Like all great modern success stories, illustrator Micah Lidberg’s began on the internet. It was 2007, and he had just participated in the Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s exchange program at the University of Brighton, where he met Alex Bec and Will Hudson, founders of It’s Nice That. After featuring some of his illustrations on their site, Lidberg’s work quickly spread across the design blogosphere, eventually drawing the attention of Mario and Jennifer Gonzalez at Hugo & Marie in NYC.
The husband and wife design team was just establishing their creative agency, and asked him to join their initial artist roster. “Teaming up with Mario and Jen was my big break,” says Lidberg. “They have managed all my significant projects and I couldn’t have done the work without their partnership.”
With Hugo & Marie, Lidberg has illustrated for top clients, ranging from fashion labels like Lacoste and Hermès to bands like Coldplay and Glass Animals. He describes his aesthetic as “bright, happy, and chaotic with a little wink and nod,” and loves the “contrasting ideals of combining flat, graphic, simplified forms with the detail and nuance of realism.”
Though his illustrations are often teeming with elaborate psychedelic motifs and characters, Lidberg is mindful to always “strive for a sense of clarity and structure.” He’s inspired by memories of childhood, exploring the forests around his hometown of Independence, Missouri, or searching for that telltale red-striped shirt in the visual complexity of a Where’s Waldo? book.
I first came across Lidberg’s work in 2014 on the artwork of Zaba, the Glass Animals album whose cover features a densely-illustrated cosmic jungle filled with a variety of flora and fauna, overlaying geometric patterns, and planetary constellations. It’s the kind of album cover that demands a purchase of the vinyl edition just so you can view the intricacy of the artist’s work at full scale instead of settling for the paltry thumbnail version in your iTunes library. And with a song like “Toes”, that’s said to be the sonic interpretation of The Island of Dr. Moreau and Heart of Darkness, Zaba’s atmospheric nature is made all the more mysterious thanks to Lidberg’s moody watercolor illustrations.
Commissions for Lidberg’s trippy, maximalist dreamscapes aren’t limited to psych-rock album art. Over the past few years, his illustrations and hand-lettering have appeared on magazine covers, limited edition clothing, and snowboards for clients like Nike, Ogilvy & Mather, Intel, the New York Times, Red Bull, and Target, to name a few. And even though he’s repped by an agency in NYC, Lidberg almost always works remotely, giving him the freedom to live wherever he wants.
“I’ve been relatively nomadic the last few years,” he says, “but for a long time I was based in Kansas City, Missouri,” where he says there’s a greater interest in fine art than illustration. “It’s a scene with a lot of dedicated and sincere creators making work they believe in. It shares a culture of resourcefulness, hard work, and authenticity. Plus, the cost of living is low and the quality of life is pretty great.”
Nevertheless, Lidberg has recently put down roots in Minneapolis, Minnesota after briefly living in Birmingham, Alabama. He admits, “I’ve stepped back from illustration the last few years to catch my creative breath so to speak, but recently I’ve been working on a handful of projects. It’s a little too early to share, but I’m excited they’ll be out in the world soon.” Until then, I suggest picking up a copy of Zaba on vinyl, turning up the volume, and getting lost in the lush, primordial tropics of Lidberg’s sleeve art.