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The godfather of retro-art: an interview with Mark Watts, generation 1 transformers illustrator.

Mark attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City and Temple University, Tyler Campus in Philadelphia.

He has been creating Cool works of art for the past 30 years.

Now with two studios, one in the rolling hills of Bucks County Pennsylvania and one in Sunny South Florida.

Mark has worked for clients such as Walt Disney, Budweiser, The Rolling Stones, Warner Brothers Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Sony, Tyco Toys, Crayola, William Morrow Publishing, and Avon Books – to name a few!

Mark has produced many illustrations for popular toys such as Tyco Toys Crash Dummies boxes, Hasbro Transformers kids toy boxes.

Just a few days and you’ll be able to get Mark’s first NFT drop! In the meanwhile, take this time to discver who’s the man behind generation 1 transformers boxes, a pillar of 90s imagery!

Hi Mark, first of all, how did you get into art? Was that your childhood dream?

  As a Child I always Drew all the time and painted I guess as all children do I just never stopped. 

I always was interested in drawing and creating stuff. When I became a little older, about age 8, I was interested in Magic, I read a lot of books on Magic Art and creative things.

I was always building magic tricks or something. By the time I was about 14 or 15 I was doing magic shows for children’s parties making more money in a weekend than my friends working for someone. 

I was doing bigger magic shows but when I graduated High School I went to a local Community College for Art for 2 years. I loved it. In the 2nd year I did not take many academics, I took all the Art courses as possible. 

I was getting pretty good at different mediums and at airbrushing. At the time airbrush was mostly used in California, not on the East coast. I of course got pushed back. Anything you do differently, nobody likes it. 

In my 2nd year I had a great teacher: Alan Magee. He was an artist that used the airbrush and was a professional working out of NY City, he was doing book covers, Time Magazine Covers and other high profile jobs. 

He took the class to his studio that was in his home in Newtown, Pa. 

I remember it was like in the woods and you could hear a brook running out his studio window. I remember thinking “wait a minute, I can work at home working on artwork all day, not traveling to work, making a living at artwork” that was it for me! I wanted to be a professional Illustrator  from that moment on. 

At that point, I knew I wanted to get married and have kids someday. I thought It was a better profession than magic, where you would have to travel all the time. So I put all my efforts into becoming a professional Illustrator from that point. From there I went to School at the School of Visual Arts NYC for 1 year but I could not get the teachers I wanted or needed. 

So, I transferred to Temple University, Tyler Campus in Philadelphia. 

This was some of the best instruction I ever received under my Illustration teacher Stanislaw Sikorsky and made me the Illustrator I am today along with a lot of hard work.  

For all Illustration assignments in school most of the time I did 2 Illustrations for each assignment. 

Once I finished School then came the hard part.

 It took me six months to get my first job and I was really trying hard. I would get up early every morning and make calls to New York publishing companies, book companies, magazines, ad agencies and try to get appointments to go in and show my portfolio. In between calls I was working on new pieces for my portfolio. I would go to New York once a week and have anywhere from four to seven appointments set up for that day.

It took six months until I got my first job. How I got my first job is that I was hired by my future wife’s uncle Frank to paint a portrait of Pope John Paul who was the Pope at the time. 

I had the original airbrushed painting in my portfolio when I went in to see William Morrow Publishing. The art director’s name was Cheryl and she looked at the Pope John Paul’s Painting and loved it. They were working on a new book, “Man From A Far Country” about Pope John Paul. 

She said “wait here, I would like to show this painting to the editor and some other people that would make a final decision”. She then came back about ten minutes later and said they would like to use it for the book cover. Of course I was very excited, my first published piece! She said they would pay, I think it was $750.00. I said I would need more and as I can recall, it was about $1,300 and she said “OK” just like that. That was the start of my illustration career.

One final note on this story, on this day I was getting a little discussed and could not believe I did not get one job after maybe 70 or more showings of my portfolio but I knew I had some good Illustrations. That day it was raining so hard I was soaked and the wind was blowing my 40″ X 30″ portfolio all over the place. I remember opening the large door to William Morrow Publishing on my way in and saying now this is a mission I will never quit. That is the day I got my first illustration job. After that a lot of the New York publishing companies, book companies, magazines, ad agencies I had seen over the past six months started calling me. After a while, I now had some printed work to show to agents. I was able to get an agent, Mendola, and he got me a lot of high profile jobs.

You presently run two studios and work with pretty important clients, such as Hasbro (more on this later), Crayola, Budweiser. How hard is it to combine artistic freedom with working on a fixed schedule and in the advertising industry? 

As to Answer your below Questions:

Yes I run 2 Studios Mark Watts Studios / www.markwattsstudios.com & Table – Art Studios / www.tableartstudios.com 

Mark Watts Studios – For Prints and Commissions 

Table Art Studios – Transforming Table Art !

Wall art that transforms into 2 Tables and has Changeable Art Work.

A Patent I have on this product

My Commercial work I have done for years Clients: 

Walt Disney, Budweiser, The Rolling Stones, Warner Brothers Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Sony, Tyco Toys, Crayola, William Morrow Publishing, and Avon Books – to name a few!

I’ve produced many illustrations for popular toys such as Tyco Toys Crash Dummies boxes, Hasbro Transformers kids toy boxes 

Note: I am the artists who created the very 1st G1 Transformer Toy Boxes for  the  Iconic Transformer Toy Line Box Art from 1981 and beyond, I also created about 45 Boxes and other related Transformer Art,  I did the 1st G1 Blister packs Bumble Bee ect Plus Decepticons Set, Construction Set, Shockwave, Jet Fire and many more. 

