Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Michael Storrings

How is it that you came to be an illustrator/artist?
I always loved to draw and paint, but when I was younger I had no idea what the possibilities were for a career in art. Actually, I thought that I would probably go into some form of medicine, instead! In high school, in my junior year, I spent the summer in a special arts program given by a college in upstate New York. Meeting artists from all over the country and making all different forms of art every day, I realized that this is what I loved and wanted to pursue. Oddly, when I started investigating art schools I was discouraged by my guidance counselor.  He even told me I was going to starve! I was lucky I had a very encouraging teacher who guided me, after which I received a scholarship to attend Parsons School of Design in NYC. After my foundation year at school, I remember walking onto the illustration floor and saying to myself this is the career in art I want.

Did you go to art school? 
Yes, Parsons School of Design in NYC.

Were there 1 or more individuals that were an influence in your becoming an illustrator/artist?
I had a wonderful art teacher in high school who exposed me to artists and the art world beyond my experiences in Syracuse, NY. She took us on art trips to NYC, encouraged me to attend a summer arts program in my junior year, and helped me to prepare a portfolio and apply to art colleges. 
 What inspires you now?
Many things inspire me—travel, Christmas, other artists and illustrators, my pugs—but my main inspiration comes from New York City itself. I love everything about it— the sounds, colors, fashions, diversity, and energy! Every time I walk out of my door, I never know what interesting things will happen. It’s exciting and I feel very lucky to live here.
 Is there anything you would like to share regarding your technique or style of work? For instance, what types of media do you like to work in?
I mainly work in watercolor. I start out by drawing roughs in a sketch book, I like using Sennelier brand sketchbooks. After I have my thumbnail sketches the way I want them, I gather any references I need and then render my initial pencil on Arches Hot-Pressed watercolor paper. I use the Aquarelle Arches watercolor blocks. I then ink the drawing and then begin to color. I love Sennelier paints and primarily use them, sometimes also using Holbein and Old Holland watercolors. Whenever I get to Paris, I visit the Sennelier art shop on the Left Bank and bring back any unusual colors I don’t see in the US. I also combine water-soluble Caran d’Ache crayons with the paints. I then scan the final image into the computer and then sometimes make adjustments in Adobe Photoshop as needed.
 I know you have a really fun line of ornaments. Can you tell us how that project came about?
I have been illustrating for magazines and books since 1986, and in the late ‘90’s I started to license imagery for art prints and apparel. In 2004, Landmark Creations, an ornament company based in California, saw my work and contacted me. They wanted to see if I would be interested in designing a line of NYC ornaments for them. That year, we launched 4 designs plus a custom ball for Saks Fifth Ave.
How do you create the art for these?
I research the area I want to depict and then begin my sketch process. Once I get the sketch to where I want it I then create the art. After the art is created, prototype sketches are rendered to show how to position the art on the ball.  I then work with Landmark and discuss finishes, colors, embellishments, and glitters. We spend a lot of time paying attention to all the details.

People can see and purchase my designs at major retailers at the holidays or online at 

The ornaments have also led to the creation of Christmas books. People loved the art I was making for the ornaments so much that I thought I should bring them together into a book. My first book came out in 2007, called A Very New York Christmas. It shows many of the things you can see and do in NYC at Christmas, along with how some of those images were used on my ornaments. With the success of the response to that book, I came up with a new book idea about NYC at Christmas that just came out this year. It is called The 12 Days of Christmas in New York, a spin on the famous carol with a New York twist. This even led to the creation of a coordinating ornament! You can find my books online at or 
 You also are involved in publishing. Can you tell us more about what you do as Creative Director at St. Martin’s Press?
I have a great career and am very lucky. As well as being an artist/illustrator, I have been working in publishing since 1986. I am currently a Creative Director at St. Martin’s Press. I design book jackets for New York Times bestselling authors Jackie Collins, Kristin Hannah, Lisa Scottoline, Mary Kay Andrews, Robert Ludlum, and Tatiana De Rosnay, among others. I also oversee and manage the creation of approximately 300 book covers each year.
 How do you think working in publishing has influenced your licensed work?
Working in publishing has allowed me to think more commercially about my own work. I now ask myself questions like—Who is my audience? How do I speak to them? What is the best way to get my ideas and voice across?
What kind of advice would you give to an artist interested in publishing or licensing?
First of all, you must LOVE what you do. Don’t enter any career that doesn’t excite you. You have ups and downs in any career, and in order to get through the low points your love of that career will be all that drives you. I think that if an artist wants a career in publishing, they first need to investigate what is involved and make sure it is a career for them. They have to love books and to create covers. They need computer skills, along with a love of typography. Many artists are scared of type, and I always tell people that type is just a shape—just as when you are painting a picture you are working in positive/negative areas, you are doing that same thing with type. You need to be upbeat and work on command. One of the most important skills to learn is to let go of your work and be flexible. Sometimes you have to present your work to a team of people and not everyone will like what you did, so you will just have to let go of it and adapt to what the audience wants. This is a very customer-focused profession, so you need a very thick skin.

In terms of a licensing career, you need to be commercially savvy. One thing I have learnt is that you really need to know your own voice first. If you don’t, you won’t be able to sell it nor will you be able to determine which products would make a great vehicle for your voice. Then, it is valuable to learn the skills to sell it! If you can’t do that, then you should look for an agent.
 I really love that you have such diverse styles. How did your style changes evolve?
As a person you are always changing and growing. Change is the only constant! Just like I continue to grow as a person, I am also growing as an artist. I change as I grow. For example, I started out in my career making linocuts, and then when the computer arrived on the scene, I developed a graphic, colorful, fashion’y style. My current watercolor style developed from my travels and from the journals I keep while I am traveling.
Are there any other artistic pursuits that you delve into?
I am not very musically gifted, but I also like to crochet and knit.

 Are there any other links you would like to share to show more of your work?
People can see the majority of my work online at 
 What is the thing you love best about what you do?
The best thing about what I do is to be at an event and someone tell me that my work makes them happy and brings them joy. That is the greatest reward!

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