Self-portrait illustration by Lacey Micallef
"Any time I post something that gets attention, I just assume that I've somehow tricked people into liking it," says artist Lacey Micallef, who's had Tumblr hooked on her 8-bit, rainbow-colored GIFs since launching her blog, Lulinternet, in 2010. "It's like I've done something to fool people into thinking it's worthwhile. It's amazing what you can tell yourself."
A self-promoter Micallef is not. But the 25-year-old, who left her job as a preschool teacher in Missouri in 2011 to move to Brooklyn and make digital art full time, has amassed a loyal fan base on Tumblr for her pixelated GIFs of undulating slices of pizza, hamburgers and wry, stoner-friendly imagery (in one piece, a giant pot leaf bobs hypnotically behind Garfield), some of which rack up reblogs and notes in the tens of thousands. Brands like MTV and Uniqlo have also taken note of Micallef's work, and she's among a growing number of artists who are supporting themselves with money from commissioned GIFs for ad and marketing campaigns.
Though Micallef says mass-market efforts to tap into Internet culture can miss the mark -- You can just hear some brands saying, 'All the kids on Tumblr are going to love this!'" -- she's been able to land jobs with TV shows that already had a lot of buzz online, including Breaking Bad and Adventure Time as well as Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!.
Her biggest piece of advice to GIF artists working with brands: Name your price and stick to it. "If you've got a big corporation hiring you, then you need to just tell them what you want to be paid. Factor in how many times you're going to have to edit it for them, all the places it's going to be seen and how much money they're going to make from it and then go from there. More times than not they'll say yes. They sought you out for a reason."
Micallef's commissioned pieces have also pushed her to develop her own work. After making shorts for the animation production company Frederator, Micallef -- who cites "Looney Tunes and any kids' show in syndication between 1988 and 1997" as her influences -- is ready to make her own animated videos. "It would require me to write, which is something I'm afraid of. But I know I just need to do it."