Member Spotlight: Michael Newhouse


Member Spotlight - Michael Newhouse

[ November 17th, 2009 ]   Illustrator and designer, Michael Newhouse, has held various jobs, including floral delivery, computer keypunch operator, library assistant, Wal-Mart cashier, art director, creative director, environmental graphic designer, guest lecturer, illustrator, adjunct professor and information architect. He also teaches a class in information and web design at Montana State University. He pretty much will do anything for money, including catering. Altpick had the pleasure of talking with Michael about his career, hobbies and Montana.

How did your career path lead you to illustration, more specifically, map illustration?
Out of school, I worked at an ad agency then realized I hated it and moved to a design firm where I should have been in the first place. I moved then to a studio, which specialized in environmental graphics and really large- scale projects like children's hospitals. I apparently have an aptitude for picky detailed work, so I was finally very happy. The economy tanked (as it does occasionally) and I opened my own studio in 1997. I really liked doing detailed work, so I began doing floor-plans, maps and lettering. I finally scraped up enough money that first year to do some self-promotion, and it's been good ever since. The more I specialize, the more work I get.

What was the most interesting project you've work on?
I like the jobs that take months and make your brain hurt. My favorite projects are the ones where I have a problem to solve and they turn me loose.

Have you ever worked on a top-secret government project?
I've worked on several projects I can't discuss and can't ever show the work.

You're serious?

Where did you live before you moved to Montana?
My wife Meta and I lived and worked in Dallas. She had been teaching graphic design as an adjunct professor for many years and decided to go to grad school. I had two conditions: one, I wanted to move where it was colder, and two, I'd like to see a mountain. She literally drew a line across the country and asked, "anywhere up here?", and I said yes. We ended up in Bozeman Montana, where she is an Assistant Professor in Graphic Design. I have a studio in the house.

What are the highlights of living and working there?
I am fortunate to have a great view out my office windows, and I can see horses, cows, mountains, valleys, wheat fields and, at the moment, a lot of snow. I have a wood stove and two dogs asleep under my desk. The town of Bozeman is great - just the small college town we were looking for. I don't have any local clients (I do some pro bono stuff) so it doesn't matter where I work.

How would you describe yourself and how does it lend itself to your work?
Students tell me I am blunt, opinionated and picky. That pretty much says it all. I am very detail oriented, and love being really busy. I collect ephemera and that has really altered the work I produce. I never dreamed I would be doing type and illustration. I missed that booth entirely on Career Day. If I couldn't design, I'd be a librarian.

I am an adjunct professor at Montana State University and teach Introduction to Web Design in one of those massive classrooms packed with students. I have also taught Packaging and Publication Design at another university. I am a frequent guest lecturer and give a lot of workshops.

Tell us a little about the documentary film your wife is working on.
She is doing a series of films on famous graphic designers.

Do you and Meta collaborate on any projects?
We have before, but we work very differently and have completely unique styles. We have created a series of workshops for students based on quick-fire creative brainstorming that are very popular. She doesn't always agree with my sense of humor.

I love your type work, especially the New Year's Eve piece. Who was the client did you do this for?
The New Year's Eve job was for GOOD magazine. They gave me a rough list of state holidays and then let me loose. The style is based on a 1948 Mexican tourism brochure. I do my best work when I can cram a lot in - I like dense stuff. I like to write everything - I generally start in one corner and work my way across. I'm not a thumbnail kind of guy... I just write and design as I go. I'm fortunate that I have clients that let me do that. I'm working on a series of info-graphics now that have a general objective, but can be anything. I like that because I can take my latest inspiration and get to play.

I understand you are an avid ephemera collector. Describe some of your most precious pieces.
I've had several 'scores' including a huge stash of gigantic hand-printed grocery signs ('healthful, nutritious, golden ripe BANANAS 2lbs for 29¢) from the early 50s - each different and in mint condition.

I like paper and books. I'm the guy at the garage sale who looks in all the boxes under the table. I'm very thorough. I got lucky and found a salesman's sample kit of those promotional calendars - early 60s, paper and metal, for funeral homes, banks and insurance companies - in every size and color they made.

The house will eventually collapse from the weight of all the bookshelves. I'm in the process of digitizing everything so I can make some room in my office. The walls of my office are covered in map-related board games, flash cards and medical diagrams. I have one of those giant pull-down school maps. Every wall has at least one bookcase on it. It's really ridiculous how much stuff is in there.

On "How We Do It" portion of your website you describe your business in a very clever way. Share some of your favorites, please.
First, all the male employees are called Mike, because there's only me that works here. In my fantasy office (which apparently would be in the late 50s, early 60s), I would have an extensive staff of detail-oriented mad men like myself. The sexual innuendos of course ('think about baseball'), the long office hours and the qwality proofreading are all wrapped up in false optimism and despair. I do have a special place in my heart for Mrs. Brinegar and Mr. Sniffles.

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