Young Guns 18: Mike Carson

By Alixandra Rutnik and Brett McKenzie Posted on Nov 18, 2020

Highlighting the creative superstars that make up the class of Young Guns 18

2020 has been one rollercoaster of a year, but fortunately, the spirit of creativity can't be dampened. Want proof? Check out the winners of Young Guns 18!

Beginning with our largest and most diverse jury in history, acclaimed creatives from across the globe spent three months reviewing hundreds of submissions from insanely talented young professionals seeking validation for all of their hard work. After narrowing down the field to 83 top-notch finalists, the jury engaged in virtual discussion and debate, deciding who will win one of the most career-impacting honors in our industry.

In the end, we are honored to present the 31 incredible winners of Young Guns 18, a diverse collection of artists, filmmakers, animators, designers, illustrators, and others, all of them representing some of the very best that their fields have to offer.

We invite you to learn about all 31 Young Guns 18 winners in this series of interviews.







When did Young Guns first pop up on your radar?

I first discovered Young Guns via some of the past winners a couple years back. It was definitely something that I wanted to be apart of, given the collective featured many creatives that I respect and admire.

You're a first-time entrant — congrats! What made you enter this year?

I was nominated by Jade Purple Brown, who is an awesome illustrator and someone I respect in the creative industry. Thank you to her, because I probably would not have entered, but I'm glad I did obviously!

Young Guns is as much an exercise in self-curation as it is in sheer creative talent. After all, you are only allowed to submit six projects. How did you go about deciding which pieces to submit and which to leave out?

As someone who isn't bound to one medium, I wanted to choose projects that showed my versatility across these mediums. These are all professional projects, but I'm fortunate to work with collaborators who allow me to put so much of my personal DNA and style into them.

What went through your mind when you discovered that you won, knowing how difficult it is to make it into Young Guns?

Ironically I got the email as I was on set for a new project. That definitely was the perfect place to find out, as it was pretty reaffirming, and it gave me a boost that day for sure. Truly grateful!

If you had to pick one of the six projects that you entered as your favorite, which one would it be and why?

I'd say the Big Sean - Detroit 2 album campaign. Given that was a project where I was not only the Creative Director, but also the photographer as well. The direction behind the campaign was the result of about three years of hard work and patience, and I'm truly proud of it. Special thanks to Sean, Ryan & Chanel, Omar, Zeno & Sarah, Van, Def Jam Team, and the beautiful people of Detroit, Michigan.

If you had to describe your creative style, the part of your work that’s most distinctively “you”, what would it be?

I'd say the element of surrealism is something I've been told appears often in my work. I definitely try to make sure all of my work has something that is surreal or an element of fantasy, as I am a dreamer myself.

Who are some of the biggest influences on your work and career, people who may have had a hand in mentoring and supporting you?

My biggest influences are definitely my parents and my brother. Everything I do is a result of the support and prayers from them. Professionally, I'm forever grateful to Virgil Abloh, who took a chance on me 10 years ago, and exposed me to alot of what influences me today.

Other Inspirations include people like Hype Williams, Malik Sayeed, Spike Lee, Spike Jonze, Melina Matsoukas, Es Devlin, The-Dream, Kerry James Marshall, James Turrell. I aspire to be as carefree and true to myself as Larry David! I'm missing tons of people, but this is hard to do on the spot, ha! I've been blessed to work with alot of people I look up to in the industry like Jesse Collins & Lee Lodge. Lastly, special thanks to Mike Waxx, Big Sean, and Marc Moran who all also saw something in me early on.

Now that you’re in the Young Guns family, are there any past winners you look up to and admire?

Calmatic (YG16), Savannah Leaf (YG17), Hassan Rahim (YG14), Kerby Jean Raymond (YG14), Jonas Lindstroem (YG16), AV Rockwell (YG16), and Durimel (YG15). All amazing creatives.

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a pretty crazy year, with a global pandemic and social upheaval shaping so many facets of our lives. Aside from the positive news of winning Young Guns, how has this year been for you?

