Best known for his portraits of entertainers and celebrities, Mike Thompson has built a name for himself in the world of art. His paintings have been featured on television, and in print and web campaigns. Mike began his career working as both Designer and Art Director in the fashion industry. After creating top selling designs for companies such as Timberland, Ecko and Nike, the artist left the corporate world to become a full-time illustrator.
Over the past decade, his artwork has been featured in magazines, video game covers, movie posters and toy packaging. Some of his clients include: Marvel, Hasbro, Warner Bros, Dimension Films, and Cartoon Network.
One of Corel’s featured 'Painter Masters,' Mike has hosted several webinars for the company. His art and techniques have appeared in many international publications, as well as the books: Digital Collage and Painting, by Susan Ruddick Bloom, and Secrets of Corel Painter Experts, by Darryl Wise and Linda Hellfritsch.
- Tell us about your work.
I am a professional illustrator. Over the past 15 years I’ve worked on pieces for the music, fashion, video game, television and movie industries.
- What aspects of your childhood inspired your artistic creativity?
I grew up reading comics and watching cartoons, which proved to be a constant source of inspiration. I was always a big fan of music, especially hip-hop, so I started my career painting rappers for magazines. I am also a very big sci-fi and videogame nerd, so later I transitioned into package design for action figures, and console games.
- Tell us about your artistic training, learning process, and particularly how your work evolved as a result of it.
Drawing and painting has pretty much been a constant for me since I was a child. I can’t really remember not doing it. So, naturally, I majored in graphic design in college. I am a fan of great art, so I look at other artists’ work to improve my own. I still use books, and tutorial videos, to learn new techniques. I am a big believer that you are never done learning. That and a desire to always improve is what motivate me.
- Tell us about your various creative roles and any important lessons you learned.
Over the years I have been a staff artist, art director, creative director and consultant. I’ve enjoyed and learned a lot from each position. Most importantly, the more people you need to direct, the less time you have to create. I like to create.
- What advice would you give to someone considering making a transition from traditional drawing and painting to digital?
Too many artists jump right into digital work with no foundation in traditional techniques. I think it is important to start with the basics before moving to digital work. Where should they start - what equipment and software do they need? Very simple; paper and pencil. Master that and your paintings will look infinitely better. As far as equipment for digital work, any PC with decent specs and enough memory will work. I would definitely suggest buying a drawing tablet, trying to paint with a mouse is not really an option.
- Corel Painter is an integral tool in your most recent work. What is Corel Painter and how does it help you to create your stunning images?
Painter is a natural media painting application. It mimics traditional drawing and painting very convincingly. One thing I am not a fan of in digital painting is the traditional “digitally painted” look. I think leaving in brush strokes makes your work less sterile and far more interesting. I also use Photoshop, usually for its transformation tools and color correction.
- Traditional artistic training or computer aptitude? What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in commercial illustration?
I believe you have to have some form of traditional training in order to succeed - even if you are learning from videos, books or online, that training is very important. Computer aptitude helps, but I know digital artists who know very little and are successful.
- Your image of the Joker, as portrayed by Heath Ledger, is truly iconic. Tell us about it.
Thank you. I painted that piece for Warner Bros. around the time that the Dark Knight was released. It was used for promotion of the movie and is still one of my favourite pieces. That is one of those pieces of art I mentioned earlier where leaving in all the strokes added to the impact of the painting. Unfortunately, it is also one of my most bootlegged paintings, but I guess that just means people like it.
- What do you find most rewarding in the creative process, and how do you overcome that which you find challenging?
The most rewarding part of the process to me is, stepping away from a finished painting and knowing I have accomplished what I set out to do. I’d like to say it happens more often than it does, but when you nail it on the first pass, I have to admit, it feels good. The challenging thing is going back to something that could be done better and reworking it. Over the years, it’s become less of a chore, or even an option. It doesn’t matter how much good work I’ve put out, the paintings people don’t forget are the ones that aren’t.
- Tell us about your contributions to the Verizon Interactive Fan Wall at the Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey.
That was a really fun project. The concept was pitched to me as kind of Tom Cruise in Minority Report. The ad agency had me paint full sized versions of the Verizon actors for a 10’ x 30’ wall. They then mounted three HD touch screen monitors vertically on rails in front of my painting. As you slide the monitor over my painting, it appears on the monitor then transitions from a black and white static image into a live action feed talking about the service. Very cool! As a tech nut, I was all over this project.
- You have worked on animated television series such as Green Lantern and Beware the Batman. You have also created posters and iconic images for the film industry. What aspirations, or reservations, do you have regarding the continuing application of your work to film and television?
My aspirations are to continue doing it as long as possible, hah. I am a tremendous comic fan, so working with DC and now Marvel has always been a dream of mine. I don’t really have any reservations, what is not to like about superheroes and movies? Working on the Guardians before the movie came out was fantastic, so I couldn’t be happier.
- Tell us about your work exhibited at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.
I painted an illustration I called the 4 Elements. The concept was four legendary figures of hip-hop: a graffiti artist (Lady Pink), a break dancer (Crazy Legs), a turntablist (Grandmaster Flash) and a rapper (Jay Z). I chose to unify them with the colour orange. Since my origins were with hip-hop, this piece meant a lot to me.
- What other interests do you have?
I’ve always been a big gamer, so in what little free time I have I’ll jump on one of my consoles or watch a movie.
- Tell us a little about any good art you’ve seen recently or good books you’ve read.
I see fantastic art every day. Pinterest has proven to be both the best and worst thing ever. I spend way too much time there… “Do you like this awesome painting? Well here are a thousand more you might like!” I have to set limits or I will blow my entire day. The last book I read isn’t new, but it was awesome, Ready Player One. And, I just heard Spielberg will be directing the movie!
- Where can we find you and your work?
Everywhere; but my site is a good start: www.miketartworks.com I have links to everything else from there.