Colin Marks: The Unseen Empire

Do you know the name Colin Marks? You might not…but if you follow metal music at all, you know his work…He has a well-defined gritty photo based style which transforms you into a distant dark place….Let’s learn more about Colin…

How did you get your start?
When I started I was also holding down a full time job with a design studio doing fairly mundane tasks (retouching, simple product advertising etc..) and started freelancing on the side. Gradually the freelance work progressed to the point where it became my full time job. I very briefly had an agent , doing the occasional small book cover and editorial piece, nothing big. But again my own personal freelance work kind of took over. I can’t recall how the first few bands found me, but there was a couple of small UK bands that I created cover art for their first self-financed releases. The first band which really helped start the ball rolling was probably The End for their album ‘Elementary’. That seemed to get a positive reaction and gradually people started getting in touch. It’s still one of my favorite albums I’ve worked on. I spent a week or so with the guys in the band and it was a lot of fun putting it all together.

Have you always worked in your current style and if not how did you work before?
I had more of a fine art background so all of my personal work was hand painted. I did a mixture of collage and hand painting. It was only when I got into computers that I started developing things into something that it seemed could adapt to commercial uses.

Who are your artistic influences?
When I was a lot younger I was always trying (and failing) to copy covers by artists like Ed Repka and Derek Riggs. Dan Seagrave’s stuff is always great. I discovered the paintings of Ken Currie in a tiny exhibition in London once a long time ago, and was blown away. Been a fan ever since. Of course Dave Mckean is clearly an influence too.

What words best describe your artistic style?
I don’t know. It’s pretty dark I guess in tone. It relies heavily on photography which I shoot myself.

Tell us about your studio space?
My studio is a spare bedroom in the house which I’ve converted into a studio for myself. It’s nothing too glamorous, couple of desks, sofa, 2 computers, all the photography equipment and a couple of studio lights for shooting stuff,…Also tons of CD’s, loads of art notebooks, a few old paintings, and a random selection of collected bits and pieces – props from past projects and stuff.

Take us through a typical day.
The time I surface varies, but generally around 9 I guess. I get up, feed the cats, have coffee, check and reply emails, and start planning work. Usually I’ll just work straight through and call it a day late evening around 10 or so. If I’m on a roll I’ll just work straight through the night

How do you create your work? Take us through the process from concept to final.
Usually the band will have some general idea of what they want, even if it’s pretty vague. Occasionally they’ll just ask me to generate my own ideas based on their album title or lyrical themes. And then we’ll go over the ideas, and once approved I start getting the imagery together. I always sketch out the ideas beforehand and plan it out. More often than not I’ll need to custom shoot some of the photography needed, especially where models are involved. then just start building things up, and when it gets to a point I’m happy with and which best reflects the concept I’ll send to the band for approval. Often a few small changes are required here and there, but usually all within reason.

What materials do you use? How much if any is done on the computer?
The majority of my work uses photography, and then compiled and manipulated on the computer. Often I’ll use painted or handmade textures, but the main foundation is photography.

Do you use reference materials or does all of it come from your head?
I think there’s always some kind of reference, or inspiration that generates the final idea. Music and film are both great sources of inspiration, and the work of other artists too. There’s always music on throughout the day. I always try to listen to the band I’m working with when coming up with ideas, I think that’s important.

How much direction do you like from the band?
Varies by project. Sometimes it’s great when a band has a very specific vision of what they’d like, and to take their vision and bring it to life, but it’s also nice to be given free reign at times, and to try out something different.

Do you have an advice for artist’s who wish to do artwork for bands?
It’s not an easy profession to make a career out of. In terms of starting out I’d say it’s good to start off pretty basic. Get in touch with bands and be prepared to work for little money (or free) to build up a strong portfolio of work, a nice simple website, and use that to sell yourself. As much as possible try to develop a recognizable style that feels natural, and be patient.

What are you currently working on?
I just finished the 2nd solo album by Jeff Loomis which came out great. I’ve worked with Jeff a couple of times and it’s always a pleasure. Also the upcoming Kataklysm DVD which should see the light of day soon. I’m finishing up the new record for Beyond Terror Beyond Grace which I think hits the shelves in a couple of months. And new albums for Make Them Suffer, Allegaeon and Mechanical God Creation. I’ve been creating a lot of artwork for movie related projects over the last couple of years and that’s an area I find I really enjoy. It tends to be a lot faster paced. A lot of poster and dvd design – some lighter, less bleak material.

Do you have any dream projects?
The ‘Chaos Years’ project for Strapping Young Lad came out of nowhere, so that was a dream job straight away. I’d love to work with Devin again at some point. It’d be amazing to work with an artist like Bjork. Also other musicians outside of the metal genre.

What are your favorite bands of all time and what bands are you listening to right now?
Difficult to say. When I was younger I was crazy about Megadeth and Iron Maiden. ‘City’ and ‘Ocean Machine’ by Devin Townsend had a huge impact on me when it came out…..I like Paradise Lost, Fields of the Nephilim,  Bruce Springsteen, Mark Kozelek, Van Morrison…I listen to a lot of varied stuff. The last Killing Joke record was great, and ‘After’ by Ihsahn too. At the moment ‘Nebraska’ by Springsteen comes on at some point everyday.

What artists would you like to see on MBA?
Probably Ed Repka. His cover art for ‘Peace Sells But Who’s Buying’ was the reason I bought the record and became a Megadeth fan.

About Vertebrae33

Through hard work and dedication, Vertebrae33 has established himself as one of the most prolific and exciting illustrators on the scene today.  He has received much acclaim as of late for his innovative designs, attention to detail, and wholly unique, raw style.