Interview with Mark Riddick
I noticed the introduction of the Morbid Visions book was written by your twin brother, Mike. Who was hatched first? Were you the ‘evil’ twin like on the cover of the Exodus album, “Bonded by Blood?”
My twin brother Mike was born first, he is 3 minutes older than me. Since we were premature, I was born in respiratory distress and only given a 10% survival rate; I was fortunate to beat the odds and have been in good health the past 40 years. Being a twin is a unique experience that is difficult to describe unless you are a twin yourself. We are identical twins which means we have the same DNA, a collection of shared experiences, and an innate bond that is unlike any other. I asked my brother to write the introduction to my new art book because he is more familiar with my work than anyone else. In addition, he has a solid understanding of the arts and has become an expert in some areas such as Renaissance plaquettes (renbronze.com/) wherein he has worked with other experts, collectors, and even galleries, such as the National Gallery of Art, in the field. He has a strong sense of design and knows what it takes to construct a legitimate work of art. Furthermore, it seemed appropriate to involve my brother in the book, especially since he was able to offer some insight into the early part of my art career by providing stories that most would be unfamiliar with.
On a more serious note, your brother mentioned in the introduction that your folks were generally supportive. At what point did you realize you could make a living as a professional artist and at what point did your parents come to the same realization?
My parents have always acknowledged and appreciated my creative outputs; I’ve been very fortunate in this regard. I don’t earn a living solely on my illustration work; I maintain a full time day job as a graphic designer. The illustration work I do takes place outside of my day career and my obligations to my wife and kids. It is really the product of my passion for drawing coupled with my obsession with heavy metal music—a labor of love. I believe my parents took note of my creative endeavors throughout my youth; they did their best to foster my interests, even if they appeared fringe on the surface.
Tell us bit about your preferred routine? Are you a late night, hanging out in the graveyard with candles for inspiration kind of artist or do you have more of a conventional studio/office with a plant and a cat?
I’m certainly a creature of habit and depend on routines to help me achieve the goals and obligations I set in front of myself each day. Most of my freelance illustration work takes place either late at night or very early in the morning so it has as little impact on my family life as possible. The time I spend on my freelance work is not only dedicated to drawing but also to other responsibilities such as keeping up with email, working with customers, updating my website and social media, answering interviews, focusing on items related to my visual brand such as printed matter, merchandise, and processing orders. I do have a home studio space wherein I’m surrounded by part of my music collection and original artwork I’ve collected by other artists from the underground metal scene, however I tend to work wherever is convenient.
Do you listen to metal much while working? What is on your playlist?
Yes, I listen to music frequently. Some of the bands I’ve been indulging in recent weeks include Father Befouled, Imprecation, Obituary, Absu, Hellripper, Morbid Angel, Funebre, Depravity, Claws, Rippikoulu, Front Beast, Horrified, Skelethal, and Sadistic Intent.
Have you experimented much with other mediums?
My Studio Art degree concentrated on painting however pen and ink is my mainstay. I would like to revisit painting again so I’ve been trying to take less work in 2017 so I can focus my attention on this endeavor as well as other things.
I know you have your own signature style but have you ever dabbled with other styles? For example, many death and thrash metal album covers are very bright, vibrant, colourful and even cartoon-like (Repka, Locke, etc). Have you ever gone down that road, to satisfy a client, or just to see how it would turn out?
While I certainly appreciate and respect Ed Repka’s and Vince Locke’s work, utilizing color would stray from my visual brand as an artist. My strict adherence to black and white pen and ink work is a throwback to the underground days of death metal when most demo covers and fanzines were reproduced on a black and white photocopier. It’s very important to me that my work embraces the nostalgic aesthetic associated with the genre. I’ve never changed my stylistic approach to appease a customer; most clients come to me for my specific style anyhow so it’s never been much of an issue.
I noticed a slight similarity with your art and perhaps that of Drew Elliott (Goreaphobia, Unsane, etc) Did you enjoy his art when you were younger? On similar lines, a boring question but what other metal artists inspired you to take up the pen?
