Inside The Vessel with Mark Conlan March 10 2021

Mark Conlan is an Irish-born, Melbourne-based illustrator who has created work for products, editorial, picture books, advertising and commercial projects. His style focuses on a strong use of character and composition empowered by whimsical and emotional situations. Incorporating rich and vibrant colour palettes, his aim is to produce atmospheric imagery.

Interview by Jessica Steger. Photography by Tatanja Ross.

We are excited to have The Vessel opening at Outré Fitzroy on 12 March! Please tell us about your idea behind the show and what people can expect to see.

Thanks very much, I’m very excited to be a part of this exhibition. To me the whole collection is all about a place to belong. Whether it’s a flower, an emotion or a place we feel comfortable. A vase/vessel is a happy means to portray this and injects some of my personality at the same time.

Tell us a little about your illustration background. What are some of your favourite pieces to have worked on?

I’ve been working in illustration for almost 6 years now and I’ve been very fortunate to work on some great campaigns with creatives on this journey. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some clients like New York Times, Airbnb and various others. I’ve recently finished up a job working with the team at the Melbourne Theatre Company pairing some illustrations for their new season’s plays and its campaign. It’s been a fun project full of conceptualization, colour and creativity.

Can you step us through your preliminary creative process? How do you approach starting a large body of work for an exhibition?

For this exhibition I guess some luck was on my side as I have been playing around with the narrative of limited colours and therefore their form of expression through my work. In particular I’ve been very interested in the shapes and negative space that birds, vases and flora create especially when combined. In a way this body of work is more of a continuation of my findings and recent explorations. My process is quite linear, as I can imagine it is for most creatives. I thrive on conceptualization and the concept of having fun whilst in turn portraying that to the audience.

Do you have any daily rituals to help keep the creative juices flowing, like keeping a visual journal of sketches and ideas?

Not particularly in terms of rituals but I’m definitely an avid sketcher. I always carry a sketchbook pretty much anywhere with me just in case the timings right. Personally I believe keeping the sketching muscle going is a great way to keep the creative mind in tune.

Describe a real life situation that may have inspired your work.

I often say this but I try not be inspired by particular things, but remain inspired by everything as a whole, so that way the everyday little moments are usually triggers for inspiration. So, who knows? Maybe I had been looking out of the window one day, and subconsciously was looking at the birds and flowers and created a narrative in my head for future inspiration, haha. But realistically I am inspired by Grecian and Ancient artworks, so I guess we can draw on some of that.

Can you tell us in what ways has your career developed and changed over the years?

Good question. I originally studied classical and computer animation. When I moved to London I started working as a self-taught Graphic Designer. I guess I never realised that illustration was a career until moving to Melbourne nearly 6 years ago and diving in headfirst. It’s not been the easiest changing career direction so many times but I think I’ve learnt so much in the process and I feel so grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been allowed.

What would be a dream project to work on or something you've been looking to experiment with further?

I’ve been experimenting more and more with objects. Painting and drawing onto objects bringing my artwork from 2D to 3D objects can really change your perspective on how you plan, create and in turn portray it. I’d love to continue on with this trend and begin to develop more of a series of ceramics. If I could collaborate with an individual or brand to bring my illustration to life through a range of ceramics that would be an interesting direction.

Your illustrations translate so beautifully into animation. Tell us about your experience making the Unexpected Discoveries animated short film. Is this something people can expect to see more of in future?

Yes, I’d definitely love to work on more animated videos like this. The animators and I have been talking about doing another follow up to this if time allows it. The process of animation is quite long and tedious, there’s a lot of dedication involved. But seeing your work come to life in that manner is definitely inspiring. It allows for a new platform and perspective.

What do you like most like about being an artist?

I like being able to express myself on a daily basis. I love that I can provoke reactions through my creativity whether good or bad. I think this is one of the most privileged things an artist can have.

Who are some of your biggest influences?

To be honest I’m super inspired by so many artists around me and what they achieve on a daily basis. There are probably too many to name but I’m not just inspired by other artists but periods in time. Forms of expression, simplicity, colour and many other defining factors.

For any budding artists out there, what is the best piece of artistic advice you've been given? Or do you have any words of wisdom of your own to share?

My number one thing that I’ve stuck through with time, apart from hard work, is being patient. Being patient has been key to getting where I am today. Being patient for the right opportunities. Being patient to meet the right people and being patient to allow all my work to develop in time. And, FUN! Just have fun and express yourself through this means and you can’t go wrong.

Thank you for chatting to us, Mark!