Interview with Mark Schultz about his new art book, “Carbon”

The new art book, Mark Schultz: Carbon, collecting Schultz’s most recent works is off to the printer. Our advertised release date is August 1st, but we are hoping to have copies at our Flesk booth just in time for the San Diego Comic Con. (I’ll keep you updated.)

You can pre-order copies at our Kickstarter campaign, which gets you a special price and bonus goodies. (Click here to visit.) Afterward, the book will be available for pre-order from our website, although without the Kickstarter goodies.

I have conducted an interview with Mark about his new book and what you can expect to see inside.

John Flesk: Carbon will contain material completed over the last two years. What can one expect to find within the book?

Mark Schultz: I’m focusing more on process than ever before. The feedback I get from readers in general is that there is a great interest in seeing the work that goes into creating the finish. So, in Carbon, I consciously tried to give a little more information on the steps that lead to the finish. There’s an entire section showing, step by step, the visual evolution of the newly identified dinosaur I rendered, along with text describing my work with the paleontologist.

There’s a greater concentration on my evolving use of color, too. The subject matter, I admit, is pretty much what would be expected of me: lots of adventure, speculative fiction stuff and tough girls.

JF: When did you start experimenting with watercolor highlights in your works and can we expect to see a shift to more color in your art?

MS: Defining, modulating and sharpening watercolors with carbon pencils is something I’ve been playing with for several years now. At first, I was pretty conservative with the color, as you suggest, doing more tinting of carbon pencil drawings than anything else. Recently, though, I’ve gotten a little more confident and have started leaning more on the color and less on the drawing. The cover to Carbon is my most extensive shift to color yet.

It’s an evolving process and my goal is to get to the point where I feel I can, when I choose, ditch the use of the pencils altogether and achieve the effect I want with the watercolor alone. Its part of my bigger plan to loosen up, become a bit more painterly and not so constrained by “line” when a particular piece would work best that way.

JF: Why have you worked primarily in black and white for much of your career?

MS: When I started my career in comics, with Xenozoic Tales, working the story in black and white was the only avenue open to me. That’s what my publisher at the time, Kitchen Sink, could offer. Which was not a problem—I’ve always loved monochromatic work, whether it be in comics, illustration, prints or movies.  When you get rid of color, there is a greater emphasis placed on composition, lighting, and texture—and you can achieve all sorts of atmospheric stuff with those elements.

When I was later given the opportunity to do Xenozoic in color, I chose to continue it in B&W, because that is how I’ve come to see it. I can’t imagine drawing the comic’s series as anything other than a monochromatic work.

Don’t get me wrong: I like working in color, too. But I feel a certain affection for B&W because it has become, I think, marginalized in our world where color is now so easily achievable in any media. People have come to think of B&W work as representing a drop in quality, not as an aesthetic choice. I want to see that attitude change.

JF: Do you have an interest in expanding into doing more color works in the future, either by adding watercolor to your brush and ink works, or full watercolors or even oil paintings?

MS: I absolutely do want to have the ability to create color work when it’s needed. It’s a matter of me putting in the reps and getting my technique to where I feel comfortable with my chops. Right now, my focus is on developing more command of watercolor—specifically transparent watercolor, of which Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent were perhaps the absolute top practitioners. (And I am very well aware that, with those two, I have picked impossibly high standards to shoot for.) I have this idea of where I want to go with color illustration done in transparent watercolor—and its great ability to duplicate the quality of natural light—that could nicely compliment my brush and ink illustrations.  I hope.

JF: When comparing your art from three to four years ago to something you are working on today, how do you feel you have grown artistically in this time frame? Why?

MS: I don’t know if I’m the right person to ask. It’s all too close to me. I do feel that I’m getting closer to achieving the moods and feelings I want in my work, but I’m not sure how others perceive it.

Having said that, from my perspective, the last few years have seen a lot of growth in my work. I’m happier with what I’m producing today than I ever have been before. It sort of feels like the first twenty years of my career was all about laying groundwork and trial and error, and in the last few years I’ve been able to actually move forward into something I feel is my own.

And having said that, I’m always miserable about not getting on paper what I’m seeing in my head. (Not an uncommon condition among artist-types.)

JF: Your brush and ink art appearing in Carbon is a bit looser than pieces completed in the past. Has this been a conscious decision?

MS: I’m glad you think so—loosening up is something I’ve very much wanted to move toward. I drive myself crazy with my tendencies to carefully control every line I lay down. It’s obsessive and drains energy from finishes—and is one reason I think many people tend to like my preliminaries more. So, yes, I have been very consciously working on strategies to help me keep my finishes looser and livelier. The goal is always to create an illusion of movement and energy in a still image.

JF: How much does the imagery depicted within Carbon reflect your personal interests?

MS: Hmm—let’s see: dinosaurs, warrior women, Vikings, kitty cats, the sea. Pretty much 100% personal interest. I’m trying to think if there’s anything in here that I would have chosen not to do, if I had the choice. I don’t think so. I think that, if you take on the work of creating something, it’s your job to find a way of making it personal—making the piece something that has meaning to you, regardless the subject matter. If you can’t figure a way of doing that, the project probably isn’t right for you.  Uh, oh—I’m starting to lecture…

JF: Then I’ll change gears. How do you think Carbon differs from any of your previous art books?

MS: Bottom line, it’s bigger and more comprehensive. I think the production is stepped up a big notch, along with my showcased works. The 12” x 9” dimensions and the extra gatefolds really allow us to impressively expand the size of some of the pieces—sometimes close to the original dimensions. The use of color throughout—even the black and white pieces that are reproduced in color so that the paper tone and blue line work pop out—is more extensive and better balanced that ever before. And, as I mentioned elsewhere, there’s a greater focus on my process, both with preliminary and production works and in text.

I wanted the Various Drawings collections to have the quality of museum exhibition catalogues, and I think we achieved that in spades. I want Carbon to be a looser, more varied, more immersive experience.  I think we’ve hit that, too.

JF: I do too, Mark. Thanks for your time!



John Fleskes
Flesk Publications
Interview copyright © 2013 John Fleskes and Mark Schultz. Art copyright © 2013 Mark Schultz

Mark Schultz Kickstarter Campaign
Mark Schultz books from Flesk Publications


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