My podcast guest today is Michi Mathias. Originally from the States, Michi has lived in the UK for well over 30 years. Her background is quite mixed and includes jewellery making, building work, music making and teaching as well as working for an environmental group. However, primarily Michi is an illustrator and comic book artist, who has a number of creative projects underway. In this episode, she also shares her struggle keeping track of ideas and how she manages to overcome perfectionism.
What you will learn in this episode:
• How Michi rediscovered her passion for drawing
• What creative projects Michi has on the go at the moment
• Michi’s tips for finding inspiration and managing ideas
• Suggested creative tools and resources
• A note about perfectionism
As a kid and up until her 20s, Michi was constantly drawing. She aimed for a really tight realism style, and could never quite reach a point she was happy with. In her 20s she got bored of her own style and stopped drawing for decades. One day she got an email about John William’s 30 Day Challenge and says ‘something made me sign up for it’.’ In that challenge, she decided to write an illustrated choose-your-own-adventure book for small kids about being self-employed. She didn’t get close to finishing it in that 30 Day Challenge, but the good news is that it did eventually get completed last year.
Current Creative Projects
After that first 30 Day Challenge, Michi did another one with graphic recipes of simple, family home-cooking for her son to take to university. It turned out to be unexpectedly popular and people wanted to buy that, so it’s one project that continues to this day. She’s now doing a second collection, which she started drafting as a part of Ink-tober in October. The first collection was all vegetarian recipes, so this next collection is a vegan collection as it seems like the next logical step for Michi.
Another current obsession and passion for Michi is to create a graphic novel. Her working title is Ireland on Two Shillings a Day and it’s about a true story set in 1897 of the beginning of cycle camping/bicycle touring. It’s based on a book by the pioneer in camping and cycling, using his own writing but illustrating it with Michi’s art. She’s also trying to get into animation for a music video for a friend’s song. This is an area completely new to Michi but she’s figuring it out as she goes along. She can’t draw her usual style on the computer so it’s a process of doing it on paper as normal and then scanning the pages.
Last month Michi finished a picture book for a Ministry of Stories’ charity in London, which helps kids express themselves. Their Saturday Morning Club with 17 kids was given a task of writing stories for younger kids, and then the Ministry of Stories got 17 illustrators for each of those stories. Now it’s being published by Penguin Random House in a small run for local libraries and schools.
Michi’s tips for inspiration and idea management
Michi gets her ideas from real life. It could be hearing bits of conversation, seeing something really annoying, or doing a really dumb thing. She says things just occur to her and she jots them down in a notebook and then forgets them. She feels she needs to sort out her own system of holding onto ideas and keeping track of ideas. She has tried online systems but prefers notebooks. Michi designed her own diary, which is blank on one side and has the days of the week on the other side, so she can use the blank page for various types of sketching and note-taking. Each big project does also have a dedicated notebook.
Michi feels she does sort of have the problem of too many ideas. She realizes it’s good to focus on one to make good progress on it, so she tries to stick to as few as possible running in the background. The graphic novel is one of these ongoing, long-term background projects. Accountability groups really help Michi stay on track, and she has both an offline monthly meeting and an online weekly meeting. She says it’s not the whole answer because she still manages to not do what she says she is going to do but the deadline, whether self-imposed or not, is really what she needs to be productive and stick to a timeline.
Suggested creative tools
In terms of physical tools, Michi favours her fountain pen, and has also used dip pens but likes a nice dark ink black line. Before the pen stage, she will draft in pencil. She has tried various kinds of mechanical pencil, but the only one she really likes is one made of wood by the Japanese shop, Muji, which feels like a real pencil. She has also tried various kinds of ink and finally found one that is fast-drying, doesn’t clog and reasonably waterproof called Documentis. Michi also uses watercolours, and likes a standard kind of A5 notebook, too. Her light table is also something she finds very useful, especially when doing second drafts.
Michi loves to listen to podcasts while drawing and some of her favourites are Make It Then Tell Everybody with Dan Berry, Own It with Judith Morgan and Nicola Cairncross, The Pen Addict and of course, Radio 4.
Books and courses Michi likes
As for books, people or courses, The 30 Day Challenge is the main one that has influenced Michi because it’s what got her back into drawing after decades. She has also enjoyed The Creative Focus Workshop by Jessica Abel and is looking forward to her upcoming book called Growing Gills.
A note about perfectionism
Michi used to really suffer from perfectionism, but has sort of gotten over that by allowing things to be a bit wonkier than they used to be. Sometimes she will have trouble with the finishing stages for somebody else and has to fight the tendency to over draw in order to keep the looseness. There’s always a fear when you have to show it to somebody else, but she reminds herself that they liked the draft so why worry about whether they will like the final copy?