Meet Mike Costello, owner and printmaker of Printed Appalachia. Based out of Elkins, WV Mike specializes in hand-printed images made from various materials. With our Q&A, learn about Mike’s greatest accomplishment, obstacles he’s faced in his career, and what inspires him as an artist.
1. How do you describe your palette?
I like to think of my work as being heavily influenced by a sense of place. Without a doubt, there’s such vivid imagery associate with Appalachia, and you’ll see that in my work, from the subject matter to the color selection.
The most distinguishing characteristic about my work is that the images are entirely hand-printed from hand-carved blocks of wood or linoleum. The process creates a rough, sometimes rustic, feel to the images, which really fits with the sense of place that drives my creative process.
2. What’s your greatest accomplishment?
The launch of a small design shop was a huge achievement I didn’t see coming just a few years. When I got my start in printmaking, just as a hobby, I never imagined it would turn into such a business opportunity. When I first dabbled in custom work, creating images for album covers, it wasn’t long before requests came in on a regular basis. Now, at any given time, I’m working with clients in several other states, and even other countries, having a hard time keeping up with demand.
There are lots of great designers out there, but there are few who emphasize block printing in their imagery. That’s the attraction that draws people to my work. My process is time consuming and often expensive, but there are such distinguishing qualities in images that have been pressed from a hand-carved block. For me, the accomplishment is just a validation, not just of my work, but of the fact that quality craft is still sought out and appreciated at a level that keeps my business going.
3. What obstacles do you need to overcome to find your creative space/muse?
Finding time to excel at the creative side, as well as the business side, of my work is undoubtedly the biggest challenge I face. My art and design business is really a side project for now, but I’ll soon be taking some steps to put more time and energy into it. I work full-time as the Executive Director of the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition, a group dedicated to the preservation of special places on our state’s public lands. Working in the non-profit sector is very demanding, so it’s often difficult to on additional projects. It’s simply a matter of good time management, organization and careful planning. I’m not always good at those tasks, but they’re so important to address. Otherwise, the creativity can be severely stifled.
4. How do you find your inspiration?
My work is deeply connected to a sense of place, generally here in the Appalachian Mountains, although I’ve done plenty of custom work for clients based in other places, as well. I’ve always been inspired by this region and its landscape, its history and its musical heritage. Now it seems there’s a broader national audience for all things Appalachia, and I attribute that to the authenticity of the local culture.
When I’ve taken on custom projects, I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing individuals, organizations and businesses that do some of the most inspiring work imaginable. Much of custom work is done with musicians, non-profits, local foods operations and other small businesses. There’s a real partnership that takes hold, and that’s such an important part of the process, from the conceptual stage all the way to final production. We really feed off of each other’s creative energy, leading to a mutual inspiration that makes the product as strong as possible.
5. What advice do you have for other artists?
Excel at what you set out to do, and strive to be unique. Do something that sets you apart, and put a lot of effort into developing your own style. I see a lot of artists that set out to become accomplished in a particular medium, and they often do. They invest an incredible amount of time to acquire an impressive technical skillset that allows them to produce great work. That’s such an important step, but the artists that really create memorable work do so because there’s a unique style that’s been developed over time
– LBSPY #62. February 2015.