Department of Art and Art History Alumni

Michael Sieben

Michael Sieben

BFA in Studio Art, 1999

Michael is currently the Creative Director of Roger Skateboards and has illustrated for many publications including the Austin Chronicle, Thrasher Magazine, and a newly published version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Michael has exhibited all over the U.S., including Art Palace in Houston, Mark Moore Gallery in Culver City, Miami PULSE, and The Contemporary Austin. Michael is the spring 2014 Vaulted Gallery Artist-in-Residence at the Visual Arts Center.

Q+A

What were you most focused on during your undergrad?
I was mainly focused on making drawings. Looking back, I realize that what I was primarily concerned with was working towards developing a recognizable illustration style. The content was secondary, which was obviously frustrating for my professors. I was using the time to learn how to make marks that would serve as a personal signature of mine. I made a handful of good drawings while I was an undergrad but most of them are pretty embarrassing.

What did you plan on doing upon graduation?
I thought I’d probably very quickly become a famous artist or illustrator; I had absolutely no idea how the world actually worked. What I ended up doing was taking a retail job at a toy store. I was qualified to do very little.

How did Okay Mountain begin?
In 2002 I helped open an art gallery in downtown Austin called Camp Fig. My wife, Allison (girlfriend at the time) and I, along with two of our friends, put our money and where our mouths were and started curating monthly shows. I brought in some extra help and we eventually abandoned the Camp Fig moniker and Okay Mountain was born from the ashes.

Tell us more about Okay Mountain. Any favorite projects or moments working as a collective?
Okay Mountain has always been a labor of love. I’m proud to look back on all of the shows that we curated and it feels good to know that we brought work to Austin that most likely would not have been shown in our community if we hadn’t facilitated it. At some point though, very organically, we started making collaborative work together, and that practice slowly overshadowed the day-to-day interest of running a commercial art gallery. My favorite moment, for whatever reason, would be when we all spent a summer afternoon tarring the roof of our first building with Mel Ziegler. It was a Shawshank moment. 

You are the Creative Director of Roger Skateboards. What does that entail and what inspired you to start the company? 
I handle all of the creative content for the company: ads, web content, video concepts, skateboard graphics, apparel graphics, sticker designs—literally everything in terms of the visual identity of the brand. In 2006 I was hired as an art director for a company called Bueno skateboards. The experience sparked my imagination and gave me the idea that it might be possible to do a similar project on a smaller scale. It turns out it was totally possible. 

You just illustrated a book,The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. How did you become involved in the project?
I received an email completely out of the blue from an editor at Harper Design (an imprint of Harper Collins.) She had seen my work in a Juxtapoz and thought that it would be a good pairing for an updated version of The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz. I’ve always dreamed of illustrating a children’s book, so for me it was a no-brainer. It was a “yes” from the very first conversation.

What keeps you inspired as an artist? 
Listening to the radio and trying to think of a way to make a sculpture or a painting that will affect people in the same way as a good song. Also reading books, looking at what other artists are doing, watching movies, taking walks and looking at funny pictures on the Internet. I’m inspired by pretty much everything around me. I’m not picky. 

Do you have any advice for current students? 
Use your studio time wisely. Someday you’ll look back and realize what a gift it is to have so much uninterrupted time to work on your craft. Also, don’t take it to heart if one (or more) of your professors doesn’t like your work. I guarantee there are critics out there who would not respond to their work. But mainly I think students should use their time as to experiment and take advantage of the university’s facilities. I guarantee that after you graduate you’re not going to have free access to a letterpress archive. Go play with that stuff.