I first came upon Mike O’Brien’s work at the Fenton Street Market, where a poster of his caught my eye. It was all black and white and a bold sunset orange. As is typical for me, I was drawn to the colors long before I even noticed what the images were or what the text said.
Turns out it was a poster for a concert, and although I was unfamiliar with the band, the first thought that popped into my head (after “wow, what a gorgeous orange”) was: I haven’t been to the Black Cat in a really long time.
Not only was it obvious that Mike had a great eye for color, it was also clear he’s really into music. A lot of Mike’s artwork is for concerts, bands, and musicians, and his love for music is evident in the energy of his illustrations. He loves the DC music scene and is inspired by punk rock and its DIY mentality, and it really shows, to spectacular effect.
Mike is a graphic designer with a passion for screen printing. Although he studied journalism in college, he was secretly much more interested in drawing comics for the school paper than writing articles.
After figuring out his true calling was in illustration rather than in writing, Mike found himself intrigued by the process of screen printing. His natural DIY spirit led him to experiment on his own, with zero background knowledge on screen printing, which (as anyone with a DIY spirit is familiar with) led to mixed results.
Mike eventually began collaborating with a friend Kevin Gomes, a much more experienced screen printer, who was happy to show Mike the ropes and the finer points of the process. Mike fell completely in love with screen printing, so much so that he built his own equipment! And the rest, as they say, is history.
Technically, screen printing is still Mike’s hobby and graphic design his job, but the two are so closely related for him that the lines blur quite a bit. “Graphic design is the organizational aspect of illustration – ie figuring out where to put what,” he explains. “Illustration is the raw creative aspect of graphic design – developing the imagery that then gets organized.”
Whenever he is able, Mike is creating images and using his home screen printing studio to replicate them by hand, in what he calls “an exercise in patience and tactile precision.” Although both his illustrations and his graphic design work start out as sketches in a notepad, his illustration work keeps him “grounded in the analog world.”
Visit Mike’s website to purchase his artwork, and to find out where to find him at DC area art events.