2016 was a very intense year for a lot of us. Between losing so many legends and the presidential election, it was a very… destructive time. Personally, it was a year of both destruction and growth. I hit many low lows, but it would be disingenuous to ignore all the highs as well. My life had been sent into a slow and steady free fall that was both terrifying and liberating in a way that allowed me to discover both who I was and who I wanted to be.
After getting my Bachelor’s at the end of 2014, I spent all of 2015 at a job where I was overworked, underpaid, and severely underappreciated. I was miserable, but I stuck around because “I needed the money.” By 2016 things had only gotten worse. I was (thankfully) fired before April.
Don’t get me wrong, I was pretty angry. Not because I wanted to keep my job, but because there’s something sobering about being exiled from an environment you had more or less become accustomed to, and one that was pretty lucky to have you there in the first place.
But there was a silver lining: With a decent tax refund, an extra check from my unused vacation hours, and unemployment checks, I finally had the space to finally work and live for myself as a creative professional for at least a few months. I could remind the people around me that I wasn’t just a graphic designer, I was also an illustrator. I was a writer. I could take the time to experiment with materials and develop my style, study other creatives and finally consume the media I was missing out on for the past year.
And that’s what I did. Beyoncé released Lemonade in April, so I made a made a piece about that, experimenting with vector; I wanted to see how far the medium could go outside of graphic design. When Prince passed, I continued to experiment with another tribute. Then I made Seeing Stars.
Seeing Stars was special in that it was inspired by a vision of mine. A tribute to the important women in my life, especially my late mother, who died of breast cancer back in 2008. The woman I drew ended up having a face similar to hers, which meant she had a face vaguely similar to mine.
I understood that in many ways I was a direct reflection of my mother. There are things that set us apart, like gender (obviously) and my introverted nature, but my overall personality, interests, & drive was either inherited or learned from her. This stayed in the back of my mind going forward.
A few months later, I made Press Start, my ode to black women in gaming. My style evolved further, now incorporating line work inspired by calligraphy. But shades of Seeing Stars still existed within this piece, particularly with the hero, her environment, her style, and the color palette.
This frequent palette of blues, pinks and purples is something that I hadn’t yet realized spoke to me beyond a superficial level. I can’t say any of those are my favorite colors, and yet, whenever I saw them together, an undeniable sense of tranquility came over me. I was getting bored with my previous preferred colors of black and gold or black and silver. They began to feel… pedestrian and said more about the person who I was trying to be instead of the naturally changing person I already was.
I was evolving, and it was time for my brand identity to catch up.
My previous brand identity was pretty abysmal. The name “Michael Tré” written in all caps in a bold variation of Century Gothic. My business cards were screen printed; black cardstock with silver ink, and were stylized with a silver maze because I had an unhealthy obsession with the film Inception at the time.
My website was a bit of a mess. I used a grid layout to display my portfolio, which was an unorganized mix of graphic design and illustration.
In retrospect, it wasn’t that bad. My logo was just a wordmark, but the wordmark itself worked to an extent. It was slick, clean, easy to read, and presented itself well with the silver ink on the business cards. The website was… fine. People could find and see my work easily. But as a brand, none if it really stood out. It didn’t say anything about me. It was boring.
“Michael Tré Design” was also becoming irrelevant. That name and url was forcing me into a box solely for graphic design, but I was illustrating too. I was also writing. Design was one of multiple hats I regularly wore, and my new brand needed the space to embody all of my identities, present and future.
Mike Tré. That was it. No design, no illustration, no writing. Just Mike Tré. Mike was a name I was referred to by my peers my whole life. It’s easier to say. It looks better. It conveys a better image.
“Michael Tré” had an air of grandeur to a point of feeling disconnected from the world and my own reality. “Mike Tré” is simply who I am.
But who am I really? What makes me… me? Going over my rebranding with my good friend, I realized I needed to build my logo and all of the accompanying materials around my traits. Physical, mental, emotional, and everything in between.
Unnecessary humility wasn’t going to do me any favors. I needed to be completely objective about myself based on what I and others had observed.
· I’m tall.
· I can be read as intimidating.
· I’ve been called handsome.
· Forward thinking.
· A reflection of my mother.
· I can be a grumpy old man at times.
· My company is most often shared with women. A lot of them think I’m pretty cool too.
How do I effectively unify those elements?
Well I had no reason to be ashamed of my own face. Personal logos don’t often portray the person’s face for the sake of ambiguity. Things change, so do our appearances, and the world has its biases. But this wasn’t about the world. This was about me.
And so I sketched until I found a concept I loved…
And then I worked, bringing drafts to life…
Until it was perfected.
Two of my favorite design styles of the past are Art Deco and the Miami 80’s Style. Art deco had a sense of power and strength while not being exceptionally complicated. Miami style was extremely colorful, rambunctious and unapologetically nostalgic. I needed to marry these two with my own sensibilities to come up with my logo.
Miami style design incorporates a lot of color, and two of the most prominent colors used frequently are neon variations of pink and blue. My two biggest pieces of 2016, Seeing Stars and Press Start also incorporated variations of pink and blue. These were the colors I increasingly found myself gravitating to over time. They had consistently been giving me a sense of balance that was missing for the majority of my career as a creative professional. I had found my color palette.
Art deco is very angular and dynamic, and sometimes even minimal. There’s a sense of progression in almost every piece of art, architecture and design. There’s also a large, monumental quality to it all that conceptually matches up with my naturally large stature. So I portrayed myself as large, breaking through the box I’m placed in, constantly looking forward. On my face is a sense of power, mystery, and wisdom. My face is stripped down to the bare minimum, features only defined by shadows and hair.
The font I ultimately used was Clayton by Kyle Wayne Benson. I had unknowingly purchased it in a bundle with numerous other fonts, and after sorting through my licenses, I discovered it. The bold variation was perfect. It was tall, strong, and straight to the point, much like myself (sort of).
So… what now? Well, I’ll continue to draw, design and build up my freelance clientele. I'll continue networking and collaborating with multiple creatives in various fields. I’ll keep writing and will try to get myself published hopefully within the next year.
I’m also determining the future of BLKBOARD, the platform I created with Jermaine Dickerson. Hopefully some news regarding that will come out soon.
There are some other various projects & endeavors in the works that I will hopefully be able to share sooner rather than later.
This feels like a brand new journey; my first day embracing an identity that I can truly call mine. I can't say that I know exactly what the future holds, but at the very least I have a strong idea. My portfolio will continue to grow and my abilities will continue to develop and improve. My name will become more meaningful as I continue to forge creations that resonate with individuals. One way or another, my mark on the world will be made.