Metal On Loud Magazine is honoured to see on its pages one of the most outstanding rock/heavy metal artists, Mark Wilkinson! Thank you sir, for agreeing to answer our questions.
You have worked with such bands and musicians as Marillion, Fish, Jimmy Page, The Who, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, etc. which of your works do you consider the most satisfactory and why?
Painkiller for Judas Priest was perhaps the first artwork for a Metal band that got me noticed in that genre. It led onto a lot of commissions and general interest from the Metal community. Before that, the series of posters I designed for the Donington “Monsters of Rock Festival” during the early years was directly responsible for Judas Priest’s management noticing my work and calling me. They were familiar with the album art for Marillion of course but specifically asked for “no jesters please”. They wanted to establish a darker vision; a Metal creature that might continue through to the albums that followed. So the winged angel that was so brilliantly painted by Patrick Woodroffe for “Sad Wings of Destiny” (my all time favourite album cover) was my starting point, and I began to consider how could this be developed in my own style. It has carried on right through to “Angel of Retribution” and even to their latest album “Redeemer of Souls”where it was given an ‘evil preacher’ variation.
Last year’s Iron Maiden artwork for “Book of Souls” was another milestone for me. I had worked for them before, but was never entrusted with a full album cover and concept. It did take some time as I was tasked with bringing Eddie back, but in a different way somehow. I tried to imagine him in a hyper realistic way, the skin almost visceral with detail. Steve had asked for the voodoo markings so it made sense to have him coming out of the shadows. A more simple design for a cover, with the big reveal inside the album with the exploding stone god version, and the band seemingly sculpted into the two totems either side.
Can you open a secret to our readers: what are your personal music tastes? What music do you prefer to listen to?
In terms of metal I would have to say Tool, and all of Maynard James Keenan’s side projects, especially Puscifer. Their last two albums have been fantastic. I’m seeing Puscifer at The Roundhouse end of May. Tool totally broke the mould and I also loved their artwork—Alex Grey in particular for “Lateralus” astonished me.
I know that this is a frequently asked question, but can you please tell Metal On Loud Magazine readers what is your favourite technique and why?
I started off in the 80’s using an airbrush with acrylic inks on line-board—and still use them on occasion to this day—but the switch to colouring in the designs digitally meant a huge breakthrough for me, certainly as far as speed was concerned. I was terribly slow using the airbrush, so if I do use it now, it has to be the right project, where I’m given a ridiculous amount of time. I mostly do my commissioned art digitally now though, but try hard to make it not look digital.
You work in a surrealistic style. How are all these images born? What inspires you?
Everything! From comic art to painters like Francis Bacon. I like the hyper realists, or ‘magic realism’ as some call it; the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism with painters like Ernst Fuchs and Rudolf Hausner were an inspiration.
What contemporary artists/illustrators do you respect as professionals and highly talented people?
I love Paul Romano’s work for Mastodon, Alex Grey as I said before, and John Dyer Baizley’s work for Baroness is astonishing.
I am a lucky owner of the deluxe edition of Iron Maiden‘s “The Book Of Souls” CD. Brilliant music, fantastic artwork! Can you tell us, Mark, what moments were the most memorable for you during your work with this album?
Getting the cover sorted out came after the main illustration inside—which I spent ages on—but the face of Eddie still wasn’t completely satisfying everyone. Steve really wanted me to try voodoo markings so I had to go back to basic visuals to nail it, and that was what was used for the cover. Once the face worked, I felt I could relax a bit. Sometimes it goes like that. You push and push in a certain direction and feel totally happy with what you are doing, but suggestions are coming in the whole time when a band as big as Iron Maiden are employing you. It’s very much a collaborative process as Rod has a very particular vision, and so does Steve—and I do too for that matter. Everything goes into the pot, you stir it up, and see what works and what doesn’t. You cannot afford to get too precious or protective about any project really. In the end, it’s the work that matters, but for me I felt an extra burden as I knew this band’s fans had a huge amount of expectation about the artwork. I wanted to deliver something they would be satisfied with, but it was very important to me that it was in my style, not trying to copy anything that had gone before.
Sorry for a personal question. Did it happen that collaboration with artists grew into a friendship with band members? If so, who are these friends? What do you appreciate them for?
I’m close to Fish, and consider him a trusted friend outside of the work relationship.
What Heavy Metal band of those who are popular now would you like to work with?
I’ve realised more and more over the years that if it’s going to happen it will—no point in regret. I always said if Pink Floyd hadn’t had Storm, we would all relate to that band in a different way because his visuals were integral to how we perceived them. There are a lot of designers who try to emulate him now but never get close. Same goes for Yes with Roger Dean, and now Steven Wilson, another artist I admire who works with Lasse Hoile on visuals. I would have loved to work for Porcupine Tree at one stage early on—and I made that known—but it wasn’t to be.
Where can art fans buy your artworks/prints?
What advice can you give to young artists and Rock/Metal bands on how to find or meet that soulmate who will illustrate their music?
Ah, it’s never easy. If it was life would be simpler. My experiences were totally different to the avenues available now online. In the old days it was just me, lugging a huge portfolio case round London in the late 70’s knocking on doors. Nine times out of ten I would leave empty handed. It took me 4 years to get anywhere. You have to believe in yourself, because if you don’t then no one else will. Best practical advice now is to get on Pinterest, DeviantArt or Instagram; ANYWHERE to be seen. Go and see bands—pester them after the gig if you can get past the roadies—or send them stuff online. Be persistent. If your work is good enough, someone will eventually notice you and hopefully give you a chance. I was within a few months of giving up in 1981 when an unexpected encounter with a design group who were working for a new band signed by EMI turned up. That band was Marillion, and I was on my way. Doors began to open that were previously shut. There was no reason for it. Sometimes when you are about to give up, you don’t realise how close you are to a breakthrough.
Thank you very much, Mark, for your amazing art and time spent with Metal On Loud Magazine!