Freshly Laundered 011 / Mikey Burton


Mikey Burton is a self-described “designy illustrator” based in Chicago. After ten years in the biz he’s found a great sense of his own personal style. To find out about his newest blog, Barrel Body and how he got to where he is now, read on.

CB: Why/where’d you come up with the name/concept for your new tumblr, Barrel Body?

MB: Even though I’m 6 feet tall, I wear a 30 length pants. So, I’m like Michael Phelps, all torso… minus all the athleticism. Most of my weight gathers in my center which creates a barrel like frame. I think it’s commonly called barrel chested, but my girlfriend Carli likes to call it my “barrel body”. I’m happy with my man shape, but I’m getting older and I like to watch what I eat. The initial idea was just to record my daily calorie intake visually to maintain my barrel.


CB: Ha!, that’s pretty awesome. How do you go about making these illustrations? They almost look like watercolor paintings. Do you draw them and then vectorize them? Or are they all created digitally?

MB: Everything usually starts as a pencil sketch, but then I will scan that in and build the art in illustrator. I’ve been exclusively using the blob tool rather than the pen or shape tools though. It has a looser quality that I really enjoy, and has forced me to change up my style a bit. I’ve also been drawing some of these with my phone using adobe ideas which is a drawing app that exports vector files. It’s basically just the blob tool from Adobe Illustrator in it’s own app. I purchased a bamboo stylus solo too which is a little easier that trying to draw with my finger. It’s not in anyway like actually drawing, it’s something completely different… kind of like playing a video game.

The soft “watercolor” like texture is a process I’ve been working on for the past few years. This effect is accomplished by using my crappy black and white laser printer. I try to buy off brand toner cartridges so when I print something out, I get great chalky mottled textures. So, basically I create vector shapes and print them out through my crappy printer, and then scan those back in. The variety of halftones and different texture qualities comes from printing things out at different sizes.


CB: That sounds really cool, but also like a lot of work. How long does it usually take to complete each illustration?

MB: Start to finish, it usually only takes about a half hour to an hour.


CB: Wow - that’s fast! You’ve been designing for awhile now, how much has your aesthetic changed over time? Are there things you’re doing in design now that you wouldn’t have imagined you’d be doing when you were in school?

MB: When I was in college, my focus was completely on graphic design. I wanted to graduate and get a design job making logos, posters, brochures, etc. I even focused on environmental design which seems really weird now, like doing way-finding, signage and such. I didn’t have much interest in illustration cause it seemed hard to make a living at. In school, my biggest creative outlet was designing gig posters for bands. I did this for about 4-5 years, and through that process I developed somewhat of an illustration style. What started out as a rock poster aesthetic, became much more editorial in nature (or at least more refined). An art director at Wired saw one of these posters and asked me if I did editorial illustration. I thought in my head “no, but I do now”. That was in 2010, from then it’s just been a steady build of illustration work. I still do a lot of design too, and I love to incorporate typography into my illustration. This is the main reason why I call myself a "designy illustrator". I think it’s the mix of doing a lot of different things that makes me happy with the work.


CB: Being able to see how you’ve grown and developed your own style over your lifetime has to be a pretty great feeling. For those of us who don’t do creative work, it can sometimes be difficult to see a progression in our abilities the same way a artist, musician, or chef might have the opportunity to. Last question, if you weren’t a designy illustrator, what would you be?

MB: My dad is a jeweler and my grandpa and my great grandpa. It has always provided really well for the family, so part of me always has a little regret that the family business might end at this generation. My folks were always so encouraging with my art and I really owe them a lot.


CB: Sounds like creativity runs in the family! Thanks for chatting with us Mikey.

Keep up with all things Mikey via his twitter or Instagram. Sign up to be notified via email anytime he launches a new CB tee, here.