You know their work, but if they passed you on the street you may not recognize them.
Continuing a series that honors some of the people whose work has shaped our community for the past 40 years, this story honors Graphic Designer Mike Willis.
“Pretty much you everything see around you has probably been touched by some point or another by some kind of graphic design,” said Mike Willis, Wills & Williams Design Studios.
Chances are, in Kern County, the work you see around you was produced by Mike Willis.
“It’s a huge field. People just think of logos and web design, but it’s not. It’s way more than that. I mean tattoo artists now are making $139 an hour. That’s graphic design and so is the guy that’s make $300,000 or $400,000 a year working for Disney, that’s graphic design,” Willis said.
A self-proclaimed hippie, Willis didn’t care much for school.
“I took ever art class there was. Journalism, photography, graphic design, yearbook. I would go to summer school and take all the hard classes like algebra, geometry, biology. I would take all those in the summer so I could take all electives in the school year,” Willis said.
He knew he wanted to be an artist, he just wasn’t sure how to get there.
“I went to BC and they had some graphic design classes up there. I did the same thing I took all art classes. I had no intention of getting a degree. I just wanted to take art classes,” Willis said.
Portfolio in hand, he tried to get a job with local graphic designers but he wasn’t successful.
“I said, ok well I guess I’ll just start my own business,” Willis said.
A good move at the time as forty years later Willis is still designing, the creator of many iconic images we know around town.
“When you really look at his body of work and everything that he’s done it’s really a history of our community. When you look at the old posters for older businesses or just all the companies he’s worked with through the years, you start looking at his old work and it’s just a timeline of our community and how we’ve changed and how we’ve grown through his art,” said Jennifer Williams, Willis & Williams Design Studios.
If you ask him, he humbly says he’s nothing special.
It was just a matter of…
“I was at the right place at the right time,” Willis said.
It cost a few hundred dollars to start-up when Willis began designing.
“Design wasn’t even really highly regarded. Nobody even cared about design in anything and everything was just whatever works,” Willis said.
How the times have changed.
Now it’s tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, to buy the equipment necessary to start a graphic design company.
However, one thing that has never changed in the last four decades, how Willis treats his customers.
“I care about everyone. I think that’s why we’re successful. For the time being we become their team member, part of their crew,” Willis said.
Mike Willis, creating the image, if you will, of our community.