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Meet the Artist: Mike Reddy

Mike Reddy

Every year, the School of Undergraduate Studies commissions artwork for its annual Reading Round-Up program. This year’s art was created by Mike Reddy of Mike Reddy Studios.

Tell us a little bit about your career as a designer. How did you get started in the field?
I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a major in illustration, then moved to New York and got a job at Penguin designing children’s paperbacks. This was a while ago when simply knowing how to use a design program was enough to get you in the door! I essentially learned how to design from my boss, the great Deborah Kaplan, and I’ve carried her lessons for clear storytelling (with a sense of humor) throughout my career.

I eventually transitioned to magazine art direction, including a long stretch at Seventeen. I moved to Austin about four years ago and started a design firm with my friend Milton Carter. We do all sorts of things, including art direction for the magazine Oxford American. Throughout my design career I’ve taken on illustration projects, and now that I don’t have an office job, I can do it during the day instead of at 10 p.m. after coming home from work. I can also say “yes” to the occasional New York Times op-ed illustration. When I’m lucky enough to get an assignment, it comes in around noon and is due by 6 p.m. that same day—very intense!

Tell us about your process in designing this year’s Reading Round-Up artwork.
When I’m designing a poster, I start by trying to come up with a visual hook for the composition. My first sketches had Lady Bird Lake running up the center of the image (like the spine of a book) with a collage of characters from different story genres on the open “covers” on either side. It made for a nice setup, but after taking a walk around campus, I realized how much of the UT experience is being outside on campus and engaging with the city. So I kept the lake in the middle but switched the focus from characters in stories to the students themselves.

What advice do you have for students interested in a career in design or illustration?
It is a really transitional time for design and illustration. There is a ton of work, though the jobs are primarily in user experience or other digital media. My advice is to try to take advantage of your time in school to learn the latest new media applications for design. And if you’re going the traditional design or illustration route, be prepared to HUSTLE. There is a lot of competition, so beyond just learning the trade and doing good work, you’ll need to create opportunities for yourself. And be nice to your classmates, especially across disciplines, they’re going to be your most important network when you get out of school.

What’s your favorite book?
The last book that I really loved was Fever Chart by Bill Cotter. I picked it up not knowing anything about it other than I liked the cover by Ron Regé Jr., an artist I’ve always admired. Such a funny, weird book with shades of one of my other favorite books, A Confederacy of Dunces. As soon as I finished it, I bought his next book The Parallel Apartments (also fantastic), which is set in-part in Austin. Turns out the author is from Texas and lives here in town. It is full of locations and funny specifics only Austinites will catch. And I just checked out The Art of Forgery from the library, which chronicles art forgery throughout history. It’s a fun read.

What’s your favorite thing about Austin?
All of the tennis courts. And going to 10 p.m. Sunday night movies at the Alamo Drafthouse.

Where’s your favorite place to read in town?
When I lived in New York, the only time I read was on my subway commute, but that could mean about two hours a day. Here in Austin, I like to go out to restaurants—a booth at the Omelettry or the counter at The Peached Tortilla are both great spots. That way there is just enough white noise but I’m free of any other distractions (as long as I keep my phone out of sight). When I’m reading the draft of an article in order to do an illustration, my favorite spot to read is on a chair in the backyard. That way I can read the story, then stare up into the sun, and pray for an idea to strike me.

Reading Round-Up Artwork
Left: Early Draft of Reading Round-Up Artwork, Right: Final Version