Like many kids raised in the 1970s, illustrator Mark Todd was influenced at an early age by Star Wars and comic books. Unlike many kids, however, he grew up just a few miles from the Las Vegas strip, it's neon and glitz looming over the city. He graduated with honors from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California and currently lives and works in the Los Angeles area with his wife, artist Esther Pearl Watson, their daughter Lili and Mr. Pickles, a lovely French Bulldog.
Memories from Childhood
If you have a degree in what field is it? BFA with honors from Art Center College of Design.
Have you always been able to draw or was it a skill you learned in college? I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. I remember asking my dad how to draw an airplane when I was around six; my dad was far from being an artist but he would tell me these stories of growing up in England during the war and how he would draw fighter planes and tanks attacking each other. I also drew “war” scenes. But soon, like a lot of kids, I became obssessed with Star Wars and all the fantasy it had to offer and my doodles of WWII fighter planes and combat troops morphed into Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder, Darth Vader’s cool egg-shaped ship and the Death Star.
What was your first paid assignment? When I was a teen, I tried to start my own business. My plan was to “touch up” or create entirely new masterpieces of art on kids skateboards. No takers. I also started a lawn mowing business with my friend Troy. I drew all the fliers, basically a Pac-Man character with sharp teeth and tank treads. We had some customers but not a lot of repeat business since we often lopped off sprinkler heads. Did my testosterone-injected Pac-Man drawings sell us to the neighbors? Maybe.
My first “real” paid job was from the LA Weekly I believe. It was for a review of some Russian film that I couldn’t follow. It was very serious and cold. I had no idea what to draw so I thought to myself, “make it real artsy” and I drew a carton of milk and some worm-like things. I had all these coversations in my head trying to come up with some convincing explanations for what I’d drawn. Turned out they weren’t necessary: The art director loved it.
Which illustrator (or fine artist) do you most admire? Just one? Impossible to say. I admire a lot of artists not only for their work but also for their character, artists who seem to push themselves to explore and grow: Donald Bachlors work is inspiring; Megan Whitmarsh creates beautiful worlds; Wayne White is a great guy with strong convictions; Jason Holley never makes a bad piece; Taylor McKimens is honest and forward-thinking. But there are so many more...
What would you be doing if you weren’t an illustrator? I don’t know.
From where do your best ideas originate? From trusting myself. And from memories; I pull a lot from childhood experience.
How do you overcome a creative block? Those usually come from not trusting myself, from blocking out ideas that seem too odd or risky. Sometimes they just overcome themselves through trial and error. Other times I just need to stop trying so hard to solve a problem, walk away for a while and come back to it later. Deadlines always seem to help break creative blocks.
In one word describe how you feel when beginning a new assignment? Depends (on the job).
Do you have a personal philosophy? Try to learn from listening... but don’t listen to everyone. I just made that up; sounds kinda jerky. How about, be nice.
Do you have creative pursuits other than illustration? Writing and gallery work.
What music are you listening to right now? Lately it’s been all over the place. For example, these three are completely at odds with each other: Miles Davis, The Knife, Marvin Sease (everyone should look that one up).
What’s your favorite quote? This week it’s Ice Cube's “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.”
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Draw all the time. Make your own jobs. Get out of the studio and meet people. Visit NYC and if you like it, consider moving there. It’s a great experience.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? Nothing. It was the not knowing that was exciting.