Mark's work has featured in magazines, newspapers, books and advertising campaigns around the world for clients including The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, ESPN The Magazine, Rolling Stone, Time, Penguin Books, Mother Jones, GQ, The Folio Society, The Financial Times, The Guardian, The New York Times and many more. His particular take on the world has won him recognition and awards from the NY Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, Luerzer's Archive, SPD, 3X3 Magazine, Communication Arts, LA Society of Illustrators and the V&A Illustration Awards, stand out's include a silver medal from the NY Society, the Patrick Nagel Award for Excellence from the LA Society, a Gold Medal from The Society of Publication Designers and the Best in Show award from 3X3 Magazine.
The New Yorker, ESPN Magazine, Penguin, Fast Company, Variety, Mens Health, The Financial Times, The Folio Society, Golf World, Tor.com, The Guardian, Harvard Magazine, Johns Hopkins, Stanford Lawyer, The Times UK, Nature Journal, The New York Times, Science, Columbia Magazine, Simon & Schuster, The Washington Post...and many more
American Illustration - 28, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36
NY Society of Illustrators - 53, 54, 55, 56, 57 (silver medal), 58, 59
Luerzers Archive 200 Best Illustrators Worldwide, 2014, 2015
Communication Arts - 53, 54, 55, 56, 58
LA Society of Illustrators - 49 (bronze), 50, 51, 52, 53 (gold and silver), 54 (silver), 55 (Patrick Nagel Award)
3x3 ProShow - 8, 9, 10, 11 (Best in Show), 12 (distinguished merit), 13 (bronze)
V&A Illustration Awards
Creative Quarterly - 20, 22, 24, 29, 35, 41
3X3 Childrens Show - 9
SPD - 46, 50
Association of Illustrators - 35
Creativity International - 39
INterview with Mark Smith:
When did you realize you wanted to be an illustrator?
I used to draw a lot as a kid—I think I made that transition from potato people with stick arms to something at least resembling a normal human quite early, and I probably enjoyed the praise that comes from doing something you’re moderately good at. I used to copy a lot from comics, Asterix being an obsession of mine for a long time. The local library had some early French copies that I’d get out just to look at the drawing, I had no idea what was going on in the story—my French was, and still is, awful. I also remember hassling my dad to buy me Mad magazine because I fell in love with the drawing—obviously the humor went completely over my head but there’s something in the linework of those artists that all ages can pick up on.
But the schools I went to didn’t exactly encourage the arts as a potential career path. I had no idea it was possible to make a living out of this stuff unless you were an absolute genius, or minted in the first place, and I was neither of these. So I ended up, unwillingly, doing what I thought I was supposed to do and tried to fit into the factory fodder mentality that my school seemed to promote. The drawing pretty much fell away completely, and from leaving school up until my 30’s I had countless ill-fated jobs that I did my best to turn into careers. Photo lab technician, warehouse worker, postman, golf greenkeeper, gardener and loads more. In the end I felt like I’d tried pretty much everything, and none of it was going to work for me so I decided to have a go at doing what I really wanted to do in the first place. I was lucky enough to be accepted to the illustration program at Plymouth University on the strength of my portfolio, and I’ve kept myself out of a “real” job ever since. I can’t think of anything better than being offered a platform, and cash, to realize a wandering imagination.
Can you say a little about your first paid illustration gig?
My first job came while I was still in the final year of my degree—it was for You Magazine from the Mail on Sunday. I’d set up a basic online presence, website, blog, etc., and then bought one of the Association of Illustrator’s mailing lists and started sending out samples to ADs in the editorial field. I’d get maybe 10 responses for every hundred emails but that was enough to encourage me to keep it up. Then I got the email from Linda Boyle at You Magazine, commissioning me for a full page and a spot image for a story about how divorce affects children. This really felt like the deep end at the time. It was terrifying but I managed to get through the job and it was published a few weeks later. I had a couple more commissions before I graduated, one from Management Today and another from Linda at You. I can’t thank these ADs enough for giving me a start. Education can only begin to prepare you for what’s expected, the real learning gets done on the job and having ADs like Linda around is invaluable—without her early support I’d probably be back in a factory somewhere.
Talk a little about your process. Pen and ink? Computer? Both?
My process now involves lots of sketching to get the idea right. Once I’ve got a sketch approved, I work it into a finished drawing and then color in Photoshop. Over the years I’ve amassed a large collection of scanned in textures that I make using printing inks and rollers, or drawing inks and sponges etc. I separate all of the linework in Photoshop and fill in using these textures. I think it’s pretty much a 50/50 process—half traditional, half digital—which just about satisfies my need to create something tangible while also allowing easy editing with last-minute changes on a tight deadline.
You’re quite talented at placing metaphors in your work, is that one challenge of editorial illustration that you’re particularly drawn to?
I see the metaphor thing like a puzzle to work out in the form of an illustration, and once created, I want it to be a bit of a puzzle for the viewer to find out that meaning. The perfect balance is in creating something that is intriguing enough to maintain someone’s attention just long enough for the meaning to become clear. If the puzzle is too complex, the image won’t deliver its meaning; if it’s too simple, it’s boring and loses its appeal quickly. It’s this balance that drew me to editorial illustration in the first place. There are some real masters of this kind of work out there, and when it’s successful I think it’s illustration performing at its very best, offering something that only illustration can. The actual process for me is often full of anxiety, second-guessing myself at every step, but when it works it’s worth it.
What is your favorite activity when you take a break from the studio?
I’ve got a few mates that I go surfing with whenever I can, we used to skate together years ago but concrete feels a lot harder now than it did back then, falling off in water doesn’t hurt as much. It’s like a completely opposite environment to my studio and I always come back feeling ready to go again, like I’ve had a total break from work even though I’ve only been away for a few hours. I play a bit of golf as well when the waves are rubbish.
What would be your dream illustration assignment?
I’d die happy if I got the cover of Thrasher magazine.