The beauty of art is that it stays with you throughout your lifetime, even transcending occupations. One can be working full-time in an entirely different sector but still make time for artwork on the side. That’s exactly what our latest featured artist, Michael Macaulay is doing, and has been for the last decade.
Growing up, Macaulay had always enjoyed creating art. He studied at a technical institute, double majoring in business and marketing while minoring in studio art. These days he’s working at the University of Rhode Island doing a lot of data analytics for higher education, but has always held onto his passion for art. He first forayed into the world of 3D street art around fifteen years ago at a street painting festival in New England after moving to Rhode Island. There, he entered his first contest and ended up winning first place along with a $100 prize. He realized creating these 3D street works was pretty fun and decided to enter another contest. Again, he won first place and began to wonder if street art could be a lucrative area to pursue, and sure enough after some online research, he found out just how impactful and popular 3D street art was. One thing led to another, and after some encouragement from his wife, he reached out to an agent in NYC who put him on a project he really enjoyed. After that, he started reaching out to different clients on his own and has been enjoying the process ever since: “It’s been really rewarding and a nice little side gig for me”.
Throughout his career, Macaulay has done work for some notable clients. One of his first major branded pieces was for a wine festival in Idaho, followed by a couple for Dow AgroSciences, and GE Healthcare. Some of his favorite projects have been for ESPN and for the National Championship Football games, of which he’s done two. The first was sponsored by Capital One, and the other, Goodyear. When it comes to the time spent doing his work, he’s perfectly fine with being a part-time artist: “I don’t know if I’d enjoy it as much if I had to rely on it completely”. Working with computers and being technical has landed him a good job that pays the bills, and he fully appreciates that he can still do his artwork and get paid for it without having to totally rely on it.
Macaulay also realizes the importance of the arts when it comes to education. Back when he was finishing up his master’s program, he was required to create a practicum and decided to answer the question, “How would you improve education?”. Already familiar with STEM and STEAM and with his background in art, he did some research and realized the impact of these programs: “The more research I did, the more I understood that not enough curriculums around the country incorporate the arts into their curriculum…I decided to do more research on it and come up with a workshop in which I implemented the idea of art space learning with some of the faculty at University of Rhode Island”. All in all, he says it was a great experience.
The process of creating his works is similar to other full-time artists. A client decides they want to do a street painting for any kind of project, whether that’s a trade show or another special event, and he’ll meet with or call them to discuss what kind of design elements they wish to include in the project and what they want the public to get out of it. From there, he’ll produce a number of rough designs to see what the client likes from each of them. There’s usually some back and forth until they’re happy with the design, as they want to know what to expect. Once that’s all decided, it’s just a matter of going outside and doing the work. Time wise, some street paintings can be done in just one day, while others may take two to three days.
On the more technical side of his art, Macaulay first draws his sketches by hand, creating a number of designs, and sometimes using online photos as inspiration. It’s interesting to note that these sketches are always done from the perspective of what they’d look like through a camera: “When it comes to actually doing the artwork on site, you have to distort that image so that it looks 3D when you look through the camera”. A lot of times he’ll draw the sketch the way he wants it to look, then draws perspective lines on the sketch, and then redraws as if you’re looking down on it from directly above. He then creates a grid, and finally redraws that image on the ground distorted, and steps back: “Some of it’s trial and error. You really have to step back, make a mark on the ground where the picture should be taken from, cause it’s gotta be exactly right otherwise it looks funny”. To ensure spectators see the proper illusion for each piece, Macaulay has cleverly employed the practice of drawing footprints where they should stand to get the correct perspective in photos.
His most complex piece to date was a fairytale-themed street painting made for a festival in Georgia that included several classic characters and creatures. A detailed and interactive piece, it incorporated a real sidewalk bench on a brick apron made to look as if it were balanced atop a pile of books. Guests that sat on the bench for a photo become a part of the artwork, adding to the already impressive illusion.
Macaulay explained one of the more challenging aspects of his street art is relying on the weather: “When you’re using chalk on pavement, you really don’t want to work in the rain, it won’t work too well”. He’s also run into some issues with a few lower-level projects where they didn’t have any stanchions available while he worked. He’d work around it by marking off the area of his workspace but that wasn’t always enough, as pedestrians on their phones would walk across his work, not expecting there to be anything on the floor.
Despite the challenges, he stays inspired by anticipating the excitement of the public upon seeing his completed works: “Thinking what would I wanna see if I were gonna come across this event? What kind of people are going to be at this event? What is it all about?”. He asks himself what will really grab the people’s attention and ensures they find it cool and engaging. Another source of excitement? “The fact that every time I do one, there’s gonna be people who’ve never seen that kind of artwork before, that’s always kinda cool”. As for the beginning of his career in the arts, he credits his wife for initially recognizing his talent and encouraging him to do more with his work: “She’s kind of the inspiration that made me go for it”.
Macaulay finds it very rewarding when the public interacts with his completed works: “I think it’s really neat to see people smile at something you’ve created. Especially young children, they pose with the artwork and they’re all excited about it. They really don’t hold back, they show their excitement and it makes you feel really good”. He also has an interesting outlook on his own work, seeing it almost as a kind of performance art “cause you’re working in front of the public…then you actually get to see the impact it has when they look through a camera lens”.
Like so many artists, drawing and art hold a major significance in his life. In his own words, with art, “you kind of get a chance to really show your soul, kind of show your creativity, and express yourself in certain ways. I think that’s what’s great about artwork, it’s so subjective. There’s no right or wrong way to do it”. He finds it very rewarding to see someone else enjoy something that you’ve created, and realizes that some will like it more than others. That’s just the nature of art.
Macaulay once asked a famous American sculptor named Armand LaMontagne if there’s any specific classes or any books one should read in order to succeed in the arts, and was essentially advised to “forget all that and just do it. The more you do it, the better you get. You gotta make mistakes in order to learn from your mistakes, especially when creating artwork”. Some solid advice from one artist to another.
Whether you do it full-time or just on the side, art is something that sticks with us all and makes an impact on the lives of others each and every day. Never be afraid to stick with what you love to do and you’ll surely find successes of your own throughout your journey.
Find out more about Michael Macaulay and see more of his artwork on his personal site at www.MichaelMacaulay.com.
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