Pro Artist Spotlight: Mike May

Pro Artist Spotlight: Mike May

We met Mike after he generously pledged for our Kickstarter and got in touch to see if he could help us.

Since then, we've been lucky enough to get to know Mike as a generous friend and inspiring artist who agreed to become one of our first Etchr Pro-Ambassadors rocking our gear.

So when we started our 'Artist Spotlight' series, we naturally reached out to Mike to be one of our first.

We hope you enjoy finding out a little bit more about him and his world!

- Daz, Etchr CEO

Daz: For our readers who aren't familiar with you, could you give us a quick rundown of your professional background?

Sure, I've been a professional creative in video game development for over 20 years and I've worked in a variety of roles:

  • a 3D modeler
  • animator
  • lead texture artist
  • figure artist
  • concept artist

Currently, I'm having a blast working for Zenimax Online Studios as a senior concept artist on Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind.

On the side, I've also illustrated for several publications, including D&D, Image Comics, and a handful of books.

Daz: Many artists feel destined to make art from a young age - do you feel that way about your career?

Well, I don't think I was any more naturally gifted at making art than the next person - where I lucked out was in the self confidence department, haha. I truly think most people are 'arty' from an early age, but at some point - for whatever reason - folks convince themselves they don't have 'it' in them and they stop developing artistically.

Growing up, I was pretty lucky, my older brother Greg was a prolific artist and he'd fill these notebooks with drawings that just blew me away. I'd sneak a peek at the pages when he was out of the house and try to copy his war scenes - smoke streaming off downed fighter planes, tanks exploding, soldiers fighting, etc.

He was my first artistic role-model who helped propel me towards experiencing the magic of art. I owe a lot of my early interest in art to Greg.

Daz: That's wonderful - out of curiosity, did Greg become a professional artist himself? It sounds like art was something he loved.

He went to college to study it, but eventually decided to join the Army and art became more of a hobby rather than a way of life for him.

When I was 17, myself and some of the family visited him in Georgia where he was stationed at the time.

I hadn't seen him for a while, so I eagerly brought out some of the stuff I'd been working on recently.

He quietly thumbed through the pages of drawings I'd brought along, then handed it back to me and quietly went into another room. He came back with all of his art supplies, handing them to me and proclaiming "'re the artist of the family now."

It was a funny, yet bittersweet moment for me.

His wife was seriously PISSED at both of us! At him for giving me the supplies and me for taking them haha. She really loved his art.

Daz: The professional artist path is notoriously difficult - did you happen to have any parental or teacher encouragement that helped propel you along?

When I was in the 4th grade, I knew I'd be an artist for life - one of my teachers, Mr. Thompson, was encouraging of my art when the other teachers would regard my drawings with horror lol.

Case in point: one day I realized by looking at Valentine's Cards, that you can make an arrow look like it's piercing flesh by drawing a slit, so naturally I drew a giant snake that had been pierced with a million arrows shot by a bunch of stick figures parading around holding bows that looked like capital D's.

He made a big deal about how I'd made the arrows look like they were going into the snake, and how the snake looked like it was coming at the viewer - I'd learned, in that drawing, that you could get the effect by overlapping the "S" shapes of the snake.

Mr. Thompson asked me "Isn't your dad an artist?" And I told him that Greg was the artist in our family and also added that my Uncle Clark Kelley Price was a famous Cowyboy artist.

"Well Mike, it sure sounds like being a great artist is in your blood!" he remarked, then asked, "Are YOU going to be an artist?"

My little heart swelled with so much pride it almost popped, and I explained "Yes!" And I totally believed him that it was in my blood. It made perfect sense!

Looking back, I really wasn't much better than the next kid, but I believed in myself and in my destiny, so I drew all the time. And when you do something all the time, you outpace your classmates in whatever activity it is you're doing, which is what happened with my art.

A few years back Mr. Thompson attended my brother Richard's wedding, and I ran into him for the first time since the 4th grade. I recounted that story to him while showing him my portfolio, and I can't begin to tell you how happy it made him to know he'd helped shape the life of a little boy.

Daz: How did you learn your professional skills? Art school or self taught?

For my art education, I went to Ricks College, which is a privately owned school that was rebranded BYU (Brigham Young University) Idaho. Funny tidbit, Napoleon Dynamite actually wears a Ricks College t-shirt in one of the cafeteria scenes. Great art department there!

One of my more notable classmates was Nathan Fowkes and there was a high standard of art being made all round, so I found the experience immensely useful and inspiring.

Our instructors were mostly Art Center grads - some of their very best alumni taught us, notably Leon Parson.

It was guys like him that really drove home the importance of hard work and practicing art with intent to stoke growth.

It was a 2 year school back then, but I kept taking art classes and not enough GE courses...somehow, I managed to go for 3.5 years until they got fed up and suspended me for 6 months for allegedly trying not to graduate haha.

