Published in Whitelines Magazine Issue 88, January 2010
In this month’s drawing board, we’re upping the London love again, by throwing the spotlight on yet another talented snowboard artist from our country’s fair capital. Mark Ward, a 28-year-old from Croydon, South London, put together the luminous, toxic looking collages that poke through the rips in the Burton Blunt’s grey top sheet. These little half hidden snippets of art had excited us when we first saw them at the start of the season and left us wanting to know more. To satisfy our curiosity, we headed down to meet mark at his Streatham flat, to ask him about snowboarding, skate-graphics, and what it’s like to see your work make it onto a Burton board.
Beginning at the beginning, how did you first get into art?
It started one Christmas. I got given a Magna Doodle [a kind of Etch-a-Sketch with a little magnetic pen]. I started copying Disney characters and cereal packets on it and really enjoyed it. And then I kept getting gold stars at school for drawing. It was the only thing I was good at really! [Laughs] So I kept going down that route and did my foundation year at St Martins, then went to art college there.
That’s got quite a prestigious reputation as a fine art college. Were you doing that sort of stuff there?
Yeah, well I suppose St Martin’s is most famous for fashion and fine art, you know? Stella McCartney and everything. And on your foundation course you do a little bit of everything, but I always knew I wanted to do graphics. The graphics is pretty good as well there.
How did you start turning art into a living then?
Well, I managed to win a design award and then got a job at an ad agency as an art director aft er leaving college. I worked there for about a year and then realised it wasn’t for me. At the same time whilst I was at uni I was freelancing for Stussy, from my first year.
That’s pretty cool. How did you get into that?
Well I went into their store in Covent Garden and basically told them their posters were a bit tired, and I’d design them some new ones for free. Their boss said: “You’d better be good cos you sound well cocky!" [Laughs] I was only 19 or 20 at the time. Later, when I left the ad agency I went and worked for Stussy full time. The boss took me under his wing and through that I met other people, from Nike and stuff, so I started doing more freelance work for clients like that, and eventually went freelance full-time.
So what do you design mostly these days?
Most of my stuff I guess is like T-shirts and stuff. I fell into a kind of niche doing – I guess you’d call it Streetwear sort of designs. I guess my stuff’s quite bright and poppy and it seems to attract companies who want to appeal the youth market – like snowboarding and skating brands and stuff . I’m happy to be in that world, cos that’s what I’m into, but I do step out of that to work as well if I need to.
Your work looks quite influenced by graffiti, and so-called street artists. is that fair to say?
Yeah, I suppose so. I use spray-paint in graffiti techniques in my work, but it’s probably more the process of graffiti that’s an influence rather than particular artists. I’d say classic skate graphic artists have probably been more of an influence. Like Jim Phillips [who designed the Santa Cruz screaming hand] is a legend. That said, Haze, who did that picture [points to framed poster on his wall], he’s like a graffiti writer turned graphic designer and I guess he’s an influence. He designed the Public Enemy logo, the EPMD logo, the Tommy Boy records logo… he’s a legend as well. I met him once actually. I got fl own out to LA by Stussy for a 25-year anniversary party and I managed to get piss drunk on free booze. There was a graffiti wall and I just saw this older dude putting up a Haze tag next to me. So I ran over to him and made a fool of myself. [Laughs] He was nice though. We were at the same party the next night. I was hung-over and totally embarrassed but he came over to me and started chatting, which is cool. But it’s the process of graffiti, like the over-spraying, the drip effects and that sort of thing that I’m more interested in rather than anyone’s particular characters. I’d like to think my characters come from more of a skate world rather than a graffiti world.
Your work looks like it may be influenced classic cartoon strips or graphic novels as well…
...yeah, I’d say Robert Crumb [seminal and slightly twisted cartoonist] was probably another big influence. When I was developing my style – cos it’s not just something that comes overnight, it took a while to crystallise – I guess Robert Crumb and punk flyers and stuff was what I liked. It just seemed honest you know? It had that whole kind of DIY aspect that was less fl ashy.
What media do you usually use?
I use mostly analogue techniques. I finish stuff off on the computer, colour it up on Photoshop and stuff, but I draw using a sharpie, pen and ink or a brush. If I need to send stuff to the states I’ll do it on the computer, but if it’s for a show or something local I’ll do it by hand. Which for me kind of feels more satisfactory. It helps me get that handmade, DIY-style aesthetic that I admire in graffiti and Crumb’s work and stuff .
You mentioned you came from a skate background. Do you snowboard as well?
Yeah I got into snowboarding about five or six years ago. My girlfriend bought me a snowboard actually. I bet she wishes she hadn’t now, cos I spend a lot of time and money on it. [Laughs] No, but I started going to the Bromley dryslope after work, and then going away and stuff.
Is this your first snowboard graphic gig?
Yeah. I’d done signature streetwear and hoodies and stuff for Burton before, but this is the first board I’ve designed.
Did Burton give you a specific brief?
Their brief was just to do something cluttered and busy. They were sort of umming and ahhing down the phone and then just said: “Eye-candy". So I took the idea of eye-candy, which is a bit of a cliché, and turned it into this idea of rotten eye- andy. As if your eyes were rotting away from ‘eating’ too much sugary eye-candy. So that’s why there’s references to cherries with snot on them and stuff. Going back to my influences, Americana is a massive influence, obviously from the tradition of classic skateboard graphics. And this is a kind of twisted, rotten take on that – that’s why there are baseballs with maggots crawling out and stuff. It’s friendly enough, but wrong. There’s a rat in a top hat rather than a rabbit and stuff like that.
How did it work with the different board lengths?
Well each board has a different crop of the artwork. I basically did this big coloured panel, and sent that to JDK. They said: “Ah cool, we’re gonna rip it up and make it look like some ripped posters". I’m not sure if it looks like ripped posters, but it’s pretty cool. I guess I supplied the artwork and they did their thing with it.
How do you feel about passing your work over to someone else or an agency like that? That must sometimes feel uncomfortable?
Well, I’m mostly fine with that. Oft en they don’t choose the design that I think is best. But that can be bittersweet, cos then you get to keep what you think are your best ideas for your future work. Maybe they see it from a clearer commercial perspective whereas I’m thinking from an illustration perspective. I suppose, compromising just happens in the commercial world. But in the end it comes down to integrity. If you’re putting your name on something, you’ve gotta make sure you’re happy with it. So I guess there is a line there, beyond which I wouldn’t feel comfortable compromising.
So what would you like to take your art? Do you have specific ambitions?
Well, when I was working full time, my goal was just to get an agent and go freelance. Now that I can do that, my goal is to have a major solo show, and I’m in plans for that next year. So my goals just keep moving forward. Designing a snowboard though has been on the list ever since I started snowboarding though. [Laughs].
For anyone reading this who wants to get into designing snowboard graphics, what should they do?
If I wasn’t so fortunate to have done it the route that I’ve done, I would suggest they go snowboarding, get the bug, and keep drawing until you hit it on the head. Someone will find it.