Hailing from a small logging town in rural Oregon, I started in photography as a kid. On family camping trips I would beg my parents to borrow their point-and-shoot camera. My dad later showed me Google Picasa and I found myself getting just as sucked into the photo editing side as I was with the actual photography. Adjusting saturation and contrast to horrifying levels became a new way to transform what my eye saw.
In high school, my best friends and I started a band. We’d been teaching ourselves how to play our instruments and jam during lunch breaks in our middle school band room. Now it was time to start figuring out writing and performing. Guitar was my first love and I began envisioning a future as a rockstar. My mom is an avid musician, especially with the standup bass. She centered her life around her love for it – always in a band, she played the local farmers market nearly every week. I’d always wondered why she hadn’t pursued it professionally and wanted to push into that for myself.
Through our band, I found a new reason to get good at visual art and start figuring out graphic design. I was damn determined to make our show posters look like a touring act – not some high school kids still developing. I enjoyed visual art, but a career in music was my dream. In the meantime, Instagram came out and I began posting near daily. Things started as horrible iPod touch photos with all the cringe filters. I discovered a handful of simple photo editing/collage apps and began trying to elevate my mobile photos into something more. Then I started exploring Photoshop with a cheap digital camera. Layers made no sense at first, but I became obsessed with figuring it out.
I’d always had a strong connection to a visual world outside of myself and wanted to be able to translate the visions that came when I closed my eyes into something tangible. It quickly reached a point where I stopped simply taking photos – I started taking photos with the mindset of creating something surreal with them. With each shutter click I imagined what more could be there. This probably came from staring at clouds as a kid trying to see animals and more. In those early photoshop years I was most inspired by Storm Thorgerson and Salvador Dali.
I got really into surreal self portraits. After school I would set up two step ladders. One as my tripod and another to sit on. I’d take a photo of me sitting, then try to hold the camera as steady as I could in the same position after removing the stool I’d sat on – capturing the background alone. By layering the two photos and erasing the step ladder below me, I began levitating. Every chance I had I would try something new. I started learning 3D software to composite into my photos. As I became more dedicated, I slowly started getting client jobs – mostly creating album covers for smaller bands/artists.
Fast forward and after years of near-daily photoshop edits and a string of low paying freelance work in between day jobs I hated, I reached a point of burnout. As my early 20s hit, I began a journey of undiagnosed bipolar ups and downs. Through posting on Instagram I’d made a commitment to creating every day. It became an anchor through my heavy depression episodes. Though in this state, I couldn’t find the visions I used to have – emptiness took over.
One day in my bed, I remembered my earliest mobile edits I made with iPod touch photos and a simple app that was loaded with a bunch of fonts. Years later, I’d been so focused on making album cover style art that I’d grown a subtle disdain for typography. I preferred the imagery to speak for itself. But the images had stopped coming.
Then I had a breakthrough moment. Instead of starting an edit with a photograph, what if I started with a black background and a simple word or phrase typed out in white? What if I treated it the same as my photo edits and applied my years of photoshopping knowledge to typography? This allowed me to create without hunting down stock photos to fill out ideas and the tedious process of cutting out elements and blending everything together. (Shoutout developments in tech allowing this separation with a simple click these days lol.) I made very sad art expressing what I was feeling each day.
One day one of my typography pieces reached 1000 insta likes. The little ego in me was still depressed but ecstatic. I’d found something new that seemed to resonate with others. I threw away the idea of photography and began a daily pursuit of pushing what I could do with text. Eventually I’d found a new style for myself by pulling from childhood nostalgia, glitch, and the natural world. My years of creating and inspirations crashed together into a new art style.
When I came out of the depths of that depression episode, I started getting bigger and bigger jobs. All the work was paying off. My insta started blowing up. People were asking daily for a tutorial and the excitement turned into anxiety. I’d seen my past ideas become big trends years later and was worried this newfound style I’d made for myself would get washed out in a sea of people copying it. (I am in no way saying that my 3D era and glitch artwork eras were a catalyst for their popularity later on, but I did register that somehow I seemed to typically be ahead of the visual trends curve.)
Then people started making tutorials attempting to replicate my style. It was a slow drip at first but within months more and more tutorials were coming out. I started getting sent pieces weekly (and at times daily) that were uncomfortably close to my work. It was an ego trip wrapping my head around it all. My fears became true as I started seeing major companies hiring people to create things in my art style. Pinterest boards were covered in my uncredited work and the work of others adopting the style for themselves. At the same time though, I was getting the biggest jobs of my life. I had to learn how to navigate feeling okay and secure with my art style taking on a life of its own.
Then someone coined the term “The Mishko Effect.” I didn’t have any intentions of naming the style after myself but it began to take off. It started showing up on “trends to watch out for” lists. It was out of my hands. During slow periods when money wasn’t coming in I’d feel bitter and resentful. How dare these people copy me and likely contribute to me not getting work. Who gave them the right?
Truthfully though, my ego needed to take the hit of feeling on top of the world to financially freaking out. I couldn’t bring myself to revisit my top ramen chapter, but rice and beans became my meal of champions once more.
For a while I felt so uncomfortable with it all but now I gotta say – it’s pretty dang neat to have had a literal impact on the world of art and design. I no longer feel the need to call out or feel entitled to some credit. I’m learning to be grateful. Maybe without all that going down I would’ve gotten trapped in an echo chamber of creating only one style of art. It pushed me back into photography and experimenting with my typography in a video format. I started occasionally revisiting 3D but through a lens of animation rather than still cover art. After Effects went from a disgusting impossible UI to a regular tool.
Now, I want to take everything I’ve soaked in and work towards directing live action. Watch out Hollywood lol