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Artist of the Week – Michael Cho

November 28, 2011 by · No comments

An Interview with Cartoonist and Illustrator Michael Cho by Jasmina Tacheva

On his personal blog, Michael Cho describes himself as a: “Freelance illustrator, cartoonist and occasional writer, based in Toronto, Canada.” Behind this unostentatious description stands the artist responsible for both the illustration and the design of Penguin’s 25th anniversary edition of “White Noise” by Don DeLillo and of Random House’s “The Amazing Absorbing Boy” by Rabindranath Maharaj. He has done illustrations for the New York Times Book Review and is the creator of the webcomic Papercut.

A Family Portrait by Michael Cho

Your work is diverse and full of creativity. What inspires you?

That’s a very open ended question. I think just life and life experience is enough to inspire me. I enjoy trying to translate moments I’ve experienced into something on paper.

Madman and the Atomics by Michael Cho

Could you describe for us your typical ‘start to finish’ work-flow when working on an illustration?

Sure. If it’s for a client, I usually get an article or synopsis to read over, which i do while mentally working out any intitial ideas. Then I spent some time thumbnailing, trying out different concepts for the illustration. From that, I make a tight rough colour sketch which I send to the art director. I sometimes do that sketch digitally and other times with markers and inks. Once the sketch is approved, I pencil a tight drawing which I use as the basis for the final painting. Often the painting is done in gouache, but I also work in markers or digitally as the illustration demands.

If it’s personal work for myself, I usually listen to a lot of music while working on some crude drawings which I then paint up in gouache and ink, again listening to a lot of music.




The Adventures of Superboy by Michael Cho

Which term do you prefer: Illustrator or Artist?

Doesn’t matter to me.

You recently announced you are “no longer accepting any more requests for commissioned sketches” and that you are “now going to be concentrating mostly on freelance assignments and my own personal projects”. Can it be inferred from your statement that you prefer to follow your own ideas and not the ideas that come from clients/ commissions?

Kind of. First, I should clarify that by “commissioned sketches”, I mean the kind of artwork that comic fans want to commission from artists – big superhero themed paintings in my case. I’ll still be doing regular editorial/advertising/whatever work as an illustrator. I still enjoy painting superhero paintings often, but I just didn’t enjoy having a list of commissions that I was carrying in the back of my head all the time. Comic art collectors are a very nice and patient bunch and don’t bother me much with reminders, but I just didn’t like having more work hanging over my head. So yes, I would just rather paint some super-hero paintings when I felt like it, unencumbered by a commission list.








A Night at the Opera Pt. 2 by Michael Cho

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

Probably coming up with a good concept on a tight deadline. Those first steps of concepting an illustration are the most fun, but they can also be horribly nerve wracking if it’s 3 am and you still haven’t come up with a good idea.

Also, since i’ve become a father, trying to juggle raising a toddler with the demands of work.

How has the computer changed the way you draw or finish a piece?

Crossroads – pencil by Michael Cho

Hmmm, that’s an interesting question because I’ve had to use computers all my professional life. I’m not old enough to remember a time when illustrators didn’t need at least some computer skills — I came in at the start of the era when illustrators began emailing files instead of fed-exing original art. So I’ve always had to at least scan and colour correct art using a computer.

Of course, these days, I use software quite a bit more. It’s just another tool in my toolbox. I have a cintiq, which lets me draw “on the screen”, and that might have made the most impact lately — it’s allowed me to do some things completely digitally and allowed me to take a lot of risks, knowing that there’s always an “undo” button.

Crossroads by Michael Cho

What contributions do you feel your job offers to society?

At best, artists are the visionaries of our culture – the dreamers who imagine new possibilities. I like to hope that my work contributes to an honest visual documenting of the times I lived in.

Jon Snow from “Game of Thrones” by Michael Cho

What advice would you share with someone who is just entering the world of illustration?

For people starting out, I’d say: draw every day. Keep an open mind and never be afraid to be wrong. Constantly re-evaluate art and approaches to art that you wrote off. Be professional and courteous. Observe deadlines. And try not to waste too much time on facebook or twitter.

Back Alley – Fall by Michael Cho

Do you feel that being an illustrator enables you to see things around you differently than others?

I think that applies to most creative people. I’m sure musicians and writers experience things similarly to illustrators. I do pay more attention to visual things, since I am a visual person. I’m always looking for interesting details in things I look at, trying to figure out the construction of objects and examining the way light and colour plays on a surface and what kind of emotions that evokes. But, as with my craft, I am always hoping to improve my “vision” and my ability to really see and appreciate things around me.

White Noise Cover Colour Rough 1 by Michael Cho

The Amazing Absorbing Boy - Book Cover Art
The Amazing Absorbing Boy – Book Cover Art by Michael Cho

You can check out Michael’s latest projects by visiting his website.

Christmas Card 2009 by Michael Cho

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