Interview with Mark “Atomos” Pilon of Vancouver’s The Georgia Straight


Mark Atomos Pilon of Vancouvers The Georgia StraightMark “Atomos” Pilon is an award winning Illustrator, Painter, and Designer. He’s a member of the Jupiter Project and Senior Designer at Georgia Straight Magazine. He also co-owns Moon Base Gallery. Mark took some time out for Vancouver today to talk illustration, industry, and showers?! This is Atamos’s POV.

Please introduce yourself, give us a brief bio, tell us where you’re from and how you got started in the illustration field.

I’m Mark Pilon but most people would know me by my other name, Atomos. I’m a painter, illustrator, and senior designer at the Georgia Straight Magazine. Some people might also remember me from the Moon Base Gallery which I curated with my wife for five years.

I first started illustrating back in the early nineties for Discorder Magazine. It eventually lead to my first paid job for Wired Magazine. Since then I’ve been illustrating for magazines and showing work in galleries around the world for twenty years now.

How Would you describe your illustrations and your style?

My work is graphic. Some galleries have described it as retro-space-age-pop, science fiction, mod-kitsch. I just like having fun with my work. There is a serious side to my art as well, but I really love carving figures out of colour best.

Mark Atomos Pilon of The Georgia Straight in "The Countdown"

Love the work you do for The Georgia Straight, could you explain the process you go through to come up with an illustration?

Thanks, most editorial illustrations start with the story or a basic idea. Art directors like to see rough sketches before the final, but most of my sketches look pretty final. It’s a bad habit, but that’s just the way I work. I really like to look inside the story and find little details that most would miss. I would say my best ideas happen in the shower or in lucid dreams, no joke. All my illustration work is done in Adobe Illustrator, including most of the composites for my paintings.

Sometimes a blank canvas can be daunting, and on certain days it can be difficult to get the creative juices flowing. How do you get inspired and stay motivated?

I’m really at my best when I don’t allow breaks in the work. Even a few days off can send me spiraling into a major blockage. In a way I’m always “on”. Interacting with other painters and illustrators keeps me motivated, hence I keep my good friends at the Jupiter Project close by for moral support. I have a good circle of artists around me who keep me going. Art is a solo sport and I think it’s really healthy to open yourself up to others so you don’t get shut inside your head. Twitter has been a big help as well.

What are some things you do for yourself outside of work to balance out all the time you spend at the desk?

I have 3 kids, so finding things to do outside of the work isn’t a huge problem. We spend a lot of time in the forest or near the ocean. Stanley Park is a good battery recharger.

How did you decide on the particular direction you’ve taken in your career? What trials & tribulations helped you find your success?

I’ve always been an artist so in a way I found it easy to always move forward with it. Visualization gets you to the next level. I’ve always imagined my work in magazines and art galleries so in a way I’ve always pointed my work towards those targets. Taking my illustration to canvas has made me a better illustrator. I know exactly how a drawing is constructed or deconstructed beyond the computer. I think a lot of illustrators limit themselves by never bringing their work into real life. It helps to understand the art process better.

Are you able to tell us about any projects that your currently working on, or will soon be working on?

I have a lot on the go right now. 2011 is a development year for me. I’m building two parallel shows. The first is a group of images based on ancient myths. The second is a series of large scale abstracts that I’ve been working on for a few years. I thought I would do something completely different  and more contemporary for a change. I also have a book project in the works that will be published sometime in mid 2012.

Where do you see professional illustration heading in Vancouver over the next 5-10 years? Getting over saturated? Growing?Plateauing? Declining?

Illustration work has been declining since 2008, not just for me but for a lot of professional illustrators. The economy and the internet have completely changed the industry. A lot of companies are choosing to use stock art to save money. It’s definitely over-saturated out there. The design industry is suffering the same fate. In a way painting has been a good survival strategy because it gives me an alternative to commercial work for survival. I think industry will always seek people with an individual style but it’s really tough because there is a lot of mimicking going on.


Gemini Dream by Atomos


Have you ever had to completely alter your style to adapt to current trends? How have you dealt with the changing styles over the years?

I’ve have changed my style mostly through evolution. I usually avoid trends. I’m pretty comfortable with what I’m doing now and don’t feel the need to adapt to make myself fit into any slots or make my work more popular. My style is retro so in a way I’m more influenced by the past than the present. As an illustrator you find that if you’re doing enough work, tackling enough subjects the ideas starts to come easy and so does the work. Evolution of style is a natural process. Sometimes you don’t even notice it’s happening. In my case I think things have evolved for the better. I find I’m more confident in my work now and I’m not afraid to try anything new.

What are some of your favorite design blogs that you read?

Who are some of your life-long favorite designers?
Charles S. Anderson, Art Chantry, Neville Brody, Peter Saville.

Are there any new Vancouver designers that you’ve taken notice to lately for some amazing work?

I really like the work of Burnkit, Ion Design, Propeller, Steven Gilmore. I also like Vicki Wong and Michael Murphy at Meomi .To be honest I’m not following a lot of designers these days mostly artists, illustrators, and photographers.

Thanks for your time Mark, any final remarks, or anything happening in Vancouver that you would like everyone to know about?

Forge your own style and don’t give up. Vancouver is a tough city for creative work, don’t let that be a barrier. There is a lot of world out there. Design it, draw it, paint it, print it. Get it out the door while it’s fresh and don’t be afraid of what people say about your work. Spend more time in the shower or the park if that’s the magic place where your good ideas come from.

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