Interview with illustrator Mark Ward
I grew up in Caterham on the outskirts of South London.
Years working as an illustrator and how did you get into that?
I’ve been working as an illustrator since I graduated, so that’s near enough 15 years.
I got into it by default really. I went to St Martins Art College and studied advertising, thinking it would be a way to get a steady job in the creative field. I really enjoy coming up with ideas, and I was lucky enough to win a student award and got a job in an advertising agency off the back of it, but within a month I realised it wasn’t for me.
Fortunately, in my first year at uni I went into the Stussy store in Covent Garden and told the guys behind the counter that their posters were a bit tired. (There was nothing wrong with their posters, but I just needed a way to get my foot in the door…) After a couple of attempts I finally got the number of the boss and showed him my portfolio. He liked my stuff and it went from there. I was creating new t-shirt graphics every 2 weeks. It was a pretty surreal gig to have while I was still at uni.
The experience of the corporate ad agency compared to the freedom of doing my own thing and being hands on made me realise which direction I wanted to go.
Some of your clients over the years?
I’ve been really fortunate to work for some recognised brands, including Nike, Adidas, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Puma, Playstation and Red Bull.
What is it like to work for such well-known brands like Nike, Pepsi & Red Bull?
It’s great to have created work for famous brands. Each client has their own way of working; the bigger the name the bigger the pressure to deliver generally, but I think I work well under pressure so I don’t let it phase me.
What projects are you most proud of?
That changes from time to time, but a standout would be the time I worked with Mountain Dew on creating a huge pinball machine skatepark. You could score points as you rode round the park doing tricks off bumpers etc. It’s not every day you get to work on something like that. It even had its own TV show.
I also created a campaign with Pepsi in Canada last summer that I’m pretty happy with. It was the first time I really had to focus on drawing characters. Off the back of that my work has turned a corner.
What does a day look like for you work-wise?
I work from my studio which I ride to every morning. It’s 15 mins from my house. I drop my daughter at school first – I’ve zip-tied a spare saddle to the crossbar of my bike around an old rad pad, so she sits in front and rides with me!
I get to the studio for 9.30, check out what’s happening in the world and then get to it. If I’m working on a commercial gig I try and get as much done as possible. If I’m creating some personal work I tend to take my time a little more.
I have loads of reference books in the studio and some of my art work, as well as essential tea-making supplies, but I’m trying to keep plenty of space for creating physical work – painting or sculpture. I have 2 large cork boards on the wall above my Mac that are stuffed with scrawled notes of ideas that I’m going to get around to doing so there is always plenty buzzing around my head.
I usually finish up and head home around 6pm to face the madness (we have 8-month-old son as well as our 4-year-old daughter)!
You recently were asked to create some animated stickers to coincide with the launch of the Youth Olympic Games in Bueno Aires this year. How did that come about?
A creative agency called Trailer Park was working with the Olympic Committee on the campaign. The stickers were just one part of it. They offered me the work and I thought it sounded pretty fun, and the Olympic Committee had already seen my work as a good fit. I’ve also been getting in to creating animations of late, which pushes my work in a new direction…
Toughest project you’ve worked on and why?
That Pepsi job was pretty tough. We were short on time before I even started, and the characters had to represent as many races and cultures as possible. Inevitably, not everyone agreed on what was the best execution and suddenly I was asked to draw animals instead of human characters to avoid certain issues. There were a lot of changes I had to deal with. We were aiming to create 50 different bottle labels at the beginning, but time wasn’t on our side. I think I drew over 100 sketches for the labels alone. There were additional billboards and animations on top of that.
I’d love to create a cartoon series. Something simple and funny like the Pink Panther. I’ve been getting back into watching old cartoons with my daughter and the reactions she has to them are hilarious! Those classic cartoons were one of the main reasons I drew as a kid. It would be awesome to create something on that level…
Who/What are some of your inspirations?
As I just said about the cartoons, they were a big source of inspiration as a kid. Everything I’ve been interested in seems to be connected to America. Hanna Barbera cartoons, skateboarding, BMX, Graffiti and Hip Hop etc. They all stem from the States. In my head as a kid I imagined this wonderland full of brightly-coloured cool stuff, with parades down every street. I think the contrast between what I saw on the TV or read in magazines and my actual London surroundings was the biggest inspiration. It allows me to play with pop culture in my work from a different angle.
In terms of actual people who inspired me, it would be those illustrators with that loose style. People like Charles Schulz, Robert Crumb and Bob Haro.
You’ve also got a background in BMX. What do you remember from your early days in London riding BMX?
I was the youngest kid in the street growing up, so I remember looking at these older kids’ bikes thinking they looked amazing. Two brothers who lived opposite us had the whole full-face mask with an open face helmet set up. It looked pretty awesome! I got my brother’s hand me down mini Burner which was chrome with blue skin wall tyres. I was jumping off curbs as best I could thinking I was Andy Ruffell! This was when I was four or five years old.
I always had a BMX growing up (my brother’s old bikes) and was always trying to wheelie etc, but the whole scene seemed to go quiet when I turned eight or nine. There weren’t any tracks or skateparks near us that I was aware of. I was also dependent on my parents driving me places.
I remember seeing my first track by chance in a park in Benfleet, Essex, as my cousins lived that way. It looked insanely big and I was gutted I didn’t have my bike with me.
It wasn’t until senior school that I could actively get involved. The local corner store was selling BMX Plus! and I was instantly hooked again. I begged my parents for a better bike for Christmas. Edwardes bike shop in south London had a sale on and I got a 93 Dyno Compe in Purple Rain with a snake seat post. There was a local make shift ramp that we used to ride made from plywood over a grass bank. It was almost a quarter but more a steep kicker that used to spit you out to flat.
We had a youth worker at school that was very good to us and took us on trips to Radlands and Southsea etc. I don’t think the locals were that happy about 20 school kids on bikes suddenly turning up with no skills but I thought it was amazing! We had a good crew of us slowly improving. I was never a natural but I loved every second of it. If you didn’t come home with an injury then you weren’t trying hard enough!
My bike broke all the time, bending axles and sprockets on coping etc. Clive Gosling was working at Edwardes at the time, and after quite a few repairs he very kindly replaced my bent forks with some Mongoose DMC forks free of charge… I think just to see the back of me!
You’re currently racing locally again. How’s that going and where do you ride and race?
I ride at Brixton track in Brockwell Park. Racing has been something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a kid but as I said, I didn’t really have access to it. I’m riding as much as I can and it seems to be paying off. I raced at the Olympic track recently at the last round of the London series, which was pretty surreal. I just wanted to size up my competition for next year. I came away with a second so things are looking hopefu…
Looks like you’re doing some cool stuff in BMX. What projects have you been working on recently?
Ha! Well there’s this apparel line I’ve been working on with you Dale, called Dvide, and I’ve been working with Mike at FTB on some frame graphics for next year. There’s a couple of potential other bits and pieces in the pipeline. I’m excited to see how it turns out…
What advice would you give to someone wanting to be an illustrator?
Work hard at what you want to do and believe in your work. Try to stay focussed and get your work out there. Also, push your luck every now and then. It worked for me…
Yeah – thanks to you Dale for this opportunity. Thanks to Chico for the Hooke up. Thanks to everyone at Brixton – A.D, Alan, Felipe and Ken.
Also thanks to Johann, Jason and Maz. Big thanks to my amazing Catherine for everything!
Online & Social Media links:
Mountain Dew project videos: