The Q&A: Mark Smith

By Peggy Roalf   Monday November 20, 2017

Q: What are some of your favorite things about living and working in your current locale?

A:  At the moment I'm working from home, in Exeter, England, so the best thing about that is not having to commute. Those late night dashes across town (to where I used to have my studio) for any last minute changes are a thing of the past. I don't eat quite so much junk food now that I'm at home all of the time so I suppose that's also a good thing.

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between art you create on paper [or other analog medium] versus in the computer?

A: I used to keep a sketchbook and work in it obsessively but I don't do that so much any more, partly because I get much less free time now. I try to leave plenty of room to experiment while I'm on the clock though, so I suppose I've just transferred what I was doing in my sketchbook to my studio. When I get time away from the studio it’s nice to carry a sketchbook and be able to draw without the pressure of a deadline—but downtime is thankfully rare these days.

My process is pretty much 50/50 drawn work vs computer work, but that might have changed to more like 60/40 (time-wise) in favour of the computer recently. But I think the drawn work is actually more important to the aesthetic than the computer work, the digital stuff being just colouring and refinements. It's the drawn work that provides the foundation for everything.

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A:  I'm not sure if it's the most important item in my studio but I think the best money I ever spent was on my Cintiq. I'd be pretty disappointed if that was taken away from me, as computer work is just too uncomfortable without it.

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

A: I don't know that it ever really is finished, I can recognise a point where I can't do any more to it (at present) but when I look back at my older work it now looks unfinished. I'm constantly refining, editing and tweaking so as I pick up new ways of moving my work on, the finish line also keeps moving. 

Q: What was your favorite book as a child?
What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: The most memorable books from my childhood were Asterix annuals. Our local library used to keep the French versions so I had no idea what was written in them but I was obsessed with the pictures and picked up what I could about the stories by poring over the images. More recently I've been lucky enough to illustrate some Josephine Tey novels for the Folio Society; A Shilling For Candles is particularly good.

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

A: I naturally gravitate towards pencil on paper—it’s always been the first thing I go to since I was a child but if I could take some time out I'd love to spend a year finding my way in a different medium, probably gouache.

Q: What elements of daily life exert the most influence on your work practice?

A: My life is pretty uncomplicated, really; there's nothing that gets in the way of work (much to my wife's chagrin). She's also lucky enough to have a job that she absolutely loves, so I think she understands!

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

A: I think the Saul Bass Vertigo poster had a big part to play in why I became an illustrator. It led me on to Constructivism and gave me a reason for creating images that made some sense to me. I come from a very working class background and I think this unconsciously instilled a requirement to have a valid reason to become an artist, and there are elements of Constructivist thought that provided that validation for me.

Q: What was the strangest/most interesting assignment you've taken that has an important impact on your practice, and what changed through the process?

A: The assignment that most affected my working practice was a straightforward editorial image that came early on in my career from the first art director who ever commissioned me, Linda Boyle at You magazine. There were a few discoveries I made during the creation of one particular image for Linda that set me on the path to where my work is now. It also taught me how to effectively experiment 'on-the-job'. 

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: Vegetarian full English breakfast without a doubt. Cafe No.1 up the road from me do a very good fry up, seven on ten.

Mark's work has featured in magazines, newspapers, books and advertising campaigns around the world for clients including The New Yorker, ESPN The Magazine, Penguin Books, The Folio Society, The Financial Times, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, 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, Luerzers Archive, 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 and the 'Best in Show' award from 3X3 Magazine.


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