“When Kate Donnelly asked me to do a guest interview and I immediately thought of my friend, Marcos Chin. I first met Marcos at The Illustration Conference (ICON4) that took place in San Francisco in 2004. Whenever I see Marcos whether we talk about work, teaching or Beyoncé, I always come away feeling inspired.”
“My studio is in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I believe the building was a former sewing factory. Imagine the space filled with industrial sewing machines and the shuffling of workers’ feet, back and forth from their stations. When I first entered this building, I loved it immediately for this fact alone – that it was raw and looked nothing like an office. Currently, the two disciplines with a growing presence in my studio are sewing and silkscreening.
I have an entire set-up devoted to silkscreening, a make-shift dark-room, and a UV light exposure unit that my boyfriend built which allows me to burn, or shoot my images onto a screen (on location) and print from it. It’s very DIY (do-it-yourself), but works beautifully and is very inexpensive because I don’t have to contract this part of my process. My space changes depending on my creative needs. I’ve already rearranged my studio three or four times. My belief as an artist and illustrator, is my work is an extension of who I am; so if I change as a person, so does my work and environment.”
Marcos Chin graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design, in Toronto, Canada. Since then, his work has appeared on book covers, advertisements, fashion catalogues, magazines, and CD covers. He received a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators Los Angeles, and has had his work published in numerous award annuals such as Communication Arts and American Illustration. Perhaps the most recognizable work amidst his portfolio are his illustrations for Lavalife’s international advertising campaign which have appeared on subways, billboards, print and online. Marcos has given lectures throughout the US and abroad, and currently lives in New York, where he teaches Illustration at the School of Visual Arts.
Ellen Weinstein: What is a typical day in your studio?
Marcos Chin: Arriving early, sometimes before 7:30am, doing administrative tasks, and working on commercial illustration projects. I like having several pieces going at once. I also have personal work I do alongside my commercial work. I might take evening and weekend classes to broaden my studio practice (which I am doing now). Usually, I spend about ten hours working with breaks. I also teach part-time at the School of Visual Arts, and occasionally have meetings and other commitments outside of the studio.
I work the best when I’m unedited and uncompromised; when I can comfortably sit in a space and be uncomfortable.
EW: Is your schedule different in your own studio versus sharing one with Yuko Shimizu?
MC: When I shared space with Yuko (Shimizu) and Katie Yamasaki in Manhattan, I had a similar work schedule. However, most of the work I did existed in front of the computer. Nowadays, it’s freeing to expand into every area of my studio whether it’s sculpting, painting, sewing, silk screening, or dyeing fabric and not have to worry about anyone else. I work best when I’m unedited, uncompromised; when I can comfortably sit in a space and be uncomfortable, creating something, and then throwing it on the floor, putting something else up on the wall, and tearing it down, over and over again. Itʼs this playful quality I believe helps me to remain creatively engaged in whatever Iʼm doing.
EW: I agree it’s important to be comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s tempting to spend the most time doing what we feel we do best but that can keep us from moving forward.
EW: You have an interesting background being born in Mozambique, emigrating to Toronto and moving to New York. How has that informed your work?
MC: I wanted to believe my culture and ethnicity had a stronger influence on my work. My background sounds exotic, but I was young and both of my parents were working full-time, so much of the information I took in came from American and Canadian television programs, time with my friends and my aunt, who took care of me until I was ten years old.
Growing up, along with my familyʼs history, has affected my work ethic over the content of my work. There was a mass exodus from Mozambique in the mid 1970’s and my family (and thousands more) fled the country at the beginning of civil war. I was too young to remember any of this. When my parents moved to Canada it was the typical immigrant story: work hard and you and your children will prosper. In spite of our culture and ethnicity, it was more important for my brother, sister and I to integrate among peers, which meant speaking perfect English and learning how to be equal to those around us.
We celebrated our culture at home, but minimally. As I got older, I forgot how to speak Cantonese and wished I was less Chinese. It was near the end of art school, I finally felt empowered to explore and engage in those parts of me that were different and special, from those around me. I also came-out as gay and used sexuality, history, ethnicity, and gender to inform vocabulary in my artwork. Many of these pieces haven’t had an audience, nor much success compared to my commercial work, but I continue to work on them as I believe they impact and inform my entire studio practice.
My advice to young illustrators is to work hard, be prolific; practice makes perfect, and work begets work.
EW: You very generously shared with my class your student work. It is amazing to see the transformation. What is your advice for students and young illustrators today?
MC: My advice to young illustrators is to work hard, be prolific, practice makes perfect, and that work begets work. Iʼve learned this industry doesn’t keep secrets to success. This sounds cliché, but friends and acquaintances who have achieved success loved what they did and worked incredibly hard. Keep an open mind. The landscape of our industry is changing, opening new possibilities and challenging our notions of what illustration is. There are purists who revere this art and craft as being a certain way, narrowly celebrating the Sargeants, Rockwells, Lyendeckers and Pyles, but there’s room for those who choose not to creatively explore that direction within their work, not only in way of content, but in terms of aesthetic style, and media. People talk about traditional forms of drawing and painting versus digital ways; is one better than the other? I donʼt see that it matters, only whatever is created within the illustration discipline is visually and conceptual provoking.
In the words of Erykah Badu, “I’m an artist, and so I’m sensitive about my sh*t.”
EW: I think it’s an exciting time in illustration because of the changes. There’s room for different directions, not only in the aesthetics of the work itself, but in the different applications and possible venues for it.
MC: When I suggest “openness,” allow yourself to play, make mistakes and create work outside of whatever style one is comfortable with. I continue to create work in medias that very few people see. I believe in the concept of magic rising out of uncomfortable experiences. Being able to regularly assign part of oneʼs day or week to play around and create piece(s) commissioned by oneself, can lift an illustrators work to a higher level, lessen burn-out and create a kind of career longevity.
EW: It seems that many of us have animal muses. Is Rita (your dog) a cheerleader or a harsh critic?
MC: Rita is definitely a cheerleader… she needs to be because in the words of Erykah Badu, “I’m an artist, and so I’m sensitive about my sh*t.”
Follow Marcos blog here.