, exciting, rewarding, unimaginable.

What are your hopes for 2016?

I don’t have many plans as of yet for next year, I’m hoping to continue to stay busy with editorial work as well as doing a few more fun self initiated projects, it’s been a while since I did much self initiated stuff that I really cared about and I think it shows a little bit. 


Michael Driver: Noblerot


Michael Driver: Noblerot

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About the Author

Rebecca Fulleylove

Rebecca Fulleylove is a freelance writer and editor specialising in art, design and culture. She is also senior writer at Creative Review, having previously worked at Elephant, Google Arts & Culture, and It’s Nice That.

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