Yes, I’ve had an appreciation for Drew Elliott’s work since witnessing his illustrations for bands like Amorphis, Exmortis, Goreaphobia, Necrophagia, etc. Other influences from the early 90s include Chris Moyen (Beherit, Blood, Necromantia, Incantation, etc.), Alfonso “Artgore” Ruiz (Pyphomgertum, R’lyeh, Cenotaph, etc.), Steve Somers (Phantasm, Mortal Dread, etc.), Paw Nielsen (Pan-Thy-Monium, Abhoth, Utumno, etc.), Kristian Wahlin (Grotesque, Desecrator, etc.), Vince Locke (Cannibal Corpse, etc.), Dan Seagrave (Entombed, Dismember, Gorguts, etc.), Wes Benscoter (Mortician, Sinister, etc.), Rob Smits (Avulsed, Broken Hope, etc.), and Phil Hampson (Nuclear Death, Execration, etc.). Since most of the demos and fanzines I collected in the early 90s utilized black and white pen drawings on their covers it seemed appropriate to take this direction with my own work.
Due to the graphic nature of some of your art, have ever got any flak from people who don’t ‘get’ it?
I can’t recall any particular scenario where I received criticism solely on the subject of my work. In my opinion, the creative process is void of ethics, it is a place where the imagination can embrace the fantastic without restraint. The bulk of my work resides within the niche of the heavy metal music industry, an arena where fringe ideas and extreme concepts live comfortably so there isn’t much opportunity for artistic confrontation. I stand firmly that if you don’t like the art then don’t look at it.
Who was the biggest artist you have had to work with?
Last year I was asked to come up with some merchandise pieces for Metallica, in support of their new album, however to my knowledge the sketches I provided to their management didn’t make the cut. It was a missed opportunity but the business of dealing with bigger bands is an unpredictable endeavor. I much prefer working with underground bands because the workflow process is much more convenient and the end result is more in synch with the client’s needs and ideals. I’ve had other major clients in the past but I despise dealing with contracts, I much prefer not having to handle paperwork.
Do most clients give you artistic free reign or do they give you a frame work to start with? Any high maintenance clients (no name necessary) that have tried to micro-manage your work?
The type of request I receive varies, some clients allow me complete creative freedom while others might be more specific about their needs. My personal preference is to work from minimal guidance, such as an illustration based on a song title or lyrics. I have had some challenging clients in the past but I’ve gotten much better about vetting the requests I take and tend to steer away from the clients who ask for too much in a drawing. If the composition of an illustration is to be successful, it can’t have too much visual clutter, otherwise the main points are lost.
You seem incredibly productive; how long does it take to do your average work of art?
I usually balance multiple assignments at a time but generally speaking I turn about one illustration around per week. I spend about 3-6 hours per drawing on average but some jobs are more demanding and some less.
As for your publishing, is it hard to find a publisher and/or market for your Morbid Visions book? On a similar line, why hard copies? It seems digital formats are overtaking most conventional print and publishing. For the record, I’m glad you still support and create coffee table art books!
Morbid Visions was published by Doomentia Press (Czech Republic), who published my previous two books—Logos from Hell and Compendium of Death. Working with Doomentia has been great; they always publish high quality products and since we’ve worked together in the past it seemed appropriate to collaborate on the Morbid Visions book with them. I’m not much of a fan of anything digital, I prefer tangible products so it was necessary to release the book as a physical product that a purchaser could take the time to hold and experience.
What is your #1 piece of advice for aspiring artists?
My key piece of advice to any aspiring or established artist is to remain passionate about your craft. Passion is the root of all motivation and without a sincere love for what you do it’s impossible to stay self-disciplined.
Thank you for the generous feature in Metal Rules, Joshua; I sincerely appreciate your time and support! For those interested in learning more about my artwork, please visit: www.riddickart.com