While walking around the shops in Salem, I’ve noticed realistic black-and-white drawings of some of my favorite characters in pop culture, and some cartoons of witches that really seemed to capture the essence of the Salem witch culture. They seemed familiar, and I realize I had visited a booth at the Salem Arts Festival a couple years ago. Art festivals are good places to meet artists and network with them. Interviews are good ways to get to know them better, so without further ado, our featured artist for October is Mike T. Cherry!
BOM: What made you decide to become an artist?
Cherry: It’s really the only thing I’m good at. I was in the Navy and had some other odd jobs, but they just didn’t feel comfortable, or that I was making any difference. All the while I was drawing, so I decided to focus on being an artist.
BOM: The subjects of your art are of people, animals, characters from pop culture, and even some witches. What would you say inspires your work the most and why?
Cherry: Picasso supposedly said that experiencing art should be like being slapped in the face with a handful of razor blades. I don’t feel that way. I think art should be beautiful and uplifting. When once teased by a friend as to why he painted so many nudes, the pin up artist Alberto Vargas answered that art should be beautiful and what was more beautiful than a beautiful woman? I also do a lot of nudes and figurative work for the same reason.
BOM: I’ve noticed your art around Salem a lot even though you are not originally from Salem. Can you discuss what the city means to you? Do you draw inspiration from it?
Cherry: I first visited New England back in 1994 and fell in love with it. Salem was a sleepy little town that was somehow famous around the world. When I moved here four years ago, I immediately tapped into the culture. Salem is an artsy and tolerant place. It’s rich in history and full of so many different ethnicities. It really is a magical place. I always hoped I could retire in Salem and it seems to have happened.
BOM: Do you work exclusively with pencil or have you tried making other types of art as well?
Cherry: I used to paint some, but I started focusing on my pencil work about 20 years ago. It was a medium that I felt I had total control over. Painting may involve “happy accidents”, but it can also be a real minefield of possible errors. Did I mention I’m color blind? Many people don’t seem to take pencil art seriously. Even many artists. But there are so many wonderful techniques and methods that can be used with pencil. I see it a lot like black-and-white photography. You can focus on details and textures and not be distracted by color.
BOM: What is your process for creating an original piece?
Cherry: I always work from reference photos and models. Sometimes, I will sketch a rough draft to work out anything that I’m not sure of, then I will transfer an outline of that image onto the final drawing surface, be it drawing paper, watercolor paper or illustration board.
BOM: Do you have any advice for beginner or student artists?
Cherry: Marry well. I’m self taught, so I didn’t have any mentors to draw experience from, so I tell everyone who wants to be an artist to go to school for it. You should also try to find out the art philosophy of the school before you join. Are they doing traditional art, or are they into expression and abstract techniques? My first art student went on to study art in college. She was traditionalist, like myself, but the school she was in was into expressionism. Her teachers and peers ridiculed her work constantly. It must have been an awful experience for her. But she stuck to her guns. She works in art therapy now. Back to marrying well, I didn’t necessarily mean marry someone rich, though that’s okay, too. Your significant other should be someone that supports your artistic endeavors and won’t one day tell you you’re just wasting time and money. Find someone that believes in you.
BOM: What challenges have you faced when working on a piece?
Cherry: The worst thing is having to face that empty white paper just before you start. The doubts run through your mind; how will it turn out? Can I pull it off one more time? Also, it can be frustrating when a customer wants a very specific something that they can see in their mind, but don’t have the ability to produce it on paper themselves. Frustrated artists make terrible clients.
BOM: Where have you exhibited your work?
Cherry: Sometimes in the Salem Arts Association Gallery. I’ve had work in the Marblehead Festival of Arts the last three years, but I’ve yet to break into the New England art world.
BOM: Where can people find your work?
Cherry: There are shops and restaurants in Salem where I have work displayed. Enchanted, Bewitched, Hex, The Fountain Cafe, Nick’s Firehouse and The NY Deli. My Facebook page is also loaded with stuff.
BOM: What are you working on now?
Cherry: Currently, I’m working on some illustrations for a book a friend is self-publishing. Strange as it my seem, she has talked me into painting them, so it’s going to be quite an adventure.
Mike’s work can be found at deviantart.com, and you can follow him on Facebook. These few photos are just a glimpse of his work – there are portraits of people, animals, other supernaturally-themed drawings, and characters from pop culture, including Groot and Maleficent! Enjoy!