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Mark Conlan on being patient, his love hate relationship with Instagram and helping to make the world a better place


Mark Conlan is an illustrator based in Melbourne, Australia. With a portfolio bursting at the seams with exciting projects for the likes of Adobe, The New York Times, Airbnb and Coco Cola, it’s fair to say that Mark is in demand.

His work focuses on a strong use of character and composition empowered by whimsical and emotional situations; his little happy characters have become signature features of his work. We sat down to talk to him about his career so far, where he finds inspiration and his love hate relationship with Instagram.

Going back to the beginning of your career, how did you get into illustration?
I studied animation in university many a year ago, so I think the transition into illustration seemed quite simple, though after leaving uni I moved to London where I fell into a couple of graphic design jobs. This was a great direction at the time and gave me such a good basis for everything I focus on today. After a while the agency life got a but much for me and I began to lose the passion for design. After moving to Melbourne I knew I really wanted to focus solely on illustration, so I dived in head first and haven’t looked back since. 

How did you find your style? How has it evolved?
I think to this day, I am still trying to find my style. Although my style might seem very established now. I personally think no artist ever finds their style, they’re constantly discovering and developing to better themselves and to satisfy their own creative needs. When I began working as an illustrator I would just draw and draw and draw until I started to enjoy what I was creating. After some time I began to appreciate some of my sketches and in turn gained a lot of confidence to develop these further and establish my own style.

What do you love most about what you do?
I love everything about what I do. As an artist, I have the chance/ability to be able to provoke reactions and moods of my audience. I have the chance to send a message through my illustrations, this can be a message of positivity, sadness or sheer joy etc. In turn, this message can be conveyed in anyway by a viewer, thats the beauty of art. It’s all subjective.  But overall I love the fact I can convey a message of positivity where I can, thats what life should be all about.

What inspires you?
I try to remain as open as possible to everything around me to be inspired by. I think if we try seek inspiration in very specific things it can become very limiting and in turn can stifle creativity. So I try to remain inspired by as much possible, whether that is a walk in the park, the sun shinning through the window, a persons funny walk or even just a tv show you’re watching.

What is your process like?
My process and my workspace are very similar. They’re both very clean, with lots of light and fun to be in. My process is quite simple really, I focus a lot on the conceptual stage of it as I find this is the most important aspect. This is where all the good ideas are developed. I then in-turn develop a series of sketches which I present to a client for them to then be involved in. I think this areas should be collaborative where possible, as they might have some awesome ideas that I simply did not have and vice versa. Once as we sign off on sketches, I begin working up some colour devs and present these as roughs. Its pretty simple from there as I finalise the final illustrations.

My studio is still quite new to me, I only moved in in February this year. I am sharing a beautiful light filled space with another creative, which is so great. Oh and how could I forget my little dog, Pickle. He mainly sleeps in the studio but he loves it too. I try surround myself in things that make me happy to create a very workable space. These consist of sun light, colour, art and of course plants!

What are you currently working on?
I have loads going on at the moments, most of which I cant really talk about as of NDA’s. I have just finished some artwork for a coffee cup, I am working on some hoarding artwork for the site of the New Metro Tunnel here in Melbourne, some product artwork, apparel artwork and others I’ll share at a later date when I am allowed. In the midst of all this client work, I always try have some personal work on the go, this keeps me alive creatively and keeps the inspiration burning. At the moment, I am working a series of large scale canvases with just one colour artwork, I am bringing in that old greek style vase artwork. They aren’t for anything particular yet, but hoping they can form some part of an exhibition down the line.

What is your dream project?
Oh this is a tough one. I have so many things I want to do creatively but not one is really up there as my dream. I would like to see some of my artwork reproduced on a large scale, like in a public installation, that would be cool. I also would love to see my art on a tram here in Melbourne, actually a tram anywhere would be awesome. Another thing I would love to do is collaborate with an animation studio to create a series of ads or shorts. I always love working with animators and other artists to take your work to that next level you could only imagine.

You have a big following on Instagram, what do you think of the platform? How has it affected your career?
I have a love hate relationship with Instagram. I love the community that Instagram creates, it has connected me with so many amazing people throughout the years that I wouldn’t of been able to reach otherwise. Instagram used to be so powerful in sharing your work, everyone would see it and be involved in the process but nowadays with new algorithm changes its become very limiting and a lot more competitive. Which to me defeats its original purpose. We don’t need more competition, we all need to work together and embrace our love for art and that community we all thrive. But in the same sense, I am so grateful for my audience and hopefully my art gets to make someones day better somewhere along the way.

What advice would you give to those starting out in the industry?
I always try to say to remain patient. When we start out we tend to want everything straight away. That large list of clients, that dream job and then we start looking at what others are doing and compare ourselves. Be patient, work hard, be kind and that will all come to you in no time. It’s also very important to keep drawing all the time, I cant stress this enough. It just keeps triggering those creative muscles in both the hand and the brain. It’s invaluable for development.

If you weren’t an illustrator, what do you think you’d be doing?
This is tough too, I always think if I was to have a pleasant job like I do now it would have to be doing something in the great outdoors. Maybe a landscaper or a gardener or something that could give my mind peace while in the process.

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