Studio Visit

Illustrator And Designer Mark Conlan On Finding Your Style, And Embracing It!

Last year our Art Director Annie Portelli went to Los Angeles for the blockbuster annual Adobe MAX Creativity Conference (you can read more about some of the amazing creatives she encountered here!).

Whilst there, Annie caught up with Mark Conlan, an Irish-born, Melbourne-based illustrator with some massive names on his client list! After  taking in the incredible talks, workshops and discussion with some of the world’s greatest creatives at the conference, Annie and Mark had an honest chat about how Mark has forged his path as a graphic designer – even though he never studied it!

Annie Portelli
Sponsored by Adobe MAX

Irish illustrator Mark Conlan in his studio. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Artwork by Mark Conlan.

Mark is a self-taught graphic designer and illustrator! Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Mark was invited to Adobe MAX Creativity Conference this year. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Artwork by Mark Conlan.

Mark has a range of high-profile clients that come to him for his specific design aesthetic. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Mark working in Adobe. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Artwork by Mark Conlan.

Mark is known for his playful illustration style. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Artwork by Mark Conlan.

Details of Mark’s studio. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Annie Portelli
28th of January 2020

Mark Conlan is a multi-disciplinary illustrator and graphic designer, living and working in Melbourne. He’s lent his warm, playful style to some pretty major companies including The Age, Coca Cola, and The New York Times! Although he had a creative background, he never actually studied graphic design, forging his path without any real ‘rules’ or guidelines.

After I met Mark at the Adobe MAX Creativity Conference in LA last year, we caught up for a chat about his stellar career path – from finding his feet as a designer, to developing his own distinct style.

How long have you been an illustrator, where did it all begin?

Four years now, so it’s still kind of new. I have been in the creative field for a little while now though. I studied hand-drawn and computer animation at university.

After leaving university,  I was so excited about the future. You think ‘Oh yay I’m going to work in this job forever’ and then you realise that there are no jobs out there, so that was really depressing. So I ended up working at Urban Outfitters for a few years where I was able to work as a display artist, so I had a more hands-on approach. I then moved to London and started working as a self-initiated graphic designer.

So you weren’t trained as a graphic designer, but you still worked as one?

Yeah, I just went for it! It was dangerous, but it was fun! I had creativity behind me so that helped BUT of course if I had actually studied graphic design that would have definitely helped to make my life, and the process a lot easier. But there’s so much fun in that too!

If you don’t have all of those rules in front of you, you can just go straight in, there are no barriers.

‘finding your style’ seems to be almost a buzz term at this ADOBE MAX. How did you go about finding yours, what are the challenges?

I don’t think everyone finds their style fully, eventually over years of practising you will evolve and take your work to different places. You may have an ‘identity’ but your style is always rolling through as you start picking up new things along the way which will inevitably evolve your style.

How do you adapt your playful style to the sometimes serious or corporate companies you work with (including Coca-Cola, Bank of Melbourne + The Age). Where’s the balance? Is there a compromise, Or do you just give them everything you’ve got?

I think nowadays, respect has changed for us illustrators, and illustration in general. I think years ago creatives were expected to be a ‘jack of all trades’ and have several styles which they could adapt to different briefs or clients needs. But these days, brands come to the illustrator for their style… so people come to me and hire me because they love my work, and they want my work to speak for their brand. 

Finally, I have to ask you if you have a dream client? Have you been on the cover of the New Yorker yet!?

You know what, I haven’t been in The New Yorker yet, but I guess they would be a dream client! I need to find a contact there. I would love that! (Call out to anyone who has a contact, hit us up!)

Another thing I’ve always dreamed of is getting my work on one of our Melbourne trams, that would be cool. But I’m really into public art, I’d love to do a mural too. Maybe in 2020!

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