One-on-One with Illustrator Mark Smith

Award-winning illustrator Mark Smith has been featured in ESPN The Magazine, Golf Monthly, and other publications across the world. Recently Smith created the art for our “Rise to the Challenge” article in the latest issue of the Marriott Alumni Magazine, and I was lucky enough to interview Mark about his art, hard work, and inspiration.

Mark Smith's Illustration for BYUMAM: How did you first get into illustration?

Smith: I’ve loved drawing ever since I can remember, but I never really believed it was a viable career prospect; that was what other people did, not people like me! After working my way through countless “proper” jobs and not being able to stand them for more than a few years, I thought I’d have a go at what I really wanted to do all along. I got in touch with Plymouth University in England, a local art college, to see what my options were. They called me in for a portfolio interview, and—luckily enough—they accepted me onto the course.

MAM: What inspired your illustration for the “Rise to the Challenge” article?

Smith: The inspiration for the piece probably came from my attitude toward putting effort into anything at all: aiming much higher than you need to and even higher than what you think you can achieve is the only way to find out what you’re really capable of.

MAM: Where do you go to find inspiration for new illustrations?

Smith: I make the most of my time when I’m away from the studio, because things I do and see in everyday life fuel new ideas and images for me. If I have a particularly heavy schedule for a few weeks and no time to get away from the studio then I start to feel like I’m running out of ideas, so I try to maintain a balance between work and play to keep both areas healthy.

MAM: What have been some of your most enjoyable projects?

Smith: My enjoyable projects are the images that inspire and motivate me into my next job. If I feel like I’ve done a particularly good job—whether conceptually or aesthetically—it makes me want to repeat the process as soon as I can. It doesn’t really matter to me where my work appears as long as I feel like I performed well.

MAM: What do you do when you’re not illustrating?

Smith: When I’m not trawling through the latest box set or comedy series with my wife I’m usually out playing golf. I think I like the problem-solving aspect of golf—and there always seems to be some kind of problem with my swing so it never gets boring!

MAM: If tomorrow you could visit one city anywhere in the world, which city would you pick?

Smith: I love New York and I love Berlin, but if I was given the option to visit anywhere, I’d go somewhere I’ve never been before. Nothing beats the first couple of days spent discovering the ins and outs of an unfamiliar place.

MAM: What tips do you have for aspiring illustrators?

Smith: Hard work and honesty will get you much further than lazy talent. If you enjoy it to the point that you can obsess about it all day and you’re happy having it define you as a person, then stick to it. It’s a much better option than wasting your life away in a job you hate.