Artist Interview with Mick Marston
15 November 2023
In the dynamic realm where creativity shakes hands with design, Yorkshire-born Mick Marston has seamlessly woven his craft from the lofty aspirations of Premiership football and rock stardom into the fabric of a distinguished designer. A graduate of Leeds, Mick has finely tuned his abilities as an illustrator and printmaker. Widely recognised for his colourful sketchbooks, screen prints, intricate Lego models and intriguing studio companions (scroll down to unveil the mystery), this month we delve deeper into the layers of his multifaceted career.
Please tell us about yourself, where are you from, and why was illustration a good fit.
I'm from Sheffield, studied graphics at Leeds Polytechnic (now Leeds Beckett University) – where I now teach illustration and graphic design. I like problem-solving and I can distil a lot of complex information into a decent shape in a short space of time – so ideally suited to illustration in that sense. On the flip side, I like to experiment and engage with other processes, materials and outcomes – from clay to music – which probably doesn't fit – although these different creative journeys can lead to all kinds of possibilities and often leak back into my commercial practice.
We love the variety of your creative outlets on Instagram, from Lego to wood blocks, to pen in a sketchbook, is creating casual art a kind of fidget for you?
I wouldn't call it casual – a lot of this (as stated previously) feeds my commercial output and most importantly informs my teaching practice too. I like to lead by example – we encounter and encourage some very diverse approaches to image making, design, animation etc so it helps to have a hands-on approach and be open to trying out stuff. I'm a big believer in play – good things happen when you play. And yes, it is a fidget – I think creating stuff is what I was meant to do.
Picasso once said, "I begin with an idea, and then it becomes something else." Does this concept resonate with your own artistic process?
Yes, it does – although illustration by its very nature doesn't really allow this – you generally have to get from A to B quite quickly and efficiently – whilst pleasing all the relevant interested parties (including yourself). My other practices allow me to go from A to Z – where the journey is far more important than the outcome.
Your recent feature in Martin Salisbury's "Illustrators' Sketchbooks" sparked our curiosity. You touch upon your creative process and the influences that shape your work in the book, can you expand on this?
I'm influenced by absolutely everything – influence can be negative and positive, so I might draw upon something in the news that has annoyed me or upset me and in the next line something that I love. I digress a lot – mentally – so I end up with quite odd juxtapositions and mash-ups. I also deliberately 'spoil' things, work over things, use pens or brushes that are too thick for the job, do things in the wrong colour, and try to abstract an object so it is just recognisable as the object I started with. Constraints and limitations are integral – no circles, just right angles, just red, big next to small, and so on. Again – all playing about. I'm just curious and "what happens if..." is always at the front of my mind.
Please finish this sentence 'screen printing is…'
Something I did for a living from 1981 until 1988. When I went into education I could out screen print all the academic staff and technicians. It provides a good outlet for my illustrative practice as it serves the purpose of turning digital hard-edged graphic Adobe Illustrator files into something 'real' and a commodity I can exhibit and sell which I think has value – digital print has its place but I wouldn't buy one.
Your abecedarium, which boasts 258 illustrations, each corresponding to a letter of the alphabet, is remarkable! What inspired you to embark on this creative endeavour?
I like to push myself and if I embark on something then I'll see it through. I remember wavering at C but my determination coupled with a guilty conscience kicked in. I think I was responding to the classic, traditional role of the illustrator and how we depict 'things'. I remember the A is for Apple, B is for Ball and C is for Cat and so on, but I wanted to do an expanded version and give the 'difficult' letters such as Q, X and Z equal billing. It was also something to do with – "look everyone, I can illustrate anything from angler fish to zoetropes (with quantum physics thrown in for good measure).”
If you weren’t an illustrator what would you be?
I teach alongside my illustration practice, so probably that. My early dreams involved being a musician... and before that a footballer, I was never bothered about being a train driver though.
What is your current workspace like? / If you could relocate your studio for a year, where in the world would you choose?
Home office with a heated floor – used to be a garage, full of stuff to make things with – pens, paper, guitars, amplifiers, paint, glue, microphones, computers, an axe, sculptures made out of junk, bicycles, ceramics, whippets sometimes come and sit on my knee. I'm quite happy here, it's quiet, I have no neighbours, I stare at the sheep and cows in the fields and go for walks with the dogs on the moors. My favourite foreign city is Berlin – so probably there.
Love Mick's work? Why not visit his portfolio now to see more?