Like many artists, my career started with a blank canvas and a curious mind. This winding road soon experienced the timeless quandary: choosing between Fine Art or Graphic Design. While these often overlap, they are two distinct fields. The inspiration and purpose for each are exceptionally different. One is of the heart, the other of the mind. I had a love and passion for both. The results became the work that has fascinated our clients for decades.
The earliest memories of print-design were sparked when Dad brought home books with peculiarities, like upside-down covers, and a sheet of 52 playing cards, uncut, framed by CMYK-registration targets, color quality bars, and trim marks. Dad explained what it was and why it was important. This fueled my curiosity for art, design, and advertising.
Since childhood, making art was my passion. In 1971 I enrolled at the University in Kenosha to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art. Courses included sculpture, business statistics, and computers. The courses and teachers were uninspiring, but offered valuable experiences that helped me clarify what I didn’t want to do with my future.
A counselor suggested the Commercial Art Associate Degree program offered by Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC). After getting accepted, I saw things clearly. It was like landing in Shangri-La! The curriculum: typography, design, airbrush/photo-retouching, photography, printing, and more. For two years I traveled 90-miles-a-day, round-trip by Greyhound Bus, to attend while living with Mom and Dad to save money.
Despite the many classroom hours, long commute, and Wisconsin winters, I maintained perfect attendance, earned straight A’s, and graduated Phi Theta Kappa—and was honored to earn 1975’s “Most Outstanding Graduating Portfolio” as voted on by the five Milwaukee colleges.
Like with most graduates, money was tight. A couple of job offers came at the right time. A former MATC graduate working in the Art Department at Allis-Chalmers recommended me for a technical illustrator position within his department. Advanced training included how to interpret orthographic blueprints, and how to use applied geometry to create isometric drawings: exploded views of tractors and riding mowers they manufactured. Math suddenly had a higher purpose. I was using applied geometry to define space, to create art!
Exciting at first, I quickly mastered these skills. But the majority of work required drawing hardware: lock washers, machine screws, and on rare occasions, a crankshaft or steering wheel. This art had lacked aspiration; the initial thrill dissipated.
To satisfy my creativity, I enrolled in night classes at the university. Modern Art History was followed by Dada and Surrealism. I fell in love with Surrealist art and poetry. I wrote a paper on the unique contribution each of the artists made to the movement. My professor said it was the best undergraduate paper he’d ever read, and placed a copy on permanent record at the university.
“Introduction to Printmaking” captivated me: copper etchings, serigraphs, and linocuts. Stone lithography, one of the earliest forms of commercial printing, became my preferred artistic medium for several years as I studied with a Master Tamarind Printer.
Living in Milwaukee had its advantages. Harley-Davidson Motorcycles offered a 45% pay raise, and an exciting career opportunity. This was during the transformation when Harley-Davidson went from the verge of bankruptcy and extinction, to its subsequent turnaround, rebound, and meteoric rise in popularity (and the stock market). Harley-Davidson became one of America’s greatest corporate success stories, and an iconic global brand leader.
These executives were masters at nurturing a rebellious brand image and lifestyle based on freedom—and I had a front-row seat. Many great experiences and lessons that came from that opportunity involving working with diverse people, illustration, corporate identity standards, and usage guides on a global scale.
The job was challenging. As the sole illustrator working alongside 15 executives and technical writers, there was always more work than one illustrator could handle, so focus, clarity, and speed became the mantra.
To manage the pressure, a friend suggested the Meditation Institute. Two great things occurred: the mastery of meditation, and meeting Kate, the love of my life. We were married 10 months later, and have remained happily married for 38 adventure-filled years (and counting).
Fast-forward: Kate and I drove a family member’s car from Milwaukee to Colorado as a favor. We thought a mini vacation would be fun. Neither of us anticipated falling in love with Boulder at first sight! Within three months, we had blissfully moved to Boulder.
Soon, Ball Aerospace made an offer to join their team of 16 technical artists. While all the illustrators were talented, my experience provided me the mindfulness and clarity required to complete complex projects quickly. My speed and skills were an excellent fit for the artists and project managers. We were a great team, and they operated with the precision of Mission Control. This work had meaning, challenges, and most of all, purpose.
