Marcos Chin is an artist and illustrator whose practice ranges from fashion illustration to fashion itself to surface design and beyond. Having created art for the long-running Lavalife ad campaign, which had a big presence in New York’s subway cars, he was a natural choice for an Arts in Trasit assignment celebrating Grand Central Terminal’s centennial. The original art for Grand Central Catwalk remains on view in the GCT Transit Museum Gallery through June 7. Marcos recently did the DART Q&A, and here’s what he wrote:
As an artist, what are some of your favorite things about living and working in New York?
My studio is in East Williamsburg/Bushwick, Brooklyn—the division lines are a bit blurry. It seems that the mass exodus of young artists and designers eastwards into Williamsburg that began several years ago is continuing in that direction, so it’s hard to keep straight what neighborhood I work in. That said, it’s incredibly enriching, and the inspiration here is palpable. As I’m writing this, I have my windows open and I’m listening to a rock band play in a rehearsal studio across the street. I find it very romantic. I love that in this neighborhood people create with a kind of abandon—the art here is on the street, completely accessible to passersby.
Grand Central Catwalk (2012) © Marcos Chin. Commissioned by MTA Arts for Transit.
How and when did you first become interested in art and illustration?
Some of my earliest memories are of me drawing. Like many of my friends who are living and working in their profession, our passion towards the craft of “making things” began very early. It wasn’t however, until my first year in university, contemplating studying business, that I decided I was moving in the wrong direction. The following year I enrolled at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD), in Toronto, where my art education began in a serious way.
Tells us about your art/design background. Where did you study? What was your experience there like?
I studied Illustration at OCAD in the late 1990s; it was an experience that changed my life forever because it introduced me to the possibility of drawing, or painting as a living. Growing up I always felt like something of an outsider. But when I arrived at art school my world was subverted and those qualities about myself that were different became strengths. Since I was an illustration major, OCAD not only taught me how to become a better technician in regards to various artistic materials, but the instructors and their assignments helped me understand how to tell stories and communicate a message or an idea through pictures.
What was your first assignment?
My first assignment was working with a magazine while I was an undergraduate at OCAD. If I remember correctly, it was Education Forum. An instructor who taught at the school also owned a design firm that had many trade magazines as clients. I sought him out one afternoon, and showed him my portfolio. Soon afterwards a designer from his firm called me to work with them on my first illustration commission.
What is your favorite part of the creative process?
This continues to change; I love every stage of it depending on the project. I may like the concept stage best, when I come up with ideas in a rough sketch form, or other times I enjoy the craft of making things, such as drawing, painting, silkscreen, or sewing.
Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between art you create on paper versus In the computer?
No, I don’t keep a sketchbook anymore. I used to. In fact, I have many stored away. But as I became busier and busier with my illustration work, I started to let them go, and draw on regular photocopy paper because it was quick and easy to do so. Nowadays, because deadlines have become so pressing, I almost always sketch using the brush tool in Photoshop. The reason again, is because of time—I can alter things quickly using the computer, and can eliminate the extra step of having to scan drawings into my computer.
Marcos Chin in his Bushwick studio, at work on his Yee Yee line of fashion T-shirts; photo: Glenn Lovrich
What was the last art exhibition you saw and what did you take away from it?
The last art exhibition that I saw was of Keith Haring’s art at The Brooklyn Museum. What I took away (or rather bought) was his diaries published by Penguin Classics.
What are some of your favorite blogs/websites for inspiration?
As mentioned, I enjoy reading artists’ books and looking through books as inspiration over blogs and websites. I enjoy the tangible quality about a book—the smell and feeling of it. It can be incredibly intimate and participatory, reading through a book—folding the corners of page, underlining and writing notes in the margins.
Has social media been a boon for self-promotion? Or do you have methods you’ve always used that still work?
Social media has been a boon for self-promotion because it allows me to show parts of my practice that otherwise I wouldn’t be able to show through a direct-mail piece, for example. I also believe it helps clients understand more about who I am as a person and artist, which in turn can affect how they relate to my work and possibly the projects they might propose, or assign to me.
Where did your idea for your forthcoming book originate? What was the most difficult part about getting from idea to finished art?
I’m now in the midst of putting together a maquette to submit to publishers. I can’t share the title of it yet, but the idea for it originated from some of the critical issues that I face in my own studio. And no, the book is not titled “Critical Issues In My Studio.” Wish me luck!
Have you ever had a creative block with a deadline looming? What do you do to get crackin’?
When I experience creative block, I oftentimes stop working even if it’s for fifteen minutes. I believe the block comes from being too close to whatever project I’m working on at that moment, and so stepping away from it gains a me a fresh perspective once I reinvestigate it.
Where do you teach—and what do you like best about teaching?
I teach at the School of Visual Arts, in New York City. The second question is sort of funny because I recently entertained the idea of quitting, not for any reasons associated with SVA—I love the school very much, and I do love teaching, but I think that I was becoming overwhelmed with my art projects outside of class, and felt that I was being spread too thinly. However, I chose to stay because of my students. I confessed to them that I had thought about leaving, but told them that part of why I decided against it was because of the weekly dialogue that I enjoyed having with them and my co-instructor (and best friend) Yuko Shimizu; they teach me things on a regular basis, which not only makes me into a better artist, but helps to keep me grounded in humility and grace.
Who and what are some of your strongest influences?
My influences continually change; however, cartoons, comic books, manga and animé appear to be a visual reminder of where my work stems from. Music and fashion, contemporary fine art, other illustrator’s works, and artists’ journals such as those by Keith Haring, Ben Shahn, and Paul Klee have largely influenced me over the past few years, but more specifically the latter has profoundly affected me with regard to maintaining a strong studio practice.
What was the biggest mistake you ever made and what did you learn from it?
The biggest mistake that I made was immersing too much of my life into my profession, and allowing my profession to define who I am as person.
What advice would you give to a young illustrator who is just getting noticed?
Be prolific and work hard; be open-minded; set goals and be kind.
Marcos Chin is an award winning Illustrator whose drawings have appeared as surface and wall designs, on book and CD covers, advertisements, fashion catalogues, and magazines. His clients include Neiman Marcus, Fiat, Time, Rolling Stone, Penguin Books, and most recently has created the illustrations for Target's debut advertising campaign, within Canada. In addition to his illustration work, Marcos has created YEE YEE, a custom print, cut & sew T shirt label from his studio in Brooklyn. Marcos has given lectures throughout the US and abroad, and currently lives in New York, where he teaches Illustration at the School of Visual Arts. Grand Central Catwalk was selected for AI32. Marcos Chin's Blog.