Mark Zug’s imaginary worlds.
Where did you grow up, and when did you realise you had a talent for art?
Before age eight my memories were chiefly of Japan, where I lived for three years and also discovered I could draw. For years it was just drawing, with only occasional attempts at colour. Only when I decided to get serious at age 25 did I get some paints and start puddling around. Acrylic at first, but oil very quickly replaced that.
Did your upbringing influence your painting style?
Only insofar as I spent so much time drawing in imaginary worlds. Whether my upbringing or not, I disliked drawing what was in front of me. I always drew the inaccessible: dinosaurs, spaceships, aliens, imaginary creatures and so on. My painting as a young adult was most influenced by my idols, who include Frazetta, NC Wyeth, Jan Vermeer, JC Leyendecker, Howard Pyle and Maxfield Parrish.
Did anyone in particular help you along your art journey?
Other than my parents who kept me amply supplied with pencils and paper all through my childhood, I’d say Ken Laager, whom I met when I was a student and who took me on as a kind of painting assistant for a couple of years. He was my first close encounter with the actual profession of illustration that I wanted to be a part of.
How has your painting process evolved over the years?
I notice that I outlined my forms a lot more in the early days, probably under the influence of comic books. I still do it for effect here and there, but now what I really love is rounding the forms back, and pulling background light over their contours. I think I’ve also gotten more comfortable letting rough textures contribute to the realistic gestalt, whereas I used to see very tight control as the only answer. I hope this all adds up to “better!” What’s been the highlight of your career so far? Any low points? Getting to work with Harlan Ellison, which kicked off my career and opened my eyes to a great many things, is right up there at the top. Alongside is getting to produce Sands of Gorgoroth for Pat and Jeannie Wilshire of IlluXcon. Close to that is my work on my self-commissioned Noble Gases, which I consider some of my best to date.
As for low points, right after my work on I, Robot was finished, I started on the graphic novel of the same name. The plug got pulled on that project, so I was suddenly out of work, having done no significant self-promotion. That was a bit of a scramble.
What’s been your most challenging commission or assignment?
A tough one to answer… it’s down to two. In Prairie Dragon I had to do a sweeping landscape that could have been pretty bland grassland, invent three engaging heroines and their canine companions, design a unique dragon, and invent the walking machine in the background inhabited by our tertiary characters. The machine uses a real articulated leg design by Theo Janssen, which I self-mandated to get right in every detail. And at 30x40 inches it’s the largest canvas I’ve ever done.
The other is An Orc in the Shire, a self-commissioned piece that straddles the universe of The Lord of the Rings and that of the Last Ringbearer fan-fiction. It’s just rich with detail that has to both pay tribute to and defy Tolkien. Both of these pieces took lots of research and digestion of reference.
Your Dune art was your first game art. Do you ever revisit the world of Dune?
Only by reading the Brian Herbert/Kevin J. Anderson prequels and sequels. Their A Whisper of Caladan Seas short story, published in Amazing Stories in 2001, was the last Dune illustration I’ve done.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I feel like I’ve put pretty much everything on the fire to achieve my artistic goals, and I was always aware of that. So my advice to the younger me would be to exercise more open-mindedness in my quest for knowledge. Also: don’t depend on any one publisher or patron!
Sum up your work in under 10 words.
Classical adoration of the human, subhuman and super-humaninfested universe.
After leaving art school Mark painted his portfolio while working as a machinist. In 1992 he quit all other work and embarked on the life of an award-winning freelance artist. See more of his art at www.markzug.com.
I feel like I’ve put pretty much everything on the fire to achieve my artistic goals
Sands of Gorgoroth Who are the inhabitants of Mordor, and what really happens when Gondor prevails?