Mark Chambers: Art is NEVER the Easy Option
last updated 06 September 2017
Through sheer determination, hard work and an ability to adapt and develop his style over time, Mark Chambers has made illustration his career, and a successful one at that.
In this interview, Mark talks candidly about his career to date, and the realities of choosing to work in the creative industry.
It’s important to know that art isn’t an easy option — it’s incredibly competitive, it can be lonely, and it takes energy and time to develop your style. The great masters had to keep developing, and an artist — just like a sportsman, has to practice and hone his or her skills on a daily basis.
Mark has published two picture books already this year, with more to follow. Great to work with, he is always looking for ways to be creative, aside from his picture book work. Here, Mark talks about his journey as an illustrator . . . LM
MC: I joined Bright way back when dinosaurs still walked the earth, which was in fact 2003. My work was picked up at the D&AD Exhibition in London of that year when Bright’s Founder, Vicki, was seeking talent for a new Children’s Illustration Agency. I was fresh out of university and very nervous at the prospect of an interview with a top industry professional. However she saw something in my work, a glimpse of what might be with a lot of tweaking, that would start my journey into the world of illustration.
I will always remember the phone call I got for my first project in this industry. I was sat in my bedroom on a freezing cold day having just got back from working on the farm and I was at my desk drawing lots of different character heads. Big heads, little heads, balloon heads with big eyes or dots for eyes. The job in question was to be for Letts Educational entitled Spikes Crime Time and I was elated to have scored my first commission as an illustrator. It might not have been the grandest project and the style is unrecognisable to how I work now, but it was my first job and I will always be proud of it. A copy still adorns my studio bookcase to this day to remind me – you should always hold that first job in high regard because it’s the one that started your journey into illustration. Your work may have changed considerably and your face may screw up seeing that old style again before you quickly shut it in a box and cast it into the ocean, but always be proud of that first project.
“I was in no way one of the best artists on my course at university and I came out of it with an upper second and a portfolio full of this and that from model making to cartoon-type illustrations. I was willing to try new things though and experiment with styles and change how I worked, however radically, and I continue that thought process to this day.” MC
The realities of a career in illustration are different for everyone in my opinion due to varying degrees of talent, work ethic and life itself. Some find it easier to work into the wee hours while some like to keep to some degree of routine. I’m the latter and I try to keep to my hours as best I can and I rarely work weekends because, in my humble opinion, you have to have a balance between life and the job you enjoy doing. If you become too consumed by something, it begins to become detrimental to the other things that life can provide and you end up resenting what you’ve come to love. Leave the studio, take a deep breath, go for a walk in the country or take a short trip somewhere to refresh the mind and you’ll keep the equilibrium in check.
I personally find this job very difficult and on a few occasions I have had to fight the drawing demons when things aren’t quite working as well as they should do. This is in fact my second choice for a career as my other was taking me on a journey into the sporting world. However I kept plugging away at the artist in me and lo and behold a door opened when I least expected it. I was in no way one of the best artists on my course at university and I came out of it with an upper second and a portfolio full of this and that from model making to cartoon-type illustrations. I was willing to try new things though and experiment with styles and change how I worked however radically and I continue that thought process to this day.
“When I met Mark, I was struck by not only his work, but his desire to learn, to work hard, to grow, and his tenacious attitude. To succeed as an illustrator requires a combination of talent and an ability to work with people. Mark has these qualities in bucket-loads and I’ve enjoyed every deserved success he’s had” Vicki Willden-Lebrect, Bright Founder and MD.
My portfolio has changed considerably over the years and I’m far from cracking this industry and how I want to work but this makes it interesting for me as I get to have a varied portfolio that can be used on a range of jobs. This year especially as I’ve painted sculptures, designed billboards and postcards, animated picture book trailers and even put my hand to paper engineering to create my Pirate Pete themed window display. It’s all of this alongside my book commissions through Bright, which gives a varied way of working and the challenge to progress that keeps my energy going. That and the odd break to my favourite part of the French countryside!!
“Your Dreams Start Here” — Mark painted a sculpture for the famous Lincoln City Knights Trail (clockwise from top left) Mark and Lucy Rowland visiting Mark’s painted sculpture at Lincoln University; Mark and a motley crew of children’s illustrators at Bologna Book Fair 2017.
I’ve very rarely had the chance to meet most of my authors over the years and it’s only recently that I’ve done multiple titles with the same one. Lucy Rowland is a great new author and has already sold several stories to publishers. It was great fun working on our two books for Macmillan (Pirate Pete and his Smelly Feet & Jake Bakes a Monster Cake) and I’m hoping we can work on another book somewhere down the line.
A vibrant spread from Pirate Pete and his Smelly Feet, illustrated by Mark and written by Lucy Rowland.
So to the future and what it might bring. I’m currently working on Mrs Claus Takes the Reins with Amazon where I’m hoping to really push my artwork as I’ve designed several spreads that are quite atmospheric in their nature. As well as the great character of Mrs Claus herself, a cross between Hattie Jacques and Mrs Bucket.
I’m also working on a frog yoga book (a frog doing yoga not a book about yoga for frogs!) that will come with a bendy character model of himself and will be great to see when it goes to production! Then there’s Tinysaurus – about a tiny tyrannosaurus dinosaur – this project was a challenge but hopefully he’ll be scampering across artists’ desks around the globe soon. There are many other ideas and snippets of projects that I want to do in my head and at some point I’ll be able to share them all but in the meantime, it’s back to work!
Tinysaurus Wrecks, and Yoga Frog!
If you’d like to work with Mark Chambers, you can get in touch via his agent, Arabella Stein here.