Some of my most recognizable book covers were made into movies: The Odessa File, Day of the Jackal, and The Dogs of War. He created the logo Illustration for the Clint Eastwood movie Pink Cadillac. Mark also has done many paintings for Budweiser that were produced on their Limited Edition Collector Car Steins. 

My work has been displayed in many shows around the country and also at the prestigious Society of Illustrators Club in New York City. 

I was a featured artist on the QVC Home Shopping television channel. I was invited to display my work for the past few years at the Antique Auto Museum Hershey, Pa. 

As far as pathways for Creatively through Commercial projects. I am always excited about creating great looking, and exciting art. I am usually part of the development like in creating the Art look for Transformers on the packaging.     

Now I work mostly on commissions and creating my own ideas in my art.

I have so many ideas in my head now I just need to get them as reality. All great art takes time.

Also working on other Art related products.

You’ve been the man behind some of the most astounding Generation 1 Transformers designs, your boxes are every 90s kid dream! Where did the inspiration for your Transformers came from?

Mark Watts transformers

I am the Original G1 TRANSFORMER Artist from 1981 and beyond.

The inspiration came from the fact that I am an Airbrush Illustrator and when I received the project of Transformers I just wanted to make them exciting through exaggerated perspective and very reflective, shiny. I was doing a lot of Car Illustrations that were very reflective. I believe that is why I was chosen to illustrate the 1st G1 Transformers.

A bit of history:

I’m the original G1 Transformer G1 Artist creating about 50 Boxes and related Transformer Art from 1981 and beyond.

I developed the very 1st 6 G1 Transformer Toys ever done in the US and did the Illustrations for the packaging. 

A little story about how the Transformer Toys Illustrations came about:

Back in 1982, many, many illustrations ago, I was called into my Agents’ office. In New York, I was shown Transformers toys fresh from China, some being prototypes. Some of the Transformers shown were being sold in China and had done very well. At that point I was given a Transformers Bible, top secret, to be kept under lock & key. It contained technical drawings of each Transformer including the placement of colors, logos, etc. 

Originally I was given six to start with, they were to be used on blister packs for G1 Transformer Toys. 

Of the six toys I was given, some were prototypes and did not really move and were in robot position. I completed the drawings with forced perspective to make the toys more exciting and menacing.

All 6 sketches were approved with no changes. 

This first set of six were painted in Dr. Martin Dyes and Luma Dyes, completely done in Airbrush with cut frisket to protect the area not to be sprayed. 

Cut tracing paper was used to move around when spraying to create a softer edge in the reflections. Later paintings were done with Airbrushed Acrylic paints.

My objective on these illustrations was to make them as reflective as possible, like car paint, so exciting with a lot of reflections. 

I completed the set of six and everyone was very happy with the results. 

The rest is history. I continued to work on Transformer art for many years.

You never know when a toy will take off like Transformers did and become such a sensation. It was my pleasure working on all of the illustrations for the Transformers packaging. The toys were enjoyable and I am sure they were a part of many fond childhood memories. 

I get so many emails and other responses that say as kids they spent so many hours looking at my Transformer art, cutting them out and playing with my art or hanging the art on their walls. Some say because of the art they became artists.

All this makes me feel good that I could bring joy to kids throughout my Art.

Would you consider yourself as a “retro-artist”? Do you think nostalgia is a driving force behind your art?

Mark Watts transformers

Yes a retro type artist…I love Art Deco and great design I make sure all my illustrations are designed well.

Time to make a leap into the future, what are your thoughts on digital art and, most importantly, on NFTs, how did you get to know about them?

With NFTs, you can own a piece of history in the NFT space, by creating a limited edition you can leave your own footprint in the digital art world. 

I think of it as a Cryptocurrency with something behind it of value. 

I heard about it from a publisher of mine that said my art would be perfect for NFTs because of all the historic value behind my Art. 

Do you think that NFTs could help artists achieve more freedom?

Sure! However, being an established artist, and having many projects going on already, for me it’s quite different. It’s more like a new window on an interesting and fast-evolving niche.

Do you see NFT as a new way of showing your art or rather as a new kind of art? 

Of Course a new way of showing your art. Because NTfs can be printed now, and once they get printed is kind of like conventional Art.

What would you like to see from NFT art and blockchain-based art in the future, what expectations do you have?

Hopefully great art and as Stated: I think of it as a Cryptocurrency with something behind it of value.

What are your expectations for the future of art, and what are your plans for the future? 

Future of Art: my guess is that NFT will become more and more popular.

My plans for the future are to work on many more Art pieces, Transformers, and other Art Pieces. Hand created pieces and Digital pieces.

I also have another great Art product in the works that I already have a patent on. Stay tuned !    

What would you change in how things are in the art world and market?

Well since the crash of ‘08, 95% of art galleries went out of business. A lot of them were in business for 30 years. I would like to change that ! Maybe NFTs can help this. Let’s hope so. 

Finally, what’s the most beautiful thing about being an artist?

It’s easy, remember when you were a child and you drew something or created something? Well, you got a great satisfaction that you created that. 

That is Art, what could be better than working with your mind to create something that gives you and others enjoyment.

Remember people might forget what you say but will never forget how you make them feel.

Cheers

Mark Watts   

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