I prefer to paint everything and generally feel uncomfortable doing anything else,” says artist and illustrator Mark Boardman, whose striking oil paintings feature on a series of self-initiated book covers
Boardman, a graduate of University College Falmouth, prefers to work with oils, enjoying the immediacy of a medium that allows him to “get an idea down quickly and, hopefully, succinctly. Acrylics feel lifeless in comparison,” he says, “and while I’ve tried most things at least once, I’m considering getting back to basics with ink in the future.”
His series of covers for classic novels, which initially caught cr’s eye, were all completed while studying at Falmouth. “I do have an interest in the particular books,” he says of the novels, which include Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. “They’re similar in that they deal with aspects of humanity often quite sympathetically, which is the kind of writing that I enjoy most.
“I always look to capture whatever I’m portraying as an emotional whole,” he adds, “if I focus on a certain event in a book, then it’s only because I feel it’s summative of the work. It’s all about either giving the reader an overview of what to expect from the book, or visualising how it affects them.”
Citing figures from the golden age of American illustration – such as Norman Rockwell and JC Leyendecker – as pivotal in his own development, Boardman sees the influence of these artists in more than stylistic terms. “They share a connection, to me anyway, not only in their fluid brushwork,” he says, “but in their sense of design and abstraction, which is something that I value over everything else.”
As a painter, Boardman is keen to exploit the overlap between fine art and illustration and balance personal projects with commissioned projects (he’s yet to be signed up to an illustration agency, but has considered looking for representation). Indeed, rather than beginning his works as personal pieces, he stresses that he sets out with the goal of illustrating a book cover or a poster (be it for one of Colorado’s national parks, or a theatre production of Macbeth).
“Great illustration can be as intellectually stimulating as a great piece of fine art,” he says, “and commercialism is a complete non-issue when it comes down to producing great work.” Boardman is clearly aware of how best to exploit the crossovers between these disciplines – but what of his nascent role as an artist? Does that come with a degree of responsibility, particularly when employing one’s skills within the commercial world? “We all have equal social and political responsibilities,” he says, “but for artists specifically I’d say we have a responsibility to enlighten; whether it’s about the environment, the depth of human kindness, or what those Dan Brown books are about.”
Looking at Boardman’s reading list to date, Dan Brown’s ecclesiastical fantasies might not quite be on his radar, but he’s only really scratched the surface of illustrating classic literature. Going on the strength of his one Shakespeare poster, we suspect that the bard’s collected works might well be in for an update soon.