Marcos Chin

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With illustrative works that have graced the pages of internationally renowned magazines and newspapers to award winning agency ad campaigns, Marcos Chin has become one of North America’s most recognized illustrators. With a highly impressive body of work, most notably Lavalife’s infamous “it’s raining men” ad campaign, Chin has yet to slow. Now passing on his celebrated talent through his teachings at the School of Visual Arts in New York, Chin has developed a healthy work/live balance since his beginnings at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, Canada.

“My belief is that if you are a good illustrator, you should be able to draw anything and work with any type of client, be it fashion and lifestyle, political, sports or science.”

Format: Would you care to introduce yourself?
Marcos: My name is Marcos Chin and I work as a freelance illustrator.

Format: You’ve achieved international success in a short 10 years since graduating from Ontario College of Art and Design. What has been most influential in your success?
Marcos: In addition to having received a great deal of help and support from former instructors, family, and friends, I would have to say that my strong work ethic is truly the primary reason that I am where I am today. Growing up, hard work, and discipline were paramount. I think that it was mostly through observation that my brother, sister, and I were taught to embrace a strong work ethic. When we moved to Canada from Mozambique (because of civil war), my parents, along with thousands of others, had so much taken away from them in way of money and possessions. So I grew up in an environment where my parents worked constantly in order to rebuild a life for themselves and their family in a new country. I witnessed not just their strong work ethic, but also their resilience. And so, there was a part of me that wanted to make my parents proud via my own success and to, in some capacity, make up for my “have-nots” growing up.

Format: Tell us about the success of the Lavalife creative campaigns.
Marcos: I think much of the success of the Lavalife campaign was derived from the brilliants “thinkers” at Zig (an advertising agency in Toronto). They came up with all of the concepts for the ads, and fortunately chose me to visually bring their ideas to life. Lavalife, which is an online dating service, launched their illustrated campaign in New York City around 2001 (I think). Fortunately, it did well and expanded outside of New York City, into other cities within the United States. It continued to do well, and then expanded into Canada and finally overseas. But again, I think the main reason why it has had so much longevity and impact was because of its strong art direction.

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Format: What were the challenges with the Lavalife campaign?
Marcos: The one challenge that stood out was the short time in which I was given to illustrate the ads from a rough pencil stage to a final digital illustration. For example, in the advertisement ‘Raining Men,’ I drew every person inside of each raindrop. If I had a been a photographer, I could have done a casting; instead, I had to “draw” my models one by one and then show them to the art directors and client to receive feedback. Because this was an online dating site and since beauty is subjective, I think there was even more importance placed on how these characters looked. Consequently I had to revise my sketches many times over during this stage; in other words, I had so much drawing to do, but not a lot of time to do them. Ultimately, the blessing in disguise was that despite having to draw so many faces in so little time, I became a lot faster at drawing, which is an imperative skill to possess for most illustrators.

Format: You have a very recognizable style; do you find it challenging to infuse this signature look with your diverse range of clients?
Marcos: No, I don’t think that I find it very challenging to maintain consistency in my work with a variety of clients because this is ‘the way that I draw.’ I have a very authentic approach, which means that I’m not forcing a style. About a year after graduating from Art College, I had a portfolio that was comprised entirely of paintings. Most of the illustrations in this portfolio were assignments that I had done in school, and many of them came about through the close guidance with my instructors. Although I was receiving freelance illustration work back then, I found it very difficult to create my illustrations because they were somewhat of a stylistic amalgamation of my instructors work. So when I realized this I metaphorically threw out my portfolio and started to created images that felt closer to who I was back then, and which aligned more to my interests.

Format: Have you ever felt trapped by your ‘style?’
Marcos: Yes I do. Having said that, I do think that over the past 7 or 8 years, since I’ve been working steadily as an illustrator that my work has changed slightly. This is not necessarily because I was forcing it to, but I think it happened naturally. Part of it I believe is because alongside my illustration work, I work on personal pieces in other media when I have spare time. As a result I think that my personal work informs my commercial illustrations, and vice versa.

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Format: Do you find it difficult to maintain dynamism with illustration?
Marcos: Illustration can be difficult sometimes because the image is never entirely mine, in the sense that I am for the most part art directed to create the image, and that image in the end has to appeal to a readership or market. Illustration is the business of communication, and so the intention of the image can be very different than if I was a fine artist, for example. Having said, there can be very dynamic moments in my practice, sometimes it happens through collaborations with brilliant art directors and designers, such that an even better idea arises out of many heads working on solving a creative problem. Or, it could happen through ‘happy accidents,’ in that something that I never ended up planning on doing to the image suddenly happens.

Format: What encouraged you to begin teaching at the School of Visual Arts in New York?
Marcos: Teaching is something that I’ve always wanted to do. But above that, to be an instructor at the School of Visual Arts was even more of an honor for me because I viewed it as a school that has one of the best illustration programs in the U.S. I was fortunate enough to be able to teach there because a very close friend of mine, Yuko Shimizu, who is also an illustrator and instructor at SVA, put my work in front of the Chair of the Undergraduate Illustration Program. During that time, there was an opening at the school to teach fashion illustration, and so Tom Woodruff, who is the Chair, decided to try me out. I’ve been an instructor there for about 3 years now, teaching one class per week.

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Format: What are some of your biggest challenges when teaching in such a distinctive field as Fashion Illustration?
Marcos: The way in which I teach Fashion Illustration is not very different from the way in which other illustration classes are taught. First, I believe that Fashion Illustration has changed so much over the years; the majority of fashion magazines nowadays employ photography over illustration in their editorials and advertorials. As a result, I have grouped Fashion Illustration alongside ‘lifestyle’ such that people are shown socializing, eating, drinking, or shopping in a fashionable way. The projects that I assign hopefully encourage them to create a “strong” illustration overall. My class is very organic, I do not believe in a militant way of teaching, nor do I behave like an instructor who has all of the answers and knows everything. I recognize the individual qualities in each of my students, and so I try to appeal to that part of them. My belief is that if you are a good illustrator, you should be able to draw anything and work with any type of client, be it fashion and lifestyle, political, sports, or science.

Format: What are some upcoming projects you are excited about?
Marcos: I am in the midst of working on a couple of pieces that excite me. The first of which is a large drawing for a traveling group show that will be at Maxalot Gallery in Amsterdam this August to raise money for the children who have been displaced and impoverished by the war in Mozambique. There was a mass exodus during the late 1970s, where we fled the country because of civil war; since then, Mozambique has suffered from social and political unrest, violence, poverty and various natural disasters. The second project is a poster for the LGBT Equality March in Washington this October. I am hugely honored and excited to contribute an image for this event because again, I believe in the cause—my image will become a part of an event which will help to combat bigotry and to enlighten and encourage a positive shift in the mind set of a huge group of people.

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Trisha Lepper

Trisha Lepper

Trisha Lepper

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