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Capitol Communicator is running a series featuring an in-depth look at communicators in the mid-Atlantic.  In this “Up Close and Personal” post, we feature Mike O’Brien, Associate Creative Director at ISL.   Photography for the series is by Cade Martinwardrobe styling by Pascale Lemaire and Sybil Street for THE Artist Agency; and hair and makeup by Patti D Nelson, Janice Kinigopoulos and Lori Pressman for THE Artist Agency. 

Mike, please provide a short bio and your current title.

I grew up reading Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side; watching The Simpsons and Disney. I doodled in math class and eventually put it to use for my school newspaper. I studied journalism at University of Maryland, then discovered graphic design was more than just page layouts and headlines. I started freelancing as a web designer with a buddy who coded until realizing I had no sense for business and got a job working for someone who did, which was ISL. I’ve grown with ISL over the last 5+ years and now I’m an Associate Creative Director who gets paid to communicate ideas to people…and you know…make things look good.

Are you involved in any other organizations?

I silkscreen posters and organize art shows out of my studio at Hole in the Sky, a shared artist workspace in NE DC that we occasionally convert into a temporary dive gallery for the viewing of art. I’ve produced 15 group art shows over the last three years and they’ve connected me to some really excellent work that people in this city produce. There isn’t much of a contemporary low-brow art scene in DC—the style I’m particularly drawn to—because there isn’t much of an industry or mentality to support it, but there are pockets of talented people doing cool work. It’s just been a matter of finding those people and getting them to show together and hopefully building a scene out of that.

What are the things you are most proud of?

Honestly, I’m super proud of the work I’ve done at Hole in the Sky. While organizing shows I was extremely inspired by independent music scenes that existed in DC during the 80’s and 90’s—particularly hardcore and post-hardcore—as well as the current iterations of those scenes so I applied a lot of the same ethos to the kind of low-brow visual arts community I wanted to contribute to. I’m not suggesting I’ve made a lasting impact, but while things were hot I felt a real energy in the work my friends and I were doing.

Who is your personal role model?

I’m a big fan of Jim Henson. He’s a dude who realized he wanted to do something super creative and then without a clearly designed path for how, became one of the most culturally relevant people of the 20th Century.

What professional advice do you have for others?

I am extremely envious of people who figured out exactly what they wanted to do at a young age and designed their lives around doing that professionally. I still don’t know what I want to do; but everything I’ve done up to this point has helped me get paid to be creative. Always pay attention because everything is valuable—you’ll figure out how in hindsight.

What advice do you have on what’s appropriate attire for ISL?

Wear a reflection of your personality and be respectful to the people around you. I wear black jeans and black t-shirts most days because I work with my hands, but I button-up for business.

Where do you buy most of the clothes you wear at ISL?

I’m embarrassed by how many Chrome Industries products I own and wear. Shoes, socks, pants, shirts, coats and like six different bags. That store opened right around the block from our office and I was screwed.

What’s on your Spotify playlist?

I’m currently listening to a lot of Solange, The Sword and Michael McDonald.

What’s your favorite restaurant?

Fast Gourmet for good sandwiches. NuVegan Cafe for good vibes.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

Nope, that’s it.  You got it all.

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