That very same river this past summer.
Why am I telling you this? Well…one great thing about reading those books in that particular location was that once I got home, I was inspired to sit down and create elaborate maps of the places my mind had wandered as I was reading. I would carefully identify each village, river and forest and color the maps with the mediums available to me at that time—probably crayons and one of those Bic 4-color ballpoint pens. I would even use our gas stove to burn the edges and make them look old. Those maps were long ago archived in some landfill, but to this day, anytime I see hand-drawn maps they transport me to the locations the creator has depicted.
When I came across the work of artist, illustrator and map maker, Mike Reagan, I knew I had to learn more about him and his work. I usually write the participant’s bio from information I have culled from the internet; but in this case, Mike’s bio on his website was so warm and charming that I didn’t want to mess with it. So, in his own words I am proud to present Mike Reagan.
“I got my first set of paints as a young boy while we were living in a small coastal village in Japan, and since then I've had a life-long passion for watercolor. Among my earliest memories are evenings spent looking at National Geographic and day dreaming of those far-away places illustrated in the maps on those pages.
I painted my first map at the age of five, a map showing the cable car route up through the rugged mountains of Beppu, Japan to the top of Monkey Mountain, and since then I've been lucky enough to spend my life creating maps and illustrations of the exotic places that I have loved, and sometimes visited. My paintings have been shown in numerous universities, museums, and galleries around the world. Awards include The Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts, and The Rockefeller Foundation. I'm a member of the North American Cartographic Information Society, the Society for the History of Discoveries, and the Washington Map Society.
After a tour of duty in the Navy during the Vietnam War, I took a sharp left turn and became a Flower Child and Digger in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, and then a sidewalk chalk artist in Honolulu.
In Hawaii I tried to sign on as a deck hand on a sailing ship to the South Seas, but was told I was 150 years too late.
So I worked in a flour mill instead for three months and finally escaped to drift for three years through the islands of the South Pacific and the Caribbean, working my way as deck hand, sail rigger, and fish cleaner. Then I worked random labor jobs across the American South in road construction and logging, long-haul truck driving, night watchman, farm hand, food service, and gas station attendant.
I returned to my home state and started college at the University of Arkansas and majored in Art and American Literature, and even more miraculously, somehow managed to eventually get an MFA in painting. After college, I joined the Peace Corps and served in Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), West Africa, where I met my wife Christine, a fellow Peace Corps volunteer from Chicago, who's now a psychoeductional therapist with the University of North Carolina.
My art career began (at least the one I started actually getting paid for) in 1972 as an art director for a television station in Little Rock, Arkansas and later as art director for Florida Sportsman Magazine in Miami, Florida, and then as creative director for The Bradford Exchange and Plate World Magazine in Chicago.
For over thirty years now I've been a free-lance illustrator. At last count I've created something over 3,000 illustrations and maps for magazines, books and advertising.
My maps and illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, National Geographic, Smithsonian, Audubon, Outside, Harper's, Travel & Leisure, Atlantic Monthly, Sports Illustrated, Wine Spectator, Sail, Orion, OnEarth, Garden & Gun, Architectural Digest, Bon Apetit, Horticulture, Skiing, Voyaging, Mother Jones, National Archives, Islands, Golf Digest, Bicycling, Conte Nast Traveler, Geo, Texas Monthly, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and the Washington Post. Book publishers include Doubleday, Vintage Books, St. Martin's Press, Harcourt Brace, Chronicle Books, Little/Brown, and Marshall Cavendish.
A few of my corporate clients have included IBM, Northern Telecom, SW Bell, Systematics, Glaxo, Coca-Cola, Christie's, Goldman-Sachs. Nonprofit clients include The Peace Corps, The Nature Conservancy (national), Arkansas Nature Conservancy, North Carolina Nature Conservancy, Virginia Nature Conservancy, Duke University, University of North Carolina, Hendrix College, Heifer Project, and WinRock International.
My studio looks out toward the nearby Appalachian Trail and the Pisgah National Forest of western North Carolina. We live quietly now, on Mourning Dove Hill near the cold trout streams of the Walnut Mountains. We enjoy hiking with our little dog, Becky Thatcher, fly fishing, exploring antique shops and book shops, reading and just relaxing at home.
I'm a collector of cultural relics and old books, so the shelves and tables and floor of my studio have always been piled with charts and maps both old and new, exploration journals, art and travel books, tribal masks, animal bones, antlers, feathers, stones from rivers, old fishing reels and rods, charms and artifacts collected on our travels around the world.
