Mike Lowery has the best job in the world and has arranged his universe to be the envy of, let's see,... everyone. He travels and draws. His doodles have caught the attention of some pretty major companies including; Hallmark, Random House, Nick Jr magazine, American Greetings, Disney, as well as many Graphic Design and Advertising Agencies. Literally yesterday I was at my son's school and in the break room I saw a pile of colorfully printed napkins with these great illustrations on them and I instantly recognized them as Mike's work. He's everywhere. His work is incredibly fun and he gives the impression that these doodles just pop out of his pen without any effort (watch his videos, I think they do). Of course, I'm sure it's still work, and Mike deals with headaches and deadlines like anyone else but you can't help but get the feeling that his work is incredibly fun to make. The thing I'm most geeked out about right now is his current Kickstarter campaign - Slightly Jet Lagged : The Travel Sketchbooks of Mike Lowery. I've been following his Instagram and love all these amazing travel sketches and now he's putting them in a book. Take a minute and check out his Kickstarter, I pledged for this book the minute I found out about it.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Mike's Kickstarter ends soon - like REALLY soon. Don't wait or you'll miss it... GO NOW!!
How often did you get into trouble doodling in class as a kid?
Constantly. But I remember at one point some teachers started noticing my sketches around my notes in class were actually ON TOPIC and since I was getting good grades they just let me do it! I think they preferred me sitting there quietly doodling versus making dumb jokes.
Did your parents encourage you as a young artist?
Absolutely! My dad even took me to buy my first drafting table as a surprise when I was 13 or 14. When we showed up to get it, I fell in love with it immediately. I would sit up at night and draw stuff. One night I was excited to show them a new comic I'd made and knocked on their door. My mom slowly creaked the door opened and quietly whispered "mike....it's three in the morning....show me tomorrow...." I had no idea it was so late. She laughed about it the next day.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a professional artist?
Well, I started drawing comics and cartoon characters as a kid, of course. Later, I went to college to be a graphic designer and painter (I didn’t know about the world of illustration really). Slowly my graphic design projects started looking like my drawings, and the two worlds slowly just blended together. In my early twenties I sent out a bunch of samples of my drawings to different publishers and a few years later one of them reached out to me to illustrate a manuscript. And I’ve been working on kids books ever since!
What’s a typical day like? Or is every day completely different?
I don’t really have a typical day, but most days I wake up early, hang out with my son when he wakes up, I head to a coffee shop to get some sketchbooking done before I start my commercial illustration work. I always draw before I start responding to emails so I don’t get bogged down by it. Then it’s back home for lunch with the family, more family time, then I go to the studio for more work stuff and then back to the family. When the kids are in bed I hang out with my wife and friends and then do a little more drawing before bed. So it’s mostly drawing and/or family time, which happen to be my two favorite things.
Some say it’s a challenge being married to an artist because their head is always in the clouds. Your wife Katrin is an artist as well so out of the two of you, which one is more grounded?
She’s definitely more grounded, but we are both business-minded artists so we work really well together.
How did the Fortune Machine come about?
My wife and I started a company a few years ago called Paper Ghost Press with our friend, Sarah Neuburger. After doing a bunch of festivals we decided it would be fun to do a pop-up booth that could go to events that wouldn’t need a full table set up. SO, we built a machine where guests can come up to the booth, put in a giant token, and the booth lights up and a curtain opens and a live human is there to draw your fortune. They’re not very accurate fortunes (for example the fortune reader might “see” giant tacos in your future), but we’ve had a ton of fun doing them.
Do you ever get nervous drawing in front of other people?
Not really anymore. When I do draw in front of others in presentations it’s usually something that I’ve done enough that I feel pretty comfortable with it. If it’s just me out drawing in my sketchbooks, I don’t really think about people looking at me really. It happens sometimes, but I just don’t think about it.
Your travel sketchbooks are amazing, do you have a favorite place you’ve visited?
Japan is always one of my favorite places to go. I’ve been a few times by myself and my wife and I have been together twice and we are already planning a trip with our 1 and 11 year old kids. But, we have tons of favorite trips. We loved Norway last year. We took a tour called “Norway in a nutshell” which sounded cheesy, but it was incredible. Iceland was slow and beautiful. We did a trip from Thailand to Vietnam and then into Cambodia which was one of our more adventurous trips. I broke my tooth in the jungle which wasn’t fun, but it made for a good story later.
How many trips do you try to take a year?
Every few months I get pretty anxious to get up and go. I grew up with a granddad who traveled constantly for work and parents who did the same, so it’s just in my blood. I’ve always just made it a priority. My wife is from Germany, so we try to get over there at least twice a year and we fold other trips into that trip. Earlier this year, I dropped off my wife and son in Hanover and flew to Russia for the first time and took a train to some small villages and loved it.
Most use money as an excuse not to travel, do you have any tips for traveling on the cheap?
I think folks make time and room for things that are big priorities. I never wanted some fancy car and bought a house that was small but worked great for our family, so we could keep our monthly expenses low so we could focus on travel. The big question I get is how do I find the TIME to draw and I never really know how to answer. It’s up to you to figure out what is getting between you and you making time for your sketchbook, so maybe it’s the same for finding the funds to travel if it’s really important to you.
Where haven’t you gone that you would love to go and fill up a sketchbook?
I have a few spots that are high up there for me. I have a friend in Ghana that I’d love to visit, India has always been on the top of my list, the Philippines. There’s a ton of spots!
Tell us about your current Kickstarter, Slightly Jet Lagged : The Travel Sketchbooks of Mike Lowery.
I’ve carried a sketchbook with me for over 20 years now, and when I go back through them some of my favorite pages are from when we’ve been traveling. I make drawings and comics about people we meet, sights we see, and of course all the new foods we try. So, I’ve gone through and collected a bunch of my favorite drawings and am collecting them into a book. I was a little nervous about doing a Kickstarter because I didn’t know what the response would be like, but it’s been absolutely incredible!
Besides your Kickstarter, do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
Yes! I also just recently published a book of weird stuff that I’ve learned called “Random Illustrated Facts”! It’s out now!
If money and time were no object, what project would you do?
Honestly, this Kickstarter project is it. I’ve wanted to put out a book of my travel drawings for at least 5 years, but I’ve been so busy with commercial stuff I didn’t really have time to focus on it. I’m really excited about making it a real book.