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The Bend Magazine

Deadlines, Coffee, and Photoshop

01/02/2020 12:01PM ● By Julieta Hernandez

By: Julieta Hernandez  Photos by: Lillian Reitz

Multifaceted and marketable, Michael James Canales runs his creative services with his own two hands and wit, and the firm belief of “any damn thing, and every damn thing.” That’s what gave him the drive to go down so many roads. However, the extra ingredient that which led him to succeed at all of those things? Well, maybe it’s in the water … or maybe it’s in the coffee.

Michael smiles behind his re-filled cup, sitting at his favorite coffee shop, getting his work done. You see, Michael has been sitting at the same table – by the door to the outdoor patio at Coffee Waves – for as long as he can remember, designing various book covers, movie posters, logos, brand identities, and more, through his business MJC Image Works. 

“Everything that I do is relative to here in the Coastal Bend,” he says. “I’m a graphic designer, so with MJC Image Works, that’s what I go through. Luckily, I have my connections from when I lived in L.A., but besides that, it’s all word of mouth.”

It’s not the hundreds of book covers that Michael has designed for authors, or the marketing he’s created for well-known local bands, or the branding he’s created for various businesses, that gets him his reputation. More so, it’s the many roles he connects as the bridge he is creating for artists to get their art out into the world – as well as his knack for being able to determine what’s a good fit and what probably won’t be. With Michael’s experience in the field, a huge plus is predictability.

Maybe that’s how he got around to all the creatives in town who were unknowingly in need of his services: word of mouth travels fast. 

Years ago, the publishing world began to change rapidly, and because of this, the e-book became a much bigger deal. Fortunately for Michael, this meant all those e-books also needed covers. However, his computer skills...his computer skills weren’t always centered on Photoshop. Back in the “wild west days” of the internet, as Michael calls them, he used to work on computers by infiltrating hackers all day.

“Somebody had to do it! So that’s what I did,” he laughs. “At the time, I also worked for a surgeon general, as a technical community director and his right-hand online man. I was his cyber bodyguard, I used to say.”

Writing has also been a creative focus of his. Michael participated in some of the most prestigious screenwriting competitions when he was learning the craft, primarily through self-teaching. Around his early career, he was also a Disney fellow – learning screenwriting meant impressing the big dogs, and Michael made some friends at the studio. Between Disney and Sony (before they were joined) Michael went to far stages with his original screenplay ideas, which gained him some quality Hollywood connections. 

These days, like every day, Michael stays busy pecking away at his keyboard in a local coffee shop that will provide refills and free WiFi. Trying to sustain a “normal” life while he works on creative projects means that an actual day off was a joke someone told about six years ago. This part of always working means always becoming a better graphic designer, writer, and creative; especially in a field where it seems like doors just keep opening. 

For this self-taught designer, the secret is a lot more straightforward than people think. “You’ll find this out on your own, but some people don’t want to put themselves on the spot; they lay low, beneath the radar. But me? I get right in the middle of that damn radar! If I have an idea, even if it’s a stupid one, I’ll share it … and most of the time, it was stuff that actually worked.” And truth be told, this is how his best work is usually born.