I recently got in contact with Mark Armstrong, An Illustrator of over 20 years from New Hampshire. Armstrong creates Humorous Illustrations, firstly drawing them out and then editing them on Photoshop. I found Armstrongs work through his blog, and thought as I am interested in the medium of illustration, it would be interesting to find out how he works. He is a full time freelance Illustrator and I was lucky enough to talk to him and have him answer some questions on his work and his professional practice.
Q- Is being an artist your full time job?
Q- How did you start out in Art?
As a kid, I always liked to draw, but I never even considered a career in art. I worshipped certain cartoonists, but it never occurred to me to write to them. My family didn’t know any artists. A career in art never entered my head.
I did well in college, but gave no real thought to a career. Wound up drifting in and out of things: teaching, working in a bank, working for insurance companies in what used to be called Data Processing. I almost dropped the art thread entirely, but somewhere along the line I started drawing one-panel gag cartoons and submitting them on speculation to magazines. Once in a great while, someone would buy one.
Then one day my D.P. job disappeared. I thought: it’s now or never– if you want to be an artist, now’s the time to jump in. I stumbled around as a freelancer for a good 6-8 years, and eventually made the transition from cartoonist to illustrator. Eventually I bought a computer
and taught myself Photoshop. Somehow I’ve been a freelance illustrator for a little over 23 years now.
Q- What is your current work based on?
Content-wise, it’s dictated by a client’s specific needs. Recently I did a promotional piece for a chocolate company. It was to promote their presence at an upcoming trade show. I’m currently working on a Christmas cover. It’s for a church diocesan publication and needs to focus on the birth of Christ, as opposed to Santa Claus or Father Christmas.
Theme-wise, my work is based on the “humorous twist,” i.e., finding the humour in a subject, and conveying same in an illustration. Sometimes the humour can be very zany and slapstick, other times it can be quite subtle, just creating a pleasant, receptive mood. Even very serious
subjects can benefit from a light touch– it makes people more receptive to the message.
I’ve learned to pass on assignments that call for very formal, precise, realistic illustrations. I can execute such assignments, but my heart’s not in it, and I always find the results unconvincing and unsatisfactory.
Q- What inspires your pieces and Illustrations?
Again, if it’s an assignment, my client’s needs inspire my work. That said, most clients look to an illustrator to be an active participant in the assignment. They supply the story or specific need, but want the illustrator to come up with ideas on how to illustrate same. For me, this means finding
some humorous “takes” on the material, and sketching those ideas out as roughs. I send them to the client and request their feedback. They usually say: we like #3, or: Could you add such-and-such to rough #4?
I always have some independent projects going on. Many of these are geared toward promoting my work and attracting specific clients. Sometimes I’ll give myself an assignment (so to speak) because I want to learn how to do something in Photoshop. I tend to stay away from personal
projects that are so personal/idiosyncratic/weird that I’d be embarrassed to have them in my portfolio.
Q- What is the medium you most enjoy working on, and why?
Aside from doodles and rough sketches, I’m a digital artist, so I suppose my favourite medium is Adobe Photoshop.
To clarify that a bit: I don’t “draw” in Photoshop, and I don’t use an electronic tablet that turns my line drawings into a digital file. I draw on good ol’ paper. I do a pencil sketch first, then I ink the sketch using a variety of markers. After cleaning it up with a kneaded eraser, I use a scanner to scan my line art into Photoshop at a resolution of 300 dpi. I put my line drawing on a separate layer, then add colour and any necessary text in Photoshop.
My favourite non-digital medium is watercolour. I love the looseness and energy of watercolour wash. That’s the look I try to simulate in Photoshop: a watercolour illustration. I don’t really consider myself particularly good at it, but I’m always trying to improve and move my finished work closer to that
ideal: a loose, free-flowing, dashed-off-looking watercolour illustration.
Q- Do you think social networking sites are important for an artist, and how do you use them?
I do think they’re important, but I can’t really offer a lot of hard evidence to that effect. For example, I can’t say that my being on LinkedIn, and WordPress, and Twitter, and Facebook has brought me a lot of assignments or a lot of money. Most of my assignments come from my own efforts: finding potential clients through online research and job postings, ferreting out contract information, sending out email queries with links to samples, etc.
But I believe social media is important because one needs to make contacts and establish credibility. Funny thing about the latter: we now expect a business to have a website– to have a .com after their name. We expect them to be on Twitter and Facebook. We take it for granted they have a LinkedIn
profile. If not, we experience an element of doubt: aren’t they sociable? aren’t
I also think a blog is important. It shows you’re willing to engage people and respond to their comments and feedback. It’s also a chance to exhibit one’s latest work and provide some tips, thereby demonstrating one’s expertise.
I use all of the social media mentioned above. What’s really nice: they all have “apps” which allow them to “talk” to each other. The most helpful example of this, for me, would be: when I publish a new post on my WordPress blog, it’s simultaneously tweeted, and posted to both my Facebook page and my LinkedIn profile.
Q- Finally, do you sell your work through and online store and/or gallery, or by any other means?
A few months ago, I signed up for a free membership at Fine Art America. The free membership allows me to upload 25 “works,” and sell them (as prints or greeting cards) online. FAA handles all the printing, matting, framing, and shipping. I get to set my own prices for prints, but of course FAA adds its fees on top of that. To date, I’ve sold zero prints, and a dozen Christmas cards– the money’s not exactly rolling in! On the other hand, I haven’t really done much to promote myself at FAA. It’s something I need to think about in 2013.
But FAA represents my only attempt to sell my work directly (as opposed to doing an assignment for a client). I’ve never tried to sell prints through a gallery– I’m afraid I’m much too lazy to have to arrange for the necessary printing, framing, etc.
Finally, FWIW: there seem to be many sites where one can sell digital art (prints) online. Most of these sites set the prices for prints (i.e., the prices for different sizes), and pay the artist a fixed commission for each print sold. FAA seems to be an exception here, allowing the artist to establish his own fee (profit) for each sized print.
Thanks Mark for a great interview!
You can find Mark Armstrong and his work at any of these links: