1. What’s your story? Where are you from?
My story has been a meandering but perfect Dylan path. I grew up in the midwest (SE Michigan) as an average and ungifted kid. University was a great time for me because for the first time I learned that a) I was smart and b) I enjoyed learning. Beyond that, it was clear traditional education wasn’t for me, so after two years I left school to pursue a certificate in Digital Media Arts from a local school. They taught us just enough to be dangerous in the areas of videography, post-production, motion graphics, and web and graphic design. Upon completing the program I was whisked off to New Orleans for my first job as a graphic designer. The next few years were highs and lows of learning how to be a designer for other people, honing my skills and style, and trying to pay off student loans (remember that degree I didn’t finish?). A couple years ago, I was working for a tech startup doing UI and marketing work, aka being someone else’s hands for someone else’s vision. This is why designers are amazing, they can slip into this crucial role, absolutely kill the work, and move on. I can’t. I found I had a hard time caring so deeply for the work then needing to step aside as poor decisions were made above my head. I hated working in the creative industry and not feeling creative; I felt I had a bigger vision and world to share. So in my spare time, I started my first 100-day drawing challenge to get myself less intimidated by my art supplies, and on the road to being the artist, I always hoped I could be. Shortly after, I published my first class on Skillshare showing how I was digitizing my little sketches, and both of these things proved to be incredibly fruitful planted seeds. Fast forward to now, where I no longer work as anyone’s hands. I call myself an illustrator and artist and get to create floral and whimsical illustrations for brands, products, and packaging of all kinds. I’m also a teacher; I now have 9 classes on Skillshare, 30k students, and over a million minutes watched. I went from feeling very lonely in a job that felt cold, to feeling like I have the biggest community of gifted peers and friends and a job that I always want to be thinking and dreaming about. TL;DR: I started in graphic design and slowly transitioned to illustration and surface design. I teach on the side. I wave at dogs.
2. Tell us about your aesthetic.
My aesthetic is retro, bold, and feminine/whimsical, but that last part is always grounded with ugly colors, a touch of humor, or a hint of darkness. It’s never too pretty pretty. I rely on color to define my shapes and tone, lines to define my textures, details, and values, and overall I shoot for a minimal approach to my pieces.
3. What is your favourite medium and why?
If I have to just pick one, I’d have to go with pen and ink, and more specifically my trusty Pilot Precise v5 pen. I love that it can define shape, texture, and value, and for that reason, I think it can do the most work out of my most used mediums. I also enjoy that I can use it virtually anywhere. Gouache is not far behind though; that inky and flat and creamy texture is just tooooo good for me to resist.
4. What is your artistic process like?
I almost always work in a hybrid workflow that employs both traditional/analog methods and digital processes. The general flow is this: brainstorm, sketch, refining (composition and shape), color, finishing touches. For the most part, the first steps happen with my hands in a sketchbook of some kind, but every once in awhile, I’ll use my iPad (her name is Maude) to sketch more quickly if I’m having a hard time getting the idea out. I’m not a quick artist, I have to decide things one at a time (story>shape>composition>details>color>texture), but I’ve leaned into this and enjoy the long and thoughtful process. Most of my work is finished in Photoshop, though I do use Illustrator frequently as well.
5. Who and/or what inspires your work?
I love the work of childhood favorites Ed Emberley, Edward Gorey, Quentin Blake, and Mary Blair, but I also love the classic and graphic look of Saul Bass’ work. I can see my years spent focused on functional graphic design work have produced in me a conservativeness where only what’s essential and communicative is left in the artwork. While those are the things that inspire the aesthetic of my work, the stories behind my work are from the moments I’ve collected and observed that make me laugh, or feel humble, or help me relate to other people. The fear of the delivery guy knocking on the door when you don’t have a bra or pants on. Working towards scary dreams and all the friends that help in big and little ways. Real people you might see at the public pool, etc. All moments I experienced and enjoyed in some way, and wanted to bring forward for others to enjoy and relate to, too.
6. What role does art play in your life? How does it change the way you view the world?
How we do anything is how we do everything, and art has been a great microcosm to learn about my own tendencies and needs. I’ve learned that making art is not easy (there’s a war in our brains!) and so I’ve grown a much bigger appreciation for art of all kinds because I know whoever is producing it is mustering SO MUCH COURAGE to do so, and that is staggeringly beautiful and awesome. I love that art is both non-essential and vital and gives us ways to build bridges out of our own worlds. In my day-to-day life, my art has built me a community that feels like a treehouse of creative and brave friends. My art brings me joy, allows me to be myself, and forces me to face so many important lessons (committing to the work over the results, showing up when you don’t want to, being okay with making a mess, sharing yourself, paying attention, etc). Art restores humanity for me.
7. Where did you study?
I studied at a small school called Specs Howard School of Media Arts for my certificate program (digital media arts), but after that, it’s all been self-taught and directed! Skillshare, YouTube, design blogs and books, and myriad other resources have been my great teachers.
8. Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years my business will be more established and my brand will be more well-known for bringing beauty and function into the homes and lives of my audience. My florals will be on walls, my characters will be in children’s books, and I’ll be continuing to lend a hand and extend a ladder to all the people trying to work as artists as well. By then I’ll have extended my teaching services to coaching and workshops, and will be able to better serve other creatives who need help moving forward. I hope to have my own online shop of By Dylan M illustrated products as well, and maybe an employee or two. I will probably still be wearing leggings as pants on the regular.
9. What about in ten?
In ten years, it’s time to start making a big dream a reality: opening up a brick and mortar destination that culminates and unites all my experiences with creating, teaching, and sharing. I want my shop to be a creative common ground for people in my community to come by and casually sketch, learn how to use illustrator, buy a unique gift, and bring their dogs. Art has been a great healer, a connector of kindred spirits, the giver of direction, and bringer of joy in my life in many ways, and I love finding ways to break down barriers so other people can feel that, too. In 10 years I expect my brand to be an empire that fuels creativity, gives back to real people and causes, and stays grounded in the belief that we are all here trying to do our best, and that art makes everything a little better and cooler.
10. What do you hope to achieve with your art?
With my art I hope I can make people feel nostalgic, understood, and warm; with my mission, I hope to make more creatives feel proud of their unique point of view and place in this world. I hope to make people feel empowered and less alone. Less afraid. Or rather, doing the things they love despite being afraid.
11. Now, tell us a little more about you as a person: what is your favourite food?
12. Favourite book?
“Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier and all of Ed Emberley’s drawing books for kids.
13. Favourite genre of music?
14. What are your hobbies?
Sewing, waving at dogs, wearing slippers, quoting Michael Scott, scraping off my nail polish, and wrapping presents.
15. If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?
Cereal taste tester. Taco collector. Hired dancer for wedding receptions.