I am absolutely enamored with the work of John Clark (see and buy John’s work on Etsy). I’m way oversimpliying when I call what John creates “book art,” but what he does is take vintage books and overlays portraits on the text. The result is a one-of-a-kind “story” – a portrait with a literary history, a story within a story. His work feels Old World and modern at the same time. I am completely in love (with his work, duh).
The nice thing is you can also read John like a book in the interview below…
How did you get started as a portrait artist?
I’ve drawn pretty obsessively since I can remember. I enjoy drawing faces more than anything, and people like seeing themselves. It’s a good fit.
Tell us a little about your genre. Are there lots of artists who do what you do? What makes your work stand out from the rest?
I draw film noir inspired Sharpie portraits on vintage book pages. I leave a bit of text floating in the background to add the hint of a story to the piece. I haven’t seen anyone else do what I do, and I’m very happy about that.
How would you describe your style?
Simple, bold, clean and dramatic. As I’ve gotten better with the Sharpies, I’ve been able to keep the lines progressively more crisp, and sometimes people mistake my work for altered photographs or photoshop trickery, which is awesome. It’s all hand drawn though, just me and my markers.
How did you come to use Sharpie markers in your work?
It started as a shortcut. I was planning on doing these pieces in just pen and ink and simply planned on getting the style down with Sharpie before I moved to the India Ink. I tried the ink and it just didn’t sit well on the old book page, it looked glossy and didn’t soak in evenly. The pieces I had completed in practice with Sharpie looked great though. The ink soaked in to the page and didn’t bleed as much as I thought it would. I started using a drafting pen around the edges to contain the bleed and get sharp angles and lines. Now that the Sharpie pens are available, I’m proud to say the pieces are now completely drawn with Sharpies.
What about Sharpie markers makes them your medium of choice? Is it the variety of tip sizes, colors, other? Please describe how you use Sharpie as an art tool.
I like the way the ink soaks into the page and the variety of tip sizes. I actually start with the big black areas of the page filling in with the Chisel Tips. As I get to the edges I fill in as much as I can with the classic Fine Point sharpies and finish it off sometimes with the ultra fine point, but usually straight to the Sharpie Pen.
Tell us about some of your own favorite work. What seems to get the most attention or is most coveted by others? Why do you think people are drawn to your work?
Folks usually want custom pieces done of themselves more than anything. I have a ton of fun with it and always consider it quite flattering. I think people like the mystery of the bits of text and the overall class of the work. Above all I’m striving to make something that would look pretty hanging on your wall and I think people appreciate that.
Can you describe the process you go through to create your work? How many hours does it take? Is it a free-hand approach or do you create a template in advance?
It’s pretty simple. I just draw the portrait out with Sharpies after a quick, very light, pencil sketch. It varies wildly in the time it takes. Sometimes start to finish I’m done in an hour, sometimes it takes me four or five hours to get a piece looking like I saw it in my head.
What are your inspirations?
The imagery of film noir, the language of old mystery novels, the work of many, many comic book and graffiti artists and the artists of classic pulp novel covers.
What statement are you trying to make, if any? What do you want people take from your art?
I don’t have a particular statement. I’m just trying to make aesthetically pleasing work with a bit of a story and a lot of mystery. I want people to look at my pieces and decide what must have just happened or what the subject is going to do next.
Sharpie’s tagline is “Write Out Loud!” Does this apply to your work and if so, how?
My work is simple and bold, and does have writing in it, so sure.