Michelle Erickson is the illustrator and writer behind Mishka Marie, a line of cards, prints, and other illustrated items that we can’t get enough of. She uses watercolors to first create the shapes of her subject matter, then completes her drawings with ink, letting the initial (and often accidental) contours and color variations guide the outcome. Michelle let us pick her brain about her creative process, the best project she’s ever worked on and her advice for young female designers—and ladies, whether you’re just starting out or an old pro, her words of wisdom will definitely hit home.
I love that your work is whimsical yet irreverent. How did you develop your voice as an illustrator?
Thank you—I actually feel like I’m still developing it! Since doing art professionally is a fairly new endeavor for me, I’ve tried not to limit myself creatively. I want to continue to experiment with style, approach and subject matter until I intuitively feel like I’m at a good place to pause and settle into artistically. And who knows, maybe that will never happen. I’ve been feeling my way throughout this transition to freelance artist, trying not to set too specific of guidelines, and I think I’ll probably just continue to do so.
You’ve said that the “You’re the tits” card is a bestseller, and it’s clear why – it’s a great example of how your unique approach to bringing copy and illustration together. What usually comes first, the copy or the illustration?
Most of the time, the visual idea arrives first, and then how it will (or may) fit into a larger concept comes later, along with the copy. Usually the words will just pop into my head, inspired by the artwork. I try not to overthink the wording, but rather if it connects, great, if not, it’s probably not a good match. I used to be a writer/copywriter for a marketing company, so I think the marriage of design and copy is something that has been engrained in my thought process.
What’s your favorite project you’ve ever worked on?
That’s tough, because it keeps changing. Again, being fairly new to this, professionally, I get so excited about every collaboration or commission. Every experience is such a great opportunity to learn—either from my own work or process, or from others. I did recently work on a project where I was asked to create something for a company’s merchandise and they asked for the design to include guinea pigs. It was a completely random request, but I was really excited to try something completely new. Turns out, I really like drawing guinea pigs.
Over the course of your career, have you encountered obstacles or inequities specific to your gender? If so, what have you experienced?
My initial response was going to be no, but on second thought, I believe that by simply being a female I’ve inherently encountered obstacles and inequities that go beyond (and yet are intrinsically tied to) my career. For example, it seems impossible to think that living in a world where women are still often treated as second-class citizens wouldn’t have some effect on how I view myself in regards to being independent, being my own boss, striving for success in a non-traditional field, making demands, setting compensation rates, etc.
If you could give one piece of advice to young female designers, what would it be?
Own your value. Don’t wait for it—as a female, as a designer—to be assigned to you. Know that it is there from the beginning and anything acquired later is merely experience, knowledge, maybe even recognition, but not worth. That is something only you can deem or measure. Believing this implicitly will make you a stronger female, a stronger designer.
Photography by Christine Taylor