We have four grown sons - our oldest is an artist (beautiful abstract oils) who lives nearby in Asheville, our second son is an archaeologist (temporarily in the Marine Corps), son number three is a philosopher/surfer/rock climber/sky diver who lives close by in a mountain cabin with his girl friend, and our youngest son is an EMS/firefighter who lives in Raleigh with his wife and our grandson, Myles Francis, a toddler with no immediate career plans, and the newest edition to our family, our beautiful granddaughter, Gracelyn Marie.”
What is your favorite pen to use?
I use a black or a blue Pigma Micron 005 or 01 for edging the land masses on my maps. For rivers and lakes I use a blue 01. For my hand-lettered place names, again I use a black 005 or 01. If I’m trying for an old map feel I use a finer pen & nib, usually my very old and trusty Koh-I-Noor dipped in Pelikan drawing ink.
Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
Because we’re talking about maps, my client sketches are tight, done in ink (Micron again) and after approval I transfer them to my illustration board. Many of my final maps have pencil lines, both mechanical and standard.
Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
My maps are all old-school hand painted watercolor.
If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?
My color palette is fairly limited, but for nearly forty years now I’ve painted exclusively with Winsor & Newton watercolor tubes although I do use certain colors from Old Holland (Yellow Lake, Green Umber, Prussian Blue and my favorite Caribbean Blue which is the one and only color I use straight from the tube because it’s just perfect for ocean and sea washes), and Holbein (Grey Green). I often lay on an initial wash of coffee over the board first or soak it in coffee.
I always paint with a Winsor & Newton Series 7 brush size 6 and a size 2 for detail. Just recently I’ve discovered a wonderful (and wonderfully inexpensive) brush called Black Velvet Silver size 2 and I find myself going to it more and more often for fine detail work.
I paint most of my maps on Strathmore 500 illustration cold press board because its tooth is really just perfect for my hand-lettering and it takes watercolor so beautifully. Sometimes I use Arches watercolor paper for maps that need to have an “old feel” because it has an antique sort of creamy faded color as opposed to Strathmore’s bright white surface.
What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
I’ve pretty much drawn anything and everything over the years (I actually painted a map ON a taco shell once for a Mexican food place!), but I loved doing it! I’m not crazy about technical drawings or rendering modern things.
Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
I have breakfast (usually oatmeal and espresso, sometimes Corn Flakes and a banana cut up) with my wife and little dog Becky Thatcher, read the paper, see my wife off to her office, and then make my way up to my studio which is right here in our house. Once I’m in the studio I check my emails and check Facebook and then get to my drawing table and get started on the day’s work.
Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
I used to blast out Van Morrison and Dylan and Hank Williams, Levon Helm, Southern rockers like Creedence, Almond Brothers, etc., even Mozart’s Requiem, but now days only silence in my studio. It seems as time goes by quite is best, especially in the mornings. Once in a while though I’ll crank it back up in the afternoons.
What was the first job as a cartoonist/illustrator that you were paid for?
I think it must have been in 1972 at Channel 7 in Little Rock, Arkansas, my first job after college. I think I drew a Razorback “key” for the 6:00 news. I started that job at minimum wage which was $2.25 then.
Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
My favorite comics were always those Illustrated Classics, like Treasure Island, Huckleberry Finn, Robinson Crusoe, etc.
What is or was your favorite comic strip?
Pluggers and Beetle Bailey are my favorites now. Maybe Lil Abner when I was a boy.
What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
First came 'Huckleberry Finn' and then it was 'The Old Man in the Sea'. Yes, I’ve got copies of both.
Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
It wasn’t very formal, but the University of Arkansas made attempts at “training” me and finally gave up and gave me a B.A. and then felt even sorrier for me and sent me on to graduate school, but still, the “training” never took.
Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
Computer stuff really drives me crazy, but of course I couldn’t live where I do and make a living without it, so it is both a blessing and a curse. Now days it’s discouraging to see so many printed magazines going out of business or going “online.” I just love the feel of a magazine or a book in my hands as I love the tactile feel of paint and brush.
The humanness of it, I guess. The flaws. As for modern maps, the ones now done on computers have left the heart, soul and mystical feeling of maps behind. Spirits seem unable to live in computer generated maps. Having said that, I do see some amazing work that some illustrators do on the computer.
Did either of your parents draw?
