Mark Kowalchuk talks art, boarding culture, networking & being proactive

 Since before he could remember, Mark Kowalchuk has dreamed of being an artist. But his psychedelic scenes, full of thick lines and vibrant colour, wouldn’t be on snowboards, skateboards and band merchandise around the world without his persistent networking and a little help from his friends.

He has come a long way from his humble roots of sketching designs for snowboard graphics on napkins with a BIC pen, to now creating illustrations and graphic designs as a full-time career.

“Some people don’t ever know what they want to do,” says Kowalchuk. “By the time they asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I always kind of knew I was going to be an artist of some sort.”

But, like most artists, Kowalchuk didn’t get to stroll into the boarding scene and have his portfolio plucked out of his hands by a major brand like Globe or Volcom.

Instead, he began designing for smaller companies like Trapper Snowboards in Whistler, B.C., in order to associate his art with a scene he is passionate about. Kowalchuk is constantly on his way to, or returning from a snowboarding trip. He says being a part of the boarding scene has helped him to tailor his art towards what he knows the community is looking for.

Kowalchuk believes that you need to have a passion for and do what you are drawing for in order to design well.

“I do skate and snowboard and I have a feel for what they want because I’ve been right there next to them,” he says. “I see what they get stoked on, and I know what I would want to buy if I was on the other end of things.”

When speaking with other artists, Kowalchuk preaches the value of pitching portfolios to new clients. But he also says his connection to key figures in the snow and skateboard culture has helped his career.Kowalchuk’s art is right in line with the style favoured by the psychedelic rockers in Chron Goblin, and can be seen on the band’s posters, clothing and recently released custom skateboard decks.

Photo/Artwork courtesy of Mark Kowalchuk

David Carrier Porcheron is a friend of Kowalchuk and a pro snowboarder who has opened up a lot of doors supporting him from day one.

“Connecting myself with these people, where they know me and they like my art, it really helps because I’ve created this network of people supporting me,” says Kowalchuk.

That networking, along with his artistic talents and willingness to tackle any project, has allowed Kowalchuk to secure commissions with brands like Globe, Volcom and YES Snowboards, industry juggernauts that provide steady, lucrative work.

He also works as a graphic designer for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, and in 2009 he co-founded a skateboard company in Calgary called Artschool Skateboards.

Kowalchuk has also recently been putting pen to paper for clients in the music scene, producing illustrations for Calgary’s psychedelic rockers in Chron Goblin.

Devin ‘Darty’ Purdy, lead guitarist for Chron Goblin, explains that the band met Kowalchuk over their mutual love for skateboarding back in 2010.

“His art has all of the elements we were looking for: psychedelic, abstract, vibrant, and intriguing,” says Darty.

“Mark had previously done a lot of artwork for extreme sports and I believe we have opened his eyes to the growing demand for art in the music scene, particularly in the area of stoner rock and heavy metal.”

Although Kowalchuk says he initially had doubts about whether his style would fit the heavy metal scene, he seems to have gained quite a foothold: several of his illustrations have been used by the internationally renowned Swedish metal group In Flames, something he is quite proud of because he is a huge fan.Kowalchuk uses thick, well defined lines and subtle yet vibrant colour with strong focal points and contrast. They often feature strong depictions of wildlife, adding a Canadian touch.

Photo/Artwork courtesy of Mark Kowalchuk

“The first artwork I did for the band In Flames was definitely a personal victory for me … they’ve always used prestigious artists in the past so it was hard shoes to fill.”

Anders Friden, frontman of In Flames, said in an email to the Calgary Journal that he’s “a huge fan of Mark’s art style and of the man himself, even though he can’t grow a beard.”

Kowalchuk says that creating artwork for musicians offers some unique challenges, but it is a great way to get content out the door and it provides a steady workflow.

And though he says the workload is heavier for bands because there are so many mediums, versus always needing to design snowboard shapes for snowboards, it is nice that the bands always need resources from him.

However, as Kowalchuk makes friends in high places, he admits that it has become harder to find time to create art for himself, or for old friends looking for a personalized gift. As his professional career reaches exciting new heights, he is finding it harder to balance art as both a hobby and as a full-time gig.

“It’s really hard, because I have my friends who have supported my art career from day one,” says Kowalchuk. “They’re always like, ‘I’d love you to make me a little painting or a drawing,’ and it’s hard because I have to tell them I’m too busy.”

“I’m at this point in my career where I have a lot more people looking at my stuff, so the quality needs to be higher for each individual piece in my professional life.”

jbrak@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Ali Hardstaff at ahardstaff-gajda@cjournal.ca 

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Abby Dell Photography