Our featured artist this month is Michael Waraksa, an illustrator based in Chicago who works with clients including TIME and The New York Times. Building multi-layered collages, most of them digital, Michael creates work with a sense of humour and a strong through line, putting his own stamp on a multitude of source materials lifted out of time and liberated from their original contexts.

What was your route into art and illustration?

I was interested in art even before I started kindergarten. I spent many hours drawing as a child and received a fair amount of encouragement from teachers and relatives during those early years. My interest in art continued through high school and I eventually decided to attend art school. At The Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in Wisconsin, I decided to major in Illustration. After graduating, I started working in the art department of an advertising agency, where one of my duties was creating editorial illustrations for various in-house publications. After about five years I left to begin freelancing and have been doing that ever since. When I have time in between commissioned illustration jobs, I like to work on personal projects.

There are loads of layers in your work. Do you plan them out before you begin or make it up as you go along?

When I am working on commissioned illustrations I need to do much more planning and provide sketches so that the client has an idea of what direction I plan to take and so that there are no surprises when I submit the finished illustration.

When working on personal work my process is usually a little different. Most often I like to let it develop as I go along, observing how different elements and colours play off each other and allowing that to push me into unexpected directions. I usually do not really have a preconceived idea of what the finished piece will eventually look like.

What’s your working process and how does it differ between commissioned and self-initiated work?

Most of my recent work has been done digitally, but I do also make hand-cut works from time to time and may return to doing that more often. I see collage as a form of recycling, whether that be handmade or digital. I am attempting to build something new and unexpected by layering and juxtaposing a variety of disparate elements together. Scraps of printed text, photographs scanned from books, my own photography and scribbles, along with items fished out of the trash or found blowing in the wind, may all find their way into the mix. I allow any preconceived ideas to take impulsive detours as my final destination is purposely vague.

Nature, history, technology, advertising and dreams are some reoccurring themes and influences in my self-generated work, but much of the direction is driven by my subconscious and simple reaction to the elements at hand. Any meaning is mostly open-ended and the viewer is encouraged to fill in the blanks.

When it comes to creating commissioned illustrations, the technique remains similar but there are obviously parameters that are to be followed, including a specific subject, size and due date. Sketches are presented and the chosen direction must be adhered to. Those impulsive detours must be held in check. The commercial work is also usually more of a collaboration between me and the client.

What do you have planned for 2016?

I hope to continue making work that makes me excited and inspires me to keep exploring. With commissioned work, there are many surprises. You never really know where or when the next assignment or opportunity is coming from. Your day or week can turn on a dime. It can be a challenge to balance commissioned illustration assignments with finding the time and energy for creating personal work. An artist also needs to make time for experimentation, which is essential to evolving and keeping things fresh.

michaelwaraksa.com

Sam Walby