Neither drew, but both encouraged my early attempts at art. My mother gave me my first set of watercolors. My father helped me put the finishing touches on my first oil painting when I was about eleven. Many other people too, my brother, friends, and my teachers.
Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
This one is very easy – the love of my life, my muse, my wife and my best friend, Christina Rosalia. We met 37 years ago in the Peace Corps in Ivory Coast, West Africa and have rarely been apart since.
All my art has always evolved around her; actually has come from her. During the time that I put aside illustration work for a while to paint and exhibit my large installation pieces called “Blood Trail” she was right there with me every soul-searching step of the way.
As were my four sons who were raised in and around my various studios and have always believed in me and my art.
Do you keep a sketchbook?
On and off, right at the moment, no.
Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
I have taught painting and enjoyed it.
Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
I think passion is really everything, in art and in life. Talent alone can be dazzling on the surface, but without passionate commitment talent is an empty vessel.
Do you collect anything and if so what?
I don’t think I collect anything, but I seem to always have a lot of books around and old atlases and sea charts, so maybe I collect those. I like old toys, especially toy soldiers and I have a few here in my studio from my childhood. I like relics and river rocks too. I like to bring things in from the woods.
If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
Animated? Hmmm, I don’t know, maybe Popeye I guess because we were both in the Navy, but comic character probably the bear (I think his name is Andy?) from Pluggers.
Are you a righty or lefty?
If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
I’ve tried many things in my life, but being an artist seems what I was meant to be. Otherwise I might be a pilot or a sailboat maker. Or as Jethro from Beverly Hill Billies said, maybe a fry cook.
In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
Calming and quite. I love to be in my studio and I love to paint maps. I’ve painted more than 3,000 over the years and still look forward to sitting down at my drawing table and starting another one. I feel so lucky to have lived my life as an artist, doing something I truly love and making a living at it.
Do you play any musical instruments?
I had a great uncle that played the fiddle (Turkey in the Straw, Arkansas Traveler), but I haven’t gotten around to it yet – there may still be time.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to try! Follow your truth, follow your heart, find what you love then push your work up as far as you can, hold nothing back, put your whole soul into it, work hard, and make your deadlines time after time, year after year. Pursue your weaknesses. Get out on the rivers and out in the woods. Have a good little dog in your studio.
Paint and draw, paint and draw, paint and draw, paint and draw, paint and draw, paint and draw. Laugh.
Who is your favorite artist?
There are so many. The maps drawn on deer skin, bones and rocks by native peoples around the world are my strongest influence. I especially like the maps drawn by Native Americans because they show such a visceral feel for the land, the rivers, and the wildlife. They are somewhat confusing to Euro-American eyes because these maps do not have the same Western sense of orientation to north-south, scale, direction and proportion. There is a spiritual element to these maps and a blending of the unknown with the known that produces a mystical feeling I relate to very strongly, as do the early cave paintings of Lascaux and very early maps of exploration to uncharted seas and lands.
As to more traditional maps I like the maps of the 1500s and 1600s. A favorite map is William Petty’s line map of Ireland. I like all of the Dutch map artists, really, for their beautiful inking lines, color tints and washes. Mercator, of course, for his rich detail and illustrative qualities of terrain and cities and castles. Abraham Ortelius for the beautiful and detailed line work. And Antonio Lafreri for the same reason. I love the painted coastlines and nautical charts of Matthew Flinders. My favorite of these is the French naturalist and map maker Jules Dumont D’Urville for his amazing paintings of fishes, flora, and people of his expeditions through the South Seas. His rendition of the islands of Vanikoro are simply stunning.
Other artists I’ve loved all my life are Van Gogh, Gauguin, Goya, Gorky, Winslow Homer, Wyeth and more recently, Christian Boltanski and Anselm Keifer.
One other thing. There’s no such thing as “fine artists” as opposed to illustrators. I’ve known many illustrators over the years and as far as I’m concerned they’re all “fine artists.” Names… too many to list, but N.C. Wyeth, Mark English, Jack Unruh, Brad Holland, and Kinuko Y. Craft are just a few that pop into my mind. I have so much admiration for so many artists and the beautiful things they make. For cartoonists I’ve always liked R. Crumb, Roz Chast (Cartoonist Survey #249), Gary Larson - would put Elwood Smith (Cartoonist Survey #275) up there near or at the top. I love not only his wacky humor but also the wonderful way he uses watercolor. JT Steiny’s dogs are amazing.
Thank you again very much Mike! Not only for taking the time to participate, but also for all your help with the images!