“I had seen his setup of acrylic paints, the colors he’d use and how he lined them up on a piece of wet paper towel so they’d stay wet for a few days. So I set myself up that way, and started drawing and painting lamps and stuff, and every once in a while he’d pass by and go, ‘Well! That’s interesting, but what if you did this?’”
Mark Hess has been drawing and painting for as long as he can remember. His passion for work, love for art, and love for people, combined with a creative curiosity, have always pushed him to discover new techniques and to delve into various disciplines in addition to illustration. He’s received hundreds of awards from art journals and organizations worldwide, and has created scores of magazine, book, and record covers, as well as ad campaigns. He lives in a rural setting near NYC with his wife of 45 years.
Apprenticeship in the arts is a tradition with long roots. However, over the last century or so, college degree programs have mostly replaced apprenticeships in the arts. Mark, however, is among the very few painters alive today who learned his craft as an apprentice. His career as a painter began at the side of his father, acclaimed painter, graphic designer, and fellow Graphis Master Richard Hess (1934–1991).
Here’s a snippet from Mark Hess’s interview:
How did your apprenticeship start?
Well, neither of us really knew how it should go. The old man had been a guest lecturer in classes, but he was never a teacher. He was popular and always in demand as a designer, as well as an illustrator. As a result, he was always overworked, never sleeping for more than four hours a night, and he took every assignment that was offered to him… So when I came to his office during the day, he’d be really busy and just kind of ignore me. He then set me up with a little drawing table in the corner and I would just doodle and fuss around, and maybe he’d say, “Okay, here’s an assignment: there’s a guy sitting by the water and in his reflection, the guy’s eyes are open but in the real life his eyes are closed.” That was actually one of my first assignments from him, and I was like, “Umm… What?” So I worked out this sketch and started painting, even though I thought it was crazy, and he didn’t actually tell me anything about how to do it. I had seen his setup of acrylic paints, the colors he’d use and how he lined them up on a piece of wet paper towel so they’d stay wet for a few days. So I set myself up that way, and started drawing and painting lamps and stuff, and every once in a while he’d pass by and go, “Well! That’s interesting, but what if you did this?” And he’d get me up and he’d sit down and take the brush, and he’d start painting. He’d be like, “See how on this tree, if you make the light come from this way, you can get the bark to do this…” And I would sit there in rapt awe, because he would take what I thought was pretty shitty and make it something that looked really cool. Then I’d sit there and paint all these little trees, based on what he said. He did that once with clouds, and once with some bricks from a building I was doing—he’d literally spend about ten minutes with me, then walk away, because he was busy. Then at night, after the hubbub of the day was done, at maybe 7 o’clock, he’d come back from dinner and we’d sit from then until 11 or 12, just painting near each other—or he’d do his design work and I’d paint—and it was the same. He might come over and say, “Oh, you’re using cadmium red… Use red ocher instead.” He’d give me little hints like that.
Read more of Mark Hess’ interview and discover other great artists and educators in Graphis Journal #374, which you can purchase online at graphis.com.