Working from blueprints, I created technical illustrations of laser communication devices, deep space telescopes, three concepts for the 9-ft. bearings to rotate solar panels on the International Space Station, and the Relay Mirror Experiment (a laser-guided satellite network to track ICBMs). Everything I worked on went into space via the Space Shuttle Challenger. Then tragedy hit when Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on January 26, 1986.
Soon the technology industry was shaken to the core with the disruptive technologies of CAD and desktop computers. Once engineers were designing using CAD, a 3D representation from any angle was a freebie. Many technical illustrators across the world were laid off, including me.
Within days, the phone was ringing with people asking for a meeting to discuss projects. The timing was right to launch our very own mission control, a design studio that we named Lightspeed Commercial Arts. Former supervisors inspired my choosing the name “lightspeed”—they often complimented my quick turnaround and excellent quality. This differentiated the business in the market.
Clarity and quality dominated the mindset of our team. We concentrated on bringing value to every project and delivering on time. This included marketing, logo design/branding, brochures, and direct mail. Websites were still on the horizon.
Our clarity and passion for problem-solving through design and illustration inspires our creative spark and enthusiasm. We integrate analytical left-brain and creative right-brain thinking to transform a business owner’s idea into a powerful brand, and solve real business problems.
Over time, the marketplace and design community recognized our work, and have honored us with 43 national and international “Awards of Excellence” and “Best of Category” awards for our logo designs as well as photography, consumer packaging, typography design, environmental graphics, logo usage guide, and publication design.
Thanks to the action of a BWA member in 2013, I became a certified vendor to CU’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. Scientists and graduate students creating research proposals or publishing articles needed a pre-approved, reliable resource for graphics. Areas served include nanotechnology, medical micro-sensors, aerospace, robotics, earthquakes, and advanced energy technology.
Other Lightspeed project highlights include:
- Master Driller Guide for International Association of Drilling Contractors: 1,400 pages of tables and text formatting, and 700 line illustrations.
- Myogen: biotech startup. Logo design, print collateral, and an investor-oriented PowerPoint presentation. Seven years later, they were bought for $3.7 billion in cash.
- Mobil Oil’s emergency management program: a physical playbook for crisis response internationally, forms, and procedures.
- “Introduction to Nanotechnology,” an 800-page university-level textbook published by CRC Press/ NYC: Illustration and file management for 450 diagrams.
I attribute our success to working with good people, building relationships, and trust. Success is a team effort. We listen carefully to our clients, focus on great service, create and maintain reliable teams of partners, collaborators, vendors, and contractors. Our goal is to exceed expectations by delivering high quality, good value, and a fast turnaround. This has earned Lightspeed a great reputation.
The inspiration to create art by hand was reignited in 2013. Unpacking airbrushes stored away for 20-plus years stirred creative juices, and awoke my soul for creating nature and portrait watercolor paintings. My art is frequently on display as an active member of Boulder Arts Association, Boulder Open Studies, and NoBo Art District.
Rediscovering the joy of fine art photography in 2016, I published my first book of nature photographs called Walking With Rumi in 2019. It contains 120 of my photos paired with 100 poems, and 70 quotes by the Sufi mystic known as Rumi. Over 250 books sold within months through word-of-mouth and Facebook.
In the fall of 2021, we will release my latest masterpiece, a business book called SPARK! Fuel Your Creative Fire.
This book was inspired by many of our clients and business colleagues repeatedly stating, “I wish I had a ‘how-to’ book for guiding, working, and dealing with creative people, and the thought process for creative projects and problem-solving.”
SPARK! Fuel Your Creative Fire describes the inside complexity of managing creativity and creatives, and reveals how we can work together. The book features the challenges and creative process for getting to the solutions for 60 of our award-winning projects. It’s the perfect guidebook for business owners, CEOs, executives, art directors, graphic designers, and illustrators, plus a great gift for advertising and design students. It will be available on Amazon.com this fall. Or visit www.SparkCreativeBooks.com for more details.
Looking back over 60-plus years, if I could go back and give young Michael advice, it would be this: Always seek clarity and purpose. Do your best. Always be kind to everyone, and trust that everything is going to turn out great.
Mike Hamers / Lightspeed website: www.Lightspeedca.net Future book site: www.CreativeSparkBooks.com firstname.lastname@example.org.