London based artist Mark Powell has a rather unusual way of practicing the art of drawing. Using antique envelopes as canvases, he draws incredibly vivid portraits of elderly people using only a biro pen. His artistic path is also an unconventional one just as his art, so we got in touch with him for an interview. Mark practiced art in high school after which he exchanged hundreds of jobs and places, to eventually end up being enrolled in university by pure accident. Although his steps have wondered in so many places, he didn’t stop drawing and after having seen so many different people from so many different background, he finally settled on this unique signature: biro pen drawings on old envelopes. As in many cases, art has proven to be a way of escape:
When working the many jobs I have had I would draw landscapes and political cartoons by way of escape. Before that as a child I would copy Garfield and Asterix cartoons.
One might wonder why Mark chose envelopes as medium of display for his art. There’s something about their history, scars, marks and used aspect that make them really authentic. Especially when it comes to antique envelopes. And since communication and art are going more and more digital these day, you might even ask if traditional letters are still being sent today. Here’s how Mark explains his fascination of first discovering antique envelopes:
I was given an envelope that was sent from the front line of World War 1. It captivated me that this may have been the last thing ever written by this soldier. I find the envelopes with stamp collectors and the cost depends on the stamp which of course doesn’t interest me. I like the history and scars of travel with the envelope.
Working on such a medium involves a different approach and more patience, as a piece can take up to two days to finish. As Mark uses envelopes dating from the 1820s, he chooses to portray elderly figures who are just like the envelope: old, marked by life, preserving in this way the whole vintage vibe of the pieces.
Each envelope is a different type of paper so you have to adjust the way you draw each time. I take a day or two to finish a drawing on average. The portraits I do have the same qualities as the envelope. They both have unknown history that is hinted at by the age and scars of a life lived and travel.
What is amazing about his portraits is that the figures are incredibly human and emotional, in a sense that humbles you. Just like when you look in the eyes of a person who has lost everything but is still enjoying life fully, that it makes you feel ungrateful. To Mark, adding this human value is natural, he feels like has has to do it.
I have to. I don’t think they would have any value if they didn’t have an emotional feel.
All the details of the portrait are made using a common biro pen. No expensive pencils or tools. Mark proves that you don’t need a lot of stuff to practice your talent.
I use the Biro pen because it is the most common writing tool and is accessible to most people. Creation is an easy thing and can be done by anyone at anytime using anything.
A very critic spirit, the artist confesses that he isn’t very fond of his pieces. Which is surprising, as they show great attention to detail ans a clear talent.
I usually have a strong dislike of each drawing I have finished but this one is okay.
Mark has been a pretty lucky artist. From a hobby, his passion has taken his works on shows over the world and he’s one of the persons who can actually make a living out of what their art.
I’ve had shows in America, Europe and across the United Kingdom. I do have some group shows coming up and I am producing work for a solo show. It can be difficult making a living from art but in recent times I have been very lucky. I have also been told by many that my prices are too low and so I will be raising them soon.
Besides his portraits, the artist is also planning to expand his work on a larger scale, using maps as canvases.
I am working on many portraits at the moment and I am working on larger drawings on maps. I also want to draw the homeless on more found paper.
Enjoy more selections of Mark’s biro pen drawings below. I bet you’ll feel like in a time-machine. You’ll find more on his Facebook page
Photos are used with permission of Mark Powell