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In Conversation With: Marcos Chin, Illustrator

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NERD Productions illustrator on working with HBO on the 'Art the Throne' experience and changing perceptions with his art

In Conversation With: Marcos Chin, Illustrator

With an impressive client list featuring the likes of Google, Starbucks, Target, Michael Kors and HBO to name a few, illustrator Marcos Chin is truly a creative chameleon; his work is as varied as it is beautiful.

The NERD Productions illustrator's work has appeared on high profile surface and wall designs, covers of bestselling books, CDs, advertising campaigns, fashion catalogues and magazines.

Here, Marcos discusses his influences, working with HBO on the 'Art the Throne' GoT experience, and changing perceptions with his art.

Q> You’ve got quite an eclectic background! Please tell us about yourself and how you originally got into illustration and design?

Marcos Chin> Mine is an immigrant story. I was born in Mozambique, Africa but my parents, siblings and extended family left in the mid 1970s because of civil war. We eventually moved to Toronto, Canada after spending some time in Portugal, and it was in Toronto where I spent most of my life. I come from a working class family, my father was a janitor and worked in factories, and my mother did data entry for a company for decades. I don't come from an artistic family but I have always loved to draw. I decided to go to art college and somehow ended up choosing to pursue illustration formally when I stumbled upon the work of Illustration students whose work was displayed in the hallways. Illustration at that time was the closest thing that aligned with my love of drawing. Although I did have a short stint studying fine art for one year in University, illustration allowed me a platform to tell stories through pictures. Shortly after graduating from art college I was commissioned to work on a project for an online dating company called Lavalife. It was this project that set the trajectory for the beginning part of my career; because of its huge media buy, my work was seen by a large audience and I believe this gave me credibility as a young artist in the eyes of clients, art directors and designers - those individuals who had the power to hire me for work.

Q> You have a varied CV covering everything from high profile surface and wall designs, covers of bestselling books, CDs, advertising campaigns, fashion catalogues and magazines. Do you have a preference of projects you like to work on?

MC> I really don't have a preference on the kind of projects I work on - each one is very different. However, I have grown less fond of working on projects that are didactic or have a straight forward narrative about it. I like ones where I collaborate more deeply with the art director or designers who have a vision, and whose application (for the project) is something beyond a conventional print application.

Q> You’ve just had your first colouring book 'Mermaids in Wonderland' published by Harper Collins. How did this project come about?

MC> Actually, this is my second colouring book in a series of three. How it came about was that I already had a book idea that I had been pitching to publishers. I sent my book dummy to an acquaintance of mine, who is a designer. He put me in touch with some publishers, one of whom was (and is) an editor at HarperCollins. Although she was not interested in my book proposal, she did want to collaborate in some capacity. After our meeting, we didn't speak for about a year, and then one day I received an email from her asking if I was interested in creating a series of colouring books. 

Q> Who and what are your influences?

MC> This is a tricky question to answer because my influences have changed so much over the years and continue to change. I can say that growing up I was very interested in comics, cartoons, anime and manga, and I feel these particular art forms have found their way into my work. Also, I have been very interested in fashion since I was a little boy, and this love of mine has continued into and throughout my adulthood. Although my work’s content is not heavily rooted in fashion, I draw from it very often, and use it inspire and inform the spirit of my pieces.

Q> Tell us how you landed Game of Thrones 'Art the Throne', are you a GOT fan?

MC> It's not a very romantic story. This project literally fell into my lap. It was initially commissioned to my friend but she isn't a fan of the show. Knowing that I am, she referred the project to me.

Q> Some of your illustrations focus strongly on identity and equality. Is it important for you create passion projects such as these? 

MC> It is. I think especially in the social and political climate we're living in now, being able to reflect the world around me in a way that I believe is more inclusive and empathetic is incredibly important. Growing up I rarely saw myself reflected in the media, and when I did see someone who was Asian they were usually a side character, or a parody of what the media thought Asian people were like; we were unattractive, funny, and couldn’t speak English. Asian women were fetishised, and Asian men were emasculated. As I got older, my sexuality became revealed and began to exist on the forefront of my life. As a gay man, I remember what it was like growing up in a closeted space; at that time, the media supported the shame that I felt about my queerness and my body by describing gay characters on TV or in film in a negative way by calling us sissies, faggots, carriers of disease, less-than and the other.

At some point, I decided to begin to introduce characters and content into my work that reflected the world I lived in, as well as the people with whom I chose to surround myself. Sometimes these images were of individuals socialising or shopping; mundane superficial stuff, but to me the decision to colour the skin of my protagonist brown instead of white, or to make two characters kissing in an illustration of two women as opposed to a woman and a man, became an act of subversion. My work is not obviously political but as someone who has a commercial platform on which to display his pictures, my drive is to help make visible those parts of me that were forced to become invisible for so long. In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book, 'We Should All Be Feminists,' she says, “If we do something over and over, it becomes normal. If we see the same thing over and over, it becomes normal.” 

Q> Tell us about your relationship with NERD Productions and how your business relationship came about?

MC> Milana Karaica [Executive Producer at NERD] came across one of my illustrations that I did for MTA Arts and Design; a piece that celebrated the centennial year of Grand Central Terminal in New York as well as fashion. I’m happy it was this piece that she connected with because I think it describes the spirit of my work in a genuine way. My pictures tell stories or communicate messages and ideas, but I try to do it in a way that feels surprising to the viewer, so that it’s not perceived as being too linear or didactic. In this piece, I transformed some of the beautiful architectural details of the terminal into fashion pieces that are worn by passersby and turned the station into a runway. When Milana and I spoke for the first time, I hadn’t had an agent for over a year (although I have had several for most of my career). My decision to go solo was due mostly to my desire to expand the kind of work I wanted to do, and to have my agent act as an equal collaborator as opposed to having my work merely sit on their online shelf collecting dust. As an illustrator whose work has been rooted mostly in print and editorial, I wanted to collaborate with creative individuals who worked primarily in creative (visual or non-visual) fields outside of my own, and to work with them in a way where we could build projects together that would transcend traditional print (i.e. animations and videos, installations, etc.). I knew from looking at the work that Milana had already done, and the way in which she spoke about NERD’s intention/mission that she was someone who had foresight, and could fulfil that role. NERD’s ability to embrace and organise collaborations amongst individuals working in various disciplines is something that deeply appeals to me.

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NERD Productions, Thu, 31 Aug 2017 14:32:25 GMT