This year has definitely been a rollercoaster for sure. One thing I can say is it has allowed me to slow down and really sit with myself. In the entertainment and design industry everything is nonstop and it's very easy to get "lost in the sauce". This year has made me reevaluate some of my goals and what is actually valuable to me, as opposed to what may be the status quo, per say. I'm oddly optimistic about the future, regardless of the state of the world. I have faith!

Name a creative/professional dream that you have yet to fulfill — hey, maybe Young Guns can help propel you in that direction!

Unrelated to stuff I create currently, one of my professional dreams is to revive the live audience, black sitcom genre that raised me. Outside of work, I want to creative a space for young creatives that look like me– a space that will give them the tools to surpass me and those that came before us.

Any last words about winning Young Guns 18 that you'd like to share?

I'm extremely grateful for the acknowledgement and I'm proud to be apart of such a great group of creatives. I'm looking forward to what the future holds, and I'm excited about learning and growing as a creative. My last message to everyone reading is to treat others how you'd like to be treated. Spread Love!


"OMFG!!! This young cat is crushing the game. His artistry is on some other world level. Mike Carson is what I call FLUENT AF! The way he is affecting culture from a visual experience is damn near lustful. Mark my words, this Young Guns winner will become one of the most sought-after collaborative creatives in this world."

Brandon Rochon
Managing Chief Creative Officer

"Mike Carson has carved out a career for himself that is truly inspiring. Over the years, Mike has consistently produced iconic imagery for the biggest musical artists and brands of our time. His striking use of light and motion graphics sets him apart from the rest and makes it easy to fall into the new worlds he creates. He also has a gift of bringing the right creators together to help pull off his massive productions and fully bring his vision to life."

Jade Purple Brown

"Mike Carson’s use of light and color has a wonderfully rich effect, creating an environment that is all encompassing, yet can shift tone and emotion in an instant. It’s clear that his creative vision is paired with technical skill to achieve such sharp execution at live events and multi-venue shows."

Rachael Harvey
Creative Director
Original Reality Group
Young Guns 14 Winner

"Mike Carson paints with light. The stage is his canvas."

"The centerpiece of Bryson Tiller’s “Set It Off Tour” is one massive screen framing his performance and evoking the feeling of a black box theatre. This portal takes the audience on a journey with Bryson. One moment the screen is dark and sinister, filled with smoke and saturated in blue and red light. The next, it’s awash in an intimate yellow glow setting the scene for Bryson’s R&B ballads. As the music shifts, the stage is transformed yet again. Now Bryson’s world is black and white and elegant. This ballet of light and sound continues, setting the mood for each musical twist, molding the concert into an experience."

"The set design for Travis Scott’s 2019 “Festival,” loosely based on Six Flags’ AstroWorld, transformed the stage into an otherworldly theme park. Here, scale is leveraged to great effect as the stage feels enormous. Ghostly LED silhouettes of carnival rides become the backdrop for a grand carousel, giant popcorn boxes, and an imposing KAWS-like stuffed bear — all drenched in Mike Carson’s signature use of color and accented with fire. The mesmerizing result feels like Jeff Koons on acid."

"Mike Carson’s stage sets are bold, sensory-driven experiences. Yet, his photography for Big Sean’s “Detroit 2” completely shifts the perspective. Here, the imagery is intimate and beautifully lit. The camera is a welcome participant, an old friend. The images are a mix of simple and complex portraits of Big Sean celebrating and basking in nostalgia. Each image is a love letter to the people and the city of Detroit, celebrating the black experience."

In a competition full of designers, photographers, and illustrators — multidisciplinary artist Mike Carson is a delightful discovery, a visual tour-de-force, and a breath of fresh air."

Kevin Brainard
Creative Director, Designer, Educator & Founding Partner
Area of Practice
Young Guns 2 Winner


Make sure to check out all the Young Guns 18 Winners in the archive!

Young Guns 18 Archive



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