Gradwatch 2015: Michael Driver

After touring this year’s degree shows, we’ve selected visual communications graduates from across the UK who we feel have produced outstanding creative portfolios, and will be showcasing their work on the site this summer. The first of our graduates to be featured is the talented Michael Driver, from Kingston University’s illustration and animation course…

After touring this year’s degree shows, we’ve selected visual communications graduates from across the UK who we feel have produced outstanding creative portfolios, and will be showcasing their work on the site this summer. The first of our graduates to be featured is the talented Michael Driver, from Kingston University’s illustration and animation course…

Driver caught our eye with his accomplished and playful style, and a portfolio full of inventive self-initiated work and commercial commissions. Since completing his degree, he has been signed to MP Arts and produced illustrations for the Washington Post, The Telegraph, The Wall Street Journal and So Young magazine. We asked Driver about his studies, getting an agent and his plans for the future.

CR: How did you first get into illustration, and realise you are good at it? Has anyone in particular been a big influence or inspiration for your work?

MD: When I was in my early teens I got into a lot of alternative music, and I fell in love with the visuals that went along with these terrible bands. It’s almost embarrassing to think that I did now. I think at that point, I thought illustration was doing blood splattered merchandising for angry bands.

After a year or so of working full time and feeling very unfulfilled, I enrolled on an art foundation course and thought I’d try and pursue illustration. On doing so, my eyes were opened to a wider world of illustration and all the avenues it can be applied to. Towards the end of my foundation course, I applied to a couple of university courses and very happily toddled off to Kingston.

I finished university a few weeks back and have been trying to make it straight away as a freelancer. I don’t think there has yet been a time when I have sat back and thought, ‘Damn I’m good at this illustration thing’ – everything feels like a constant learning curve and I’m filled with an impending feeling of self doubt. I’d like that feeling to stick around for quite some time though, as it’s a good driving force, that and the worry of being able to make rent.

One of my biggest inspirations from early on was singer/songwriter Keaton Henson. He used to illustrate for a lot of bands and magazines, and I was obsessed with his graphic language.

Editorial illustration for a cocktail themed issue of Kiblind magazine

How was studying at Kingston? What are the three most important things you learnt there?

I had lots of tutor time, a nice studio space to work in and met some great people that I hope to stay friends with for a very long time. It’s the only opportunity in life you have to mess up without it costing you your reputation or money. I learned a heck of a lot studying there. Some of the most important lessons seem to be almost common sense: be a nice person, deliver on time, work hard. Aside from that, the course was really keen on getting you to do drawing from observation. It’s really not my bag but it’s fun to explore new places and use location drawing to record it.

Submission for a We Transfer brief set as part of D&AD New Blood 2015. Illustrators were asked to picture where they’d like to be in ten years time

You have an agent. How did you achieve this and what advice would you give to other grads to get signed?

I’ve had five different agencies get in contact with me over the last few months, which is pretty crazy as I’ve only just finished university. Most of the attention came my way through finding my work on social media. One or two came to my graduate show and found me that way.

I think it’s really hard to give any good advice about agencies as I’ve only worked on a few projects with my agent so far, but before I signed any contracts I emailed a few people on each roster just to make sure that I was in good hands, and weighed up my options after that. I don’t think anybody should look for an agent as such, I think that’s a pretty dangerous thing to do. There seems to be this constant discussion about ‘trends in the industry’ and I think looking to make your work more commercially viable can jeopardise your practice. Everybody should simply work hard and reap the rewards accordingly.

What are you working on at the moment? And how are you finding working on commissions – is it going well?

Everything seems to be going pretty well, last week was a pretty crazy one, especially for my first week freelancing, I did a fair bit of editorial work for The Telegraph, The Washington Post and The Wall Street journal. This week has been pretty quiet but it’s given me time to sit down and work through other bits and bobs that I had on. It’s also given me time to focus on sending more mail outs. I’m very much in a position where I feel I need to chase work to continue feeling like freelancing is a viable option for me.

Editorial illustration for So Young magazine

What are your future career plans?

At the moment, I hope to still be freelancing full time whilst being able to afford to support myself. Further down the line it would be nice to do a few shows, some books and maybe move into a bit more animation. I don’t have much of a career plan at all. I have a lot of clients I’d like under my belt but for now, that’s it.

For this year’s Talent Spotting scheme, in association with Creative Translation, CR has also teamed up with JC Decaux to showcase work by art and design graduates on digital screens in rail stations, shopping centres and supermarkets around the UK. Work by 20 graduates will be displayed from August 3 to 30, and captioned with each graduate’s name and university alongside a URL for our Talent Spotting page, which will list details of featured graduates’ work and where to find it. Full details will also be posted on the CR blog.

Cover illustration for The Washington Post’s Local Living section, for a feature on the importance of home security

Illustration for The Washington Post


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