In the fourth grade, enamored by narrative comic books like The Flash and The Brainy Beagle, Mike O’Day would have liked nothing better than to grow up and have his own comic book series. As an avid illustrator throughout his youth, he decided to pursue advertising design in college. He began working at a couple of advertising firms in St. Louis. He liked the work because it provided him with the opportunity to do illustration.
When his wife Christine was accepted into a graduate program at Caltech in Pasadena, O’Day had submitted just one application to an advertising firm in the Los Angeles area. When looking through the paper, he found a help wanted ad seeking a caricaturist.
He went to work the next day at LA’s famous Olvera Street Marketplace. Charging about $5 for 10-minute sketches, he drew caricatures for the throngs of tourists that crowded the market. “The best thing about that job was that I got to draw people from all over the world,“ O’Day said.
After two years, the O’Days’ first child, Dylan, came into the world. Mike quit the Olvera job to be a stay-at-home parent. A few years later, in 1994, the O’Days moved to Puget Sound. After five years in sunny California, their October move required a big adjustment.
O’Day started doing freelance illustrations for magazines that required likenesses of sport, film and music celebrities. Some of O’Day’s favorites were Peter Buck, The Rolling Stones and Green Day.
In 1998, the family moved to Brier. O’Day has a curious nature so, as he did child-rearing duty, he also explored a variety of media and techniques. Around 2003, he was featured in a show of his linocut prints at the Mountlake Terrace Library. Typical themes in the show were two boys, dogs, crows, artichokes, the garden and combinations thereof.
When his younger son Rory started at Edmonds’ Maplewood Parent Co-op, Mike’s volunteer hours were devoted to art instruction. Big projects did not intimidate him. For example, he constructed a shadow puppet theater that spanned 16 feet. “I tried anything and everything working with the kids. The teacher would say, ‘well, you’re the art parent’ – so I had a pretty free rein.”
Another well-known artist in the Edmonds art community, Julie Perrine, was also at Maplewood. She asked Mike to paint a large platter she had created. They traveled down to the Edmonds Sculptors Workshop at the Frances Anderson Center and O’Day was impressed. “I said – wow! How do you get into this place?” He’s been a member of the workshop ever since.
O’Day and Perrine have collaborated extensively over the years. Among other projects, they’ve gone into four elementary schools in the local area — Spruce in Lynnwood, Syre in Shoreline and Lake Forest Park and Edmonds elementaries — to work with kids to create large tile relief pieces.
With respect to the path he’s chosen for his art, O’Day says this- “Everyone seems to do functional pottery and there’s nothing wrong with that — but it doesn’t interest me at all. So I started bringing in my sketches to the workshop. Once I started getting into clay, I devoted most of my energy to ceramics.”
Taking a two-dimensional caricature and translating it into three dimensions has been challenging and rewarding.
O’Day’s creations are unique — distinctively his own.
“My hero is Maurice Sendak,” he said. “He has these beautiful qualities in his illustrations, but there’s also a sense of danger in his work.”
Anyone who’s looked at Where The Wild Things Are will understand what O’Day is referring to.
You’ll see some common themes when you observe O’Day’s art. His birds in flight and his rocket man series inspire a sense of freedom. You’ll see quirky dogs, improbable fantasy animals, goofy and not-so-super superheroes. Just plain charming but ridiculous characters are the norm.
When viewing one of O’Day’s pieces, the first look generally elicits amusement. You might notice his impeccable workmanship. But just as with Sendak’s characters, a deeper look reveals nuance, perhaps a little danger, or maybe some vulnerability. They’ve all got a little quirk.
O’Day stays pretty busy; he sometimes has trouble keeping up with demand. In addition to working with students in the schools, he also takes commissions, and sells his work at ARTspot in Edmonds, Lynn Hanson Gallery in Seattle, and Lake Forest Park Gallery at Town Square. He also participates in the biannual Edmonds Sculptors Workshop sale where, this year, “I pretty much sold everything,” he noted. “It’s funny, the quirkier it is, the weirder it is, the faster it sells.”
He’s considering doing more large-scale murals, tile relief walls and perhaps even working in bronze. I look forward to enjoying his future creations.
When not actively scheming about ways to promote the arts in Edmonds, James Spangler can be found (highly caffeinated) behind the counter of his bookstore on 4th Avenue.