Turning the unnoticed into magic. Mike McQuade’s storytelling masterpieces

Mike McQuade’s work has conquered the world with his unique approach to storytelling using collage as his weapon of choice. His abstract and organic illustrations have been published in the world’s most relevant media and used in huge global ad campaigns, never compromising his style and always evolving it into something fresh, new and meaningful.

TWS –How did you got first attracted to collage? Was it when skateboarding? or later in college when studying design in Philadelphia? 

MMQ –It definitely wasn’t my focus while at school in Philadelphia. I think it came out of necessity—I was never great at drawing or painting and I have a background in design so it felt like a natural progression. Once I started to play around with the medium, I liked the instant gratification of making a piece, without having to master at oil painting.

TWS –Which artists first caught your eye in this first phase? Do you remember anyone in particular? 

MMQ –Seeing Robert Motherwell, Barbara Kruger, John Baldessari, and Robert Rauschenberg collages in galleries opened my eyes to the possibilities of collage as an art practice.

TWS –Which was the process that led you to think of collage as your tool for telling stories? Were you part of any scene (skate, music, etc) where you could test your skills in diy projects? 

MMQ –I did do some zines and some band covers when I was in High School, and looking back on that work, they were collaged together and xeroxed. At the time, I didn’t realize what I was doing was an art form. I went to college for design and I think I always liked being able to switch up approaches to projects without being pinned down to any one style or medium. The process for making a collage is very similar to the general design process to me, thinking about color, composition, scale, etc. The medium is so versatile, It can be abstract or message driven, chaotic or restrained, colorful or monotone, strategic or simply an exercise in playing around.

TWS –Which is your work process when working with collage illustration commissions? Does it differ when working with real paper collages?

MMQ –All of my work starts the same way: rummaging, sketching, writing, and trying to figure out a tone that’s right for the piece. If there are key figures needed in a particular collage, then I try to focus on how to represent them, as well as parts of the story. All of the shapes, textures, and elements come from working by hand. I tend to prefer the authenticity and look of a physical collage, so I lean that way whenever possible.

TWS –Needing to have a fast access to images and source material for your work… are you a crazy magazine collector?

MMQ –I have a good amount of resources, but I don’t limit myself to just out-of-print publications. I think people typically think of old LIFE magazines when they think of collage, but I find that to be limiting as the only resource or images in general. You can use other materials or archival photos as long as they are abstracted, or if the origin is obscured enough. I just try to stay curious about almost everything I see and ask: How can I use that? Also, I’ve been experimenting with different mediums on paper, to then incorporate into my own collage work.

TWS –Improvisation tends to be a big issue when working with collage. Which are the places for planning and for improvisation when you work with collage in illustration commissions?

MMQ –The places for planning are trying to understand the piece I’m making the art for, reading, sketching, researching, etc. The job of the illustrator is to hold the viewer’s attention on the page by creating compelling image that gets at the important pieces of  article or story. The place for improvisation is the actual act of making the collage. My process for that is the same as for making a personal piece, material sourcing, cropping, color exploration, and making a composition that feels good to me.

TWS –Why do you think that a style as yours, with such an analog feel, has gained so much attention in the digital age?

At best, I like to think people crave authenticity and imperfection, and at worst, it’s a novelty that will meet its demise in a year.

TWS –Which is the role of your personal projects in your career?

MMQ –Personal projects are how I grow as an artist. A client isn’t going to hire me to make something outrageously different from what is currently in my body of work, taking time to try new things is something I take seriously. Plus, there’s a ton of freedom in playing around, having fun and making mistakes, while not having to answer to anyone.

TWS –Which is your personal definition of collage?

MMQ –Recontextualization? Who knows. For me it’s about paying attention to the unnoticed or mundane and repurposing them in a way that gives the materials a new life.

Find more Mike McQuade
at his website
or his instagram.

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Geran Knol