My teachers told me I just needed to start my career: that unless I wanted to formally teach, I didn't really need a degree. So that's just what I did. Maybe if they didn't do that I'd still be studying, lol!

Funnily enough, I actually do regret not getting a degree now, because I'd love to teach art some day.

Daz: What sort of mediums you like to work with outside of work?

I really enjoy all mediums, and lose myself in everything I try, but the three I use the most would be:

  1. Detailed pencil drawings on paper

  2. Quick studies and doodles using a combination of marker paper, Gioconda 5.6mm black leads, Copic Wide Blender, and white gel pens

  3. Detailed drawings and inks on claybord.

The 2nd set of mediums is the one that is most uniquely "me", as it's a style that's evolved over the past 5 years where I've gotten very comfortable doing strong-value drawings, coupled with a very forgiving medium.

This is the 'style' most people get excited about when I show them how I work...that reminds me, I need to make a proper tutorial on it soon.

Daz: Coming up with new ideas all the time is the difficult task of the concept artist - how do you go about filling up your 'inspiration bank' when it runs low?

Right now, I leave the house and really really REALLY get inspired by the incredible forms and details of trees - I would bet right now that 80% of my photo refs are of trees.

They are so amazing in groups and by themselves, in partial shadow, covered in ice, partially covered in snow...I'm in wonder all the time as I drive to work looking at the trees.

My favorite thing is to go walk the NCR Trail (a historic trail that runs along the railroad that Lincoln took to Gettysburg), and draw or paint the incredible trees along its path.

Daz: What has been your coolest outdoors/out of studio experience as an artist? 

With my friend Alan Tew, I started a couple of drawing groups that got HUGE.

One group was simply called "Draw Night" where once a week after work, various artists from all over would gather to draw at a local cafe.

Some of those artists (most of whom are my best friends in this world), went on to become heavy hitters in the industry:

  • Disney Art Director Ryan Wood
  • Schoolism teacher Sam Nielson
  • Zbrush instructors Shane Olson and Steve James
  • Adventure Time and The New Duck Tales artist Derek Hunter,
  • The unstopably amazing Mel Milton

And many more... including the unbelievably incredible Ryan Ottley, who joined in after I moved away, and I've only met once, but he did a KILLER drawing for me at SDCC.

That same year Mike Krahulik sat down and did a drawing for me at another drawing group I helped start at the Mariott, which got hugely epic, that was cool too.

I think those groups - even when it was comprised of just my friend Alan Tew and I - were so incredibly instrumental in our development as artists. 

We'd draw to make each other laugh and forget about our worries for a while, but we'd also scramble hard improve our game when the other artists were outpacing us, so we got really good, really fast. Just a great environment, I miss those days sometimes.

Daz: As a father myself, I'm always curious about the next generation of artists - do you have kids and are they into art?

Yes! My wonderful daughter is an incredible artist! No joke, she's so much better than me and I just know great things are in store for her - I'm so excited to see where she goes in her career.

Right now she's a new mom (yes, I'm a grandpa now!) trying to get things rolling, which is quite a challenge obviously, but she'll get there.

Daz: That's awesome! Did you coach her or get her learning anatomy or any other formal lessons early, or just let her do their own thing?

She really has done her own thing, her own way.

Of course we spent a lot of time drawing together since she was young and no doubt that's given her a solid start and she's learned from some of the same great teachers I had in college, but she's also learned so much with her own initiative.

For schooling, she decided to attended the same school I did, BYU Idaho, where she was the Art Director of the Audio/Visual Department. She's not just an accomplished artist, she's also very adept at animation which is great as you often find artists with an animation lean have a fluidity in their work that is sometimes missing from purely static minded artists.

My son-in-law (her husband) is also an artist and they're constantly working on creative projects together - a wonderful relationship.

You can check out more of her stuff at:

Daz: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and story with us Mike. In closing, do you have any career / art advice to aspiring pro artists?

Most important: Don't be afraid to fail.

A friend who recently looked through a stack of my old drawings couldn't believe I'd drawn them, as they were so cringeworthy haha...important milestones sure, but still cringeworthy.

I've learned not to fear trying new mediums, new approaches, new subjects to art. Much of art is learning, and if you're too afraid to make mistakes, you won't learn much.

Secondly, the creative field is a rollercoaster ride of an just can't predict how you'll succeed, but the truth is opportunities come up all the time. Where most people stumble is that they're not ready to take advantage of those opportunities when they suddenly appear.

To be ready, you need to immerse yourself in your art, work hard, and keep your eyes and mind open to when those opportunities happen to you, because often these opportunities might be different from what you expected.

I love the expression, "Expect nothing, accept everything..." It's so true. When you try to plan out your future, you can be blind to your best chances to succeed.

Finally: It's never need to stay hungry. Even after all these years, I am ALWAYS looking to grow my skills, to find more fulfilment in my art and working hard to increase my opportunities.

It's not a field where you can coast on auto-pilot.

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