Michael Perry likes being busy, and it shows. In the past year, he’s participated in an art show, edited and art directed his own magazine, and released a book of hand-drawn type published by Princeton Architectural Press. He’s now working on a second book, Over and Over, a catalog of hand-drawn patterns, due out this fall. “I worry about spreading myself too thin,” says Perry in his apartment-studio, stacked to the ceiling with bookcases full of magazines and design tools. “Luckily, I’m young and I’m figuring things out.”
For Perry, self-exploration happens while he’s working. “You have to make things to figure out what you’re doing,” he says. Perhaps this explains his love of lettering and patterns, two visual forms that require a serious level of attention. Or maybe his love of patterning has a simpler explanation. “When things repeat, it feels good,” he says.
This positive momentum is the driving force behind all the work he does, whether it’s the playful type illustrations spelling out “Versace” and “Givenchy” in a New York Times Magazine spread or the patterns he contributed as one of 18 artists commissioned to create an engraved design on the back of Microsoft’s Zune MP3 player. Perry says he repeats certain shapes until they become a pattern, adding more complex patterns-within-patterns until the finished product becomes something else: a color or a texture in its own right.
Growing up in Missouri, Perry wanted to be a painter and cultivated a love of drawing. He enrolled in the painting program at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, but switched to design because he liked the freedom it gave him. In 2003, he moved to Philadelphia to work for Urban Outfitters, and his hand-drawn aesthetic helped define the company’s overall graphic style for the following two years. He worked in direct marketing, hiring freelancers and assembling packets of type and other visual material to present to the art directors working on the catalogs. Eventually, he realized he wanted to be in that art director position himself. He moved to New York, worked briefly at the design firm Helicopter, then went freelance.
Since that time, he’s designed books for Mark Batty Publisher and Chronicle Books and created illustrations for Zoo York, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Jane magazine. “Some people do things because they can, not because they have to,” he says. “I definitely have a ‘have to’ thing going on.” He calls it “generating piles.”
Perry’s most ambitious pile yet is his own project, a magazine called Untitled. The first issue had a fashion focus, and included photographs, styling, clothes, and designs by friends and collaborators. The second issue, due out this spring, will feature swimsuits layered with drawings on top of the photographs, a postproduction effect.
Upcoming issues of Untitled could stray from the realms of fashion and design. Perry wants to collaborate on an issue with his brother, who is studying biomedical engineering. His sibling would supply science-related content, and Perry would do all the creative content and organization, a task he relishes: “It feels good to do that rather than [being] a money-making machine for someone else.” Even if it involves biomedical engineering? “It’s hard to say no,” he admits. “I want to do everything.”