Interview with Mikey Burton

27 Oct 2010

Just a while ago I bumped into the site of illustrator and graphic designer Mikey Burton from Philadelphia. I was immediately impressed by his talent. What I love most about his work is its simplicity and his ability to wear many designer hats. He's a true master in translating a concept into such simple forms and shapes. There is this strong communication. I think it's the perfect combination of beautiful illustration work, great typography and a color palette that is sometimes soft and subtle, but even when he uses brighter colors they never shout. Then there is also his subtle use of textures which gives his work this nice refinement touch. I was really happy when I got the opportunity to interview him.

From left to right: poster for Man Man, one of the many logos Mikey Burton designed, this vinyl cat turn table is for a local record store in Cleveland called Music Saves, an invitation for Marcus Thomas LLC holiday party, and the last one in the row is a poster for Richard Buckner.

Did it take long before you found your own style that you are personally happy with?

I think I'm still developing my style. I'm never completely happy with what I make, so I'm always trying to do something different. I think I have a certain designy illustration approach to my work that is consistent, but I think my solutions can vary a bit. I like to think that's why I'm somewhat successful; because I'm never content with my work and I'm always trying something new.

sketches sketches grayscale version color version adding textures refining details

Mikey Burton's typical creative process.

How would you describe your creative process?

Via these different images of this illustration, I'm showing you the typical process I usually go through. This was a spot Illustration I did for the current issue of ReadyMade magazine. They were great to work with. The only parameter they gave me was for the illustration to be contained in the shape of Arizona.

first After doing a decent amount of research, I like to purge all ideas in a rough sketch form. second From there I move into a digital sketch in black and white. third Next I add color. fourth Then I texturize the elements. It's really simple, I print it out and scan it back in. I've done a lot of letterpress and screen-printing in my life, and I'm always trying to figure out the best way to fake it. I was lucky I guess, by chance I installed the toner cartridge incorrectly, so now whenever I print something out, I get great chalky mottled textures. So, I create vector shapes and print them out through my crappy printer, and then scan those in. For those who want to replicate this, my advice is to just try stuff outside of the computer. If it looks like it was made outside of photoshop, it probably was. fifth Lastly, I do some refinement of the details


If you could choose a dream project that you could work on what would it be?

I consider myself rather lucky because I've worked on a lot of things for my favorite bands and such (like wilco and spoon). Recently, I was working on an illustration for Wired Italy where I was making simple iconic car illustrations. I immediately thought to myself "young Mikey would think this was pretty cool". I think my dream job now would just be working for myself full-time.

Describe how a typical working day is like for you.

I currently work at 160over90, so it's basically the typical agency hours... come in at 9:30ish stay till very late. Usually, I will put in my days work at the office an then go home and put in another several hours on my personal illustration projects.

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I'm not sure I've done this in a long time... I've been working ridiculous hours this past year. I like to do simple things like take in a good movie, eat good food, drink beer, listen to records (haven't done this since I moved to philly though :( ), go to thrift stores, antiques mall, yard/garage sales.

More to explore

Mikey is also into letterpress, so make sure to check out his beautiful letterpress work. And if you are really fond of his work, you can even buy stuff from his online shop or be amazed by the little sneak peeks over at his Dribbble page.

facebook f8 table

A detail from the illustration for f8, the Facebook developers conference. This was a 6 foot long illustration printed digitally on a glass table.


  1. 1 Lasha Krikheli 27 Oct 2010

    This is truly an inspiration! I love how everything Mikey does has the same feel, and that you can tell that it was all done by the same person. In addition, the pieces still maintain their own ground.

    I am not much of an illustrator myself, but these are the things that push me to explore, and expand my horizon.