FLEAKIN' OUT WITH MOUNTAIN VS PLAINS
An illustrator, a comedian, a gentleman: Paul Michel of Mountain vs Plains uses all three attributes in his creations. His paper goods inspire a range of reactions—from laughter, to shock and confusion—and are imbued with his special brand of humor.
What does MOUNTAIN VS PLAINS mean to you?
It’s been a nice surprise in that it allows me to make art and make a living. You can make a living off of fine art if you put all of your time and energy into it. I made cards a few years ago on a whim and I started making more and more of them—I thought, 'I could actually do these.' It’s not like I thought I’d be making greeting cards 10 years ago. Eventually, I thought I could make cards that are funny. For me it’s been nice to merge the humor with the art. Before I did that, I didn’t know how to make this kind of thing marketable—it's been really exciting to start with cards and move into prints, poem books, some apparel—expanding my line slowly has been a journey, and I've realized that within broad scope of art there are all these different mediums you can use. In terms of comedy, there are limitless opportunities. It’s been so gratifying making art for a living—five years ago I would have thought ‘I love making art, but I don’t know how I’ll make a living doing it.’ I've done that in the last few years, and it’s like brick after brick slowly building on itself.
QUICK FACT #1
Dry, tongue-in-cheek greeting cards.
QUICK FACT #2
Delightful paper goods illustrated by hand.
QUICK FACT #3
Comedy in unexpected mediums.
What does your day look like?
It’s so scattered. Lately I’ve been working on an event for a movie we made, and there’s been a lot of time spent on that, which is way different than getting ready for a fine art show. If I was getting ready for a fine art show, all of my time would go towards cranking out pieces. There’s not necessarily a typical day, the biggest thing is starting our days with going to the gym, making smoothies, then drinking some coffee and doing anything from creating an art piece to making poems or working on new card illustrations. There are usually 100 different things I could be doing, which makes it hard to stay on routine. There's something nice about having a creative life in not having to go to an office and work conventional hours—there’s also the spontaneity of drawing for an hour or two then going to the park and throwing the football with a friend. A normal day is full of spontaneity.
In your opinion, what's the best card you've ever made?
One of my favorites is ‘I trusted you and you fucked me.’ I still really love that one, and it was one of the first ones I made. That was important, because there aren't going to be many more cards that are more abrasive than that one. Since that was one of the first ones I made and there was a good response to it, I realized I could really do whatever. I really like the ‘did you tell Cindy I thought she was being a bitch the other day at the potluck,’ it’s so random and absurd. I like the ones that are on the absurd level—like, who sends that card—but it's also a social commentary in terms of the way people interact. For ‘do you want to go get coffee and talk a bunch of shit about Kelly,’ I would be in a coffee shop and hear girls talk shit, but I’m sure if Kelly walked in they’d be like "Hey Kelly, what’s up?!” like they hadn’t been there talking about her before. I think being around enough interactions, you notice them and realize you could make a card out of it. I’m drawn to humor that's not quite as obvious.
WHERE DO YOU KEEP YOUR IDEAS ON SOCIAL COMMENTARY?
I have a running stream of notes on my phone, and if I get an idea or something struck me as funny, I’ll just write it down. Most of the time you're not able to flesh that out as something to use, but I do pull from that ongoing list and revisit them for different projects. I might think of something that would be funny to write a poem about and then sit down and build it out.
DO YOU HAVE A DREAM ILLUSTRATION PROJECT?
It’s been interesting because I haven’t been doing that much illustration work lately—as I’ve been doing Mountain vs Plains more and more, I’ve had to hold off on illustration work. I don’t know that it will always be that way, but if I was doing more art shows, than I likely wouldn’t be working on cards as much. I’m really focusing on Mountain vs Plains this year. I’m doing fairs, so I’m driving to Portland for an art fair right after my honeymoon, and the next month I go to San Francisco and potentially Austin. All of those things take up my time right now, but for me, I'd love to make more large-format pieces that I can enjoy spending some time on. Eventually, I’d like to make pieces just to make them and figure out what to do with them later. It’s a juggle, but a fun puzzle to keep working on—always a balancing act.