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The Q&A: Marc Burckhardt

By Peggy Roalf   Monday June 1, 2015

Q: A transplant from Europe, what are some of your favorite things about living and working in two countries?

A: I was born in Germany, raised in Texas, and currently divide my time between the two. Austin has the charm of the South while being staunchly progressive, and it’s a magnet for some of the best music in America. Bremen has the dark character of the Northern Renaissance that feeds my artistic side.

Q: What is the balance between the art you create on paper versus in the computer?

A: I create very little on the computer—all my pieces are done the old-fashioned way—but I deliver work (as most illustrators these days do) electronically, and as a result I’ve developed a certainly mastery of the tools. Still, give me pencil and paintbrush and I’m at my happiest. 

Q: What do you like best about your workspace?

A: I have lots of northern light behind me and a spectacular rooftop view in front of me, and the rest is clean white walls. It keeps me inspired and clearheaded.

Q: Do you think it needs improvement, if so, what would you change?

A: More storage! On the other hand, it forces me to keep things simple.

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? How do you organize an assignment before you start drawing? Do you make lists and thumbnails?

A: I immerse myself in the material, whether it’s listening to the music for an album cover or reading the manuscript for a book or article, and then begin with thumbnails. My sketchbooks are filled with indecipherable shorthand roughs that allow me to jot down a direction and move on to other possible solutions. Nothing beautiful, but very functional. 

Q: How do you know when the art is finished?

A: I’m not sure you ever know, but deadlines help!

One of my favorite parts of painting is the dialogue with the image, adjusting color and tone and seeing how the work responds. Knowing when that conversation is complete is mostly instinct.

Q: What was the strangest or most unusual assignment you’ve taken?

A: I’ve had some wonderful and unexpected projects over the years, including three days at Johnny Cash’s house working on a portrait while he sat in the room, but maybe the strangest is something I’m currently working on: a new edition of Dante’s Inferno. I feel incredibly lucky to have had so much serendipity in my career, and consider it one of the greatest perquisites of this field.

Q: What was your favorite book as a child?

A: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton.

Q: What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

Q: If you had to choose one medium to work in for an entire year, eliminating all others, what medium would you choose?

A: Oils, because they have such range and there never seems to be enough time to fully exploit the possibilities of the medium.

Q: If you could time travel to any era, any place, where would you go?

A: Easy: Flanders in the 16th century. 

Q: What are some of your favorite places/books/blogs/websites for inspiration?

A: Art books are my Achille’s Heel; I have a big collection and it keeps growing. As for blogs, I love MuddyColors, and of course I’ve been a part of Drawger for years. But I find museums to be the most inspiring places on earth: nothing motivates like standing in front of great work. If they could build an apartment for me in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna…

Q: What was the painting or drawing or film that most affected your approach to art? [the Thunderbolt]

A: I’m not sure there was ever a “thunderbolt” moment for me, but without Mad Magazine and Albrecht Dürer, I can’t imagine what my work would be like. The mix of pop culture, folk, and Old Masters shaped how I see. 

Q: What advice would you give a young artist about applying to an art school or college?

A: If you choose carefully, it’s an opportunity that can change your life: the chance to refine your skills and define your voice with the very best resources, including teachers, fellow students, and materials. The top programs are expensive, but the return on a focused study is priceless. Not everyone may need the experience, but most do, and I highly recommend it.

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: The Mexican Special at Maudie’s in Austin.

Marc Burckhardt's paintings have been commissioned by TIME, Rolling Stone, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the New York Times, Major League Baseball, Porsche, Honda, Volkswagen, Simon & Schuster, Random House, and Pentagram Design. His gallery work includes exhibitions at the Experience Music Project, Art Basel, Mendenhall Sobieski, Bash Contemporary, Silas Marder, Blank Space, and the Arts Students League. 

Marc was past President of the Illustration Conference, and chairman of the NY Society of Illustrators 47th Annual. He was commissioned to create the official portraits for the 2011 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Ceremonies, and his paintings are in the collections of Ralph Lauren, Oprah Winfrey, Emily Proctor, Jann Wenner, Patricia Arquette, and the late Johnny Cash. His work has won numerous awards, including Gold & Silver Medals from Cannes Lion and the Society of Illustrators, as well as a Grammy for Best Limited Edition Box Set Packaging. His work has also appeared in American Illustration nearly every year since 2002.

A past instructor at the School of Visual Arts in NYC and Texas State University, Marc was named Texas State Artist for 2010 by the Texas Legislature & House and the Texas Commission on the Arts, and in 2011 he was selected to be the official artist of the Texas Book Festival. He is a recipient of the prestigious Hamilton King Award from the Society of Illustrators. Drawger  Elio

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