Mark Pernice on jumping between running a design studio and being an illustrator too
With his feet firmly in two creative fields, Mark finds that his dual practices only enhance one another, rather than fight for attention.
- Lucy Bourton
- 20 August 2020
Mark Pernice leads a double life creatively, half operating (as some of you may know) as one half of Out of Office, a studio he runs with Elana Schlenker, and half as a freelance illustrator largely in the editorial space. It’s been a long winding route of chance meetings and exploration that’s led him here, but is equally a journey which demonstrates how, most of the time, roles in this industry are often juggling more than you might expect.
Someone who has always “thought illustratively as well as graphically,” Mark initially studied at New York’s School of Visual Arts and majored in computer arts. “What is that? I didn’t really know and I still don’t know,” he recalls to It’s Nice That. Not quite describing his work as 3D or overly digital, fast forward to a little later and Mark fell into a more traditional art director role for movie posters, “while floating delusions of grandeur as a soft singer of a shoegaze band I decided to become a freelance designer, as most shoegaze band members do.”
This then led to stints with Sagmeister and at Pentagram where, under Paula Scher’s team, Mark met another designer who was also freelancing at The New York Times. “As luck would have it, I attended her wedding and was seated at a table full of New York Times art directors,” he explains. “My dual practises hatched right there out of financial necessity and a yearning to use my drawing skills.” Given the opportunity to show his illustrative work to Nicholas Blechman, Aviva Michael and Alexandra Zsigmond: “They gave me my first assignments and I’ll be forever grateful to them for seeing a potential illustrator in me, even though I didn’t have much to show.”
Now bouncing off one graphically-led project onto an illustrative one and back again, Mark explains that his two practices don’t really fight each other for attention. Instead, he can often be found operating “pretty fluidly between the two,” he tells us. “The process and angle of attack of course is different but the flow and the focus are about the same,” particularly in his art direction work which “can bridge illustration and design together,” he adds. Mixing together each of these practices is a process Mark likens to a musical one (again maybe still hoping of venturing down this path one day): “A parallel example would be a musician who is a songwriter, producer, engineer and plays guitar and piano. It just seems like part of the same mindset and skillset to me, even though there are also distinct curves and differences.”
In terms of illustration however, stylistically Mark finds it slightly difficult to define this tangent of his creative work. Initially, possibly due to his design thinking experience, “I would let the concept entirely dictate the style, medium and process,” he describes. “These days I want my personality and own style to show through more. Don’t ask me to describe my personality though.”
Most recently this can be seen in a range of the works below, a series of illustrations for various outlets which appear polished yet still feature a range of details, textures and messages. “I want the image to look beautiful but if the idea isn’t there it doesn’t work for me,” Mark continues. “I’m not that interested in making obvious pictorial illustration and I don’t want to shoehorn in overused visual iconography unless there’s a bit of a fun twist or mystery.” Finally adding this great tidbit of advice to any younger or less experienced illustrators: “Sometimes, what you don’t add to a composition is more captivating than what you do. My favourite illustrations are the ones that are just a little unresolved.”
Given the current situation it’s also been a period of reflection for Mark, particularly on his personal values, “the current US [Mark is based in New York] and world status and humanity's complete imbalance with itself and nature,” he explains. “Spring was time spent engulfed in our collective bad decisions. I’ve been a single dad with a daughter for a while now so it’s hard not to step, actually more like stumble, back and be like what are we doing? What is she going to do?” An answer more about our state of affairs when asked about his creative work, it makes sense when you look at Mark’s practice that what is happening outside of the creative world will begin to infiltrate it. “If I’m honest about my work I need to be aware of the environment it’s created in, when to breathe and be inspired.”
GalleryAll images by Mark Pernice
Mark Pernice: God’s Red Army, The NY Times
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019, was made deputy editor and in November 2021, she became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.