In the Studio with Mike McConnell

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Mike McConnell is a latecomer to a career as a fine artist. He graduated from MICA in 1975 and worked for over 30 years as an illustrator, freelancing for most of the excellent design firms and advertising agencies in the Baltimore and Washington area. His illustrations have been included in multiple design magazines including Print’s Regional Design Awards, The Society of Illustrators Annual, and HOW Magazine’s Annual. In the Fall or 2012, he made a commitment to focus exclusively on fine art.  (from artist’s bio)


Name: Mike McConnell

Age: 62

Baltimore Neighborhood: Phoenix… out in the county.

Study or College Degrees: BFA, MICA 1975. I majored in painting with a minor in recreational drugs.

Studio Location: Currently in a bedroom of my bucolic expanded 1840’s log cabin next to a pond surrounded by a suburban golf course development. I’m moving my studio to the Motor House this fall after BARCO is finished touching its magic wand on what was known and coveted as the Load of Fun building. I’m really looking forward to being surrounded by Graffiti Alley and the pulsing Station North Arts community.

Media: My mission these days is painting. I paint with acrylics on cradled birch plywood panels. My go-to paint is Cel-Vinyl, a liquid acrylic that is made for animators. It’s made by a little company in California called Cartoon Color. My tube acrylic paints are sleeping in a box somewhere. I’m hooked on liquid acrylics.

Favorite Tools: Single edge razor blades, Makita palm sander, the other end of the paint brush, Martha Stewart Grain Striping Comb. Trust me. There are other rubber grain striping combs. Martha’s are the best.

Currently Working On: I work on several paintings at the same time. Currently one is a sort of an overgrown David Hockney outside shower. One is a reaction to watching a video of the slicing up and bulldozing of the Enchanted Forest. And I’m trying to get two large paintings to be about the bear carvers of Northern California.

Studio Philosophy: Paint lots of good pictures. I had this little 35 or so year gap between graduating from MICA and my recent commitment to fine art where I never painted. I know I need to get in decades of make-up painting time to get into Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hour club. I have no time to read Gladwell any more.

Studio Frequency: It’s nice having a studio in my house so I can’t avoid walking past a painting in progress and see something I have to do to it before I can do anything else in my life. I’ve always worked from a home office/studio. Never worked anyplace else other than a couple years at the Broom Factory in Canton in the late 90’s. As an illustrator I was forced into creative crunches by deadlines. I was a master procrastinator until the deadlines loomed glaringly large. I never missed one but I know I pushed them a lot. It’s different as a fine artist. I have the luxury of being self directed but with no deadlines I’ve had to overcome the procrastination. Now I need marks to hit like upcoming shows or competitions. I actually get stuff done early sometimes. Weird, but it feels real good.

Upcoming or Current shows or projects: I currently have a two person show with Atsuko Chirikjian at the Hamilton Street Club that runs through July 31 and a solo show in the School 33 Members Gallery that runs through August 22. This fall I have a solo show at the Athenaeum in Old Town Alexandria. It runs October 29 – December 13.

How’d You Start Out as an Artist: I remember my older brother and his best friend drawing and painting, mostly cars. I picked up on that about the time I was graduating from Elementary School. It propelled me past my paper chain and hand made Valentine period. My first year of College was at the University of Denver. All my hippie friends went there. I didn’t do very good at the academics but I had a great time sliding down the mountains and doing hippie stuff. One thing that changed me forever was the day a model came into my art class and dropped her robe. Nothing in life to that point had prepared me for that. I knew I had to paint and not ogle. I transferred to MICA the next year. I got A’s in most of my classes and don’t think I ever had to write a paper there. But nobody told MICA in the 1970’s that its graduates might have to get a job after they’re handed the diploma. By that time my brother was established in the car repair business and his best friend was established as an illustrator in Baltimore. My brother’s friend took me under his wing and I found myself gainfully employed as a freelance illustrator.

Artist Whose Career You Covet: Nicholas Wilton is San Francisco area artist who also spent many years as an illustrator before turning to fine art. I went to one of his workshops in Big Sur a few years ago intent on curing my “I won’t paint ever again” phobia. Took about 5 minutes. He opened my eyes to painting on wood panels and using the goofily named Cartoon Color Cel-Vinyl paint. I adore his paintings. He has good representation. He has a wonderful family. He lives in a beautiful place. He writes eloquent pieces on how to navigate life as an artist. It’s possible, see.

Artist Whose Work You Wish You Had Made: Grayson Perry shows me there can be humor and wit in your art. He uses it masterfully to comment on culture and society. He talks knowledgeably and cleverly to gatherings in the halls of England’s greatest art establishments while dressed in Little Bo Peep outfits. I’m a life long introvert but I fantasize doing public talks like Grason Perry, John Waters or Jerry Saltz.

How You Get Through the Dull Times: Dull is not a color I use. Sure there are faster times and slower times. When things get a little stagnant I’ll go for a run or bike ride. That shakes up the snow globe in my head. When the ersatz flakes settle I’m seeing clear again.

What Motivates You: It might sound syrupy but I’m genuinely motivated by the hospitality and opportunities in the local arts community. I’ve been self contained in the illustration world for a long time. I was oblivious to what was happening in fine arts and what it really entailed to commit to it. I’m paying attention now and this looks like the greatest place to have no idea what I’m doing.








Find out more about Mike McConnell and see more of his work HERE.

See his work in person:

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