From drawing and painting in his art classes at Swanton High School to crafting illustrations for clientele such as Intel, Katy Perry, Sesame Street and more, Michael Robertson has transcended what began as an early passion.
He has been working professionally in and out of the Cleveland area for several decades after graduating from Swanton High in 1976 and completing his art degree at BGSU. He worked in small art studios around the city until getting a job with Those Characters from Cleveland, a toy company by American Greetings.
“I had a hand in creating many iconic toys from the 80s, such as My Pet Monster, Madballs, Popples, Care Bears and several other successful toys and licensed properties,” he said.
When Those Characters from Cleveland dissolved, he spent more years working for other divisions at American Greetings. Eventually, after 30 years, Robertson found an agent to represent him and was able to establish his freelance career.
“Because of my extensive years designing toys, my agent began finding me jobs illustrating children’s books, magazines, puzzles, games and various other things.”
His career in freelance illustration has led him to several different opportunities, creating pieces for a vast array of customers.
“Some of my clients, both past and present, include Target, The New York Times, National Geographic, Intel, Sesame Street, Barnes and Noble, Family Circle, PBS, Cleveland Orchestra, Scholastic Publishing, Highlights Magazine, and the USDA. I have also illustrated 27 children’s books. The list goes on and on.”
Some of Robertson’s favorite projects include his work for Intel and Sesame Street. With Intel, he was assigned to create character concepts for the company’s Pocket Avatars app, where his characters would replicate a user’s facial expressions. Included in these illustrations was his animated version of pop star Katy Perry.
“It was pretty cool that out of a series of submissions by several artists who were vying for the job, my work was chosen by Katy Perry herself to represent her likeness.”
He also got the opportunity to craft characters for Sesame Street, creating monsters which were adapted into real-life puppets for the show.
“I have always been a big Sesame Street fan, so being able to work on character design with them was a great honor.”
As Robertson continues his career, he remembers one of his childhood teachers who helped him to develop the skills he holds today.
“During my time at Swanton High School, the art teacher was Mrs. Dorothy Sharples, who always encouraged me and permitted me to use my talent during class hours to paint the scenery for the school musicals.”
He also recalls a member of the Swanton community who left a profound impact on him.
“I owe a lot to Cheryl Sutherland who has since passed away. She was a very talented artist, and I was lucky enough to receive private art lessons from her. I still remember all the basic fundamentals she taught me that really gave me a head start and prepared me for college.”
With these lessons learned from his hometown, Robertson will continue to demonstrate his skills in a line-up of jobs for both previous and new clients.
“I have got a few projects in the works, including writing and illustrating some of my own books. I am also working on a very big project helping to design a themed amusement park.”
Roberson’s work and contact information can be viewed at his website michaelrobertsonillustration.com or through his agent at lindgrensmith.com.
Reach Hunter Huffman at [email protected]