Whether he’s providing artwork for the world’s greatest bar or making doodles of a well known brand of shower gel that sets your balls on fire, Mark Reihill is an artist in demand.
Mark is originally from Fermanagh, but his work as a professional illustrator for the advertising and creative industry, has seen his horizons broaden and you’re as likely to see him in New York as Newtownbutler. We caught up with him in Belfast where he spends a good part of his working week.
Maybe you haven’t heard of Mark Reihill until now but we’ve no doubt you’ve probably gazed in appreciation at his handiwork without knowing he was the digital wizard behind it.
If ever you’re in a pub quiz and you get asked the question, ‘What do Coca Cola, HSBC, Stena Line, No. 7 make up, Empire Magazine, Dale Farm, PSNI and Vodaphone have in common?’, the answer is, ‘Mark Reihill has done artwork for all of them’.
His diverse range of clientele makes for an eclectic portfolio of work including portraits of cult characters, posters for anti-littering campaigns, album artwork, magazine covers and biscuit tins. He’s also been a key to the success of the world’s great bar, but he’ll not tell you that… he’s far too modest.
By now most of you will be aware of The Dead Rabbit Bar in New York. Run by two Belfast lads – Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry – it’s been named the Best Bar In The World and its cocktail menu has also won a string of awards.
Mark said: “I go over every February for the launch of the new menu. I’ve worked on three of their cocktail menus, and am currently illustrating the latest edition. The artwork for The Dead Rabbit is one of my favourite projects to work on. The guys allow me to go to some pretty dark places with the artwork, in fact they encourage it, haha!”
When asked if he believed The Dead Rabbit was worthy of the title of Best Bar In The World Mark said: “You have a perception in your head before you go, but I got there and it just blew me away. On a personal level it was such an overwhelming experience – like an exhibition, as they’ve framed and hung pretty much everything I’ve done for them. It’s absolutely surreal.”
Mark is equally at home doing artwork for local musicians as he is illustrating cocktail menus for the greatest bar in the world.
His first foray into the world of album art came when he met Stevie Scullion and Johnny Toman (then of Cat Malojian) at Out To Lunch festival.
“I was exhibiting at the festival and one of the days they saw my work and asked if I fancied doing their album cover. I’ve done the artwork for almost everything they’ve ever done since then, including their new bands. They’re two sound lads.”
Mark said: “Obviously it’s very humbling when big clients phone you but I don’t treat them any differently to a local band who want an album done.”
The artist recalled his first piece of art to make an impression in Belfast.
“The first year I left Art College I did taxi-wraps for Citybeat featuring musical-pop-culture icons like David Bowie, Kiss and Madonna. Everywhere I went I was seeing the taxis. It was strange seeing my art moving about the city.”
He continued: “The first time I had artwork printed was for Dale Farm during my placement year with Genesis Advertising.
“The ad was for Suki. The guy who did the ads was off on two weeks holidays, they were going to get a freelance to do it, so I asked if I could have a go. I’d only been there a couple of months, but they let me do it. It was cheaper than hiring someone.
“They really liked the ad, Dale Farm liked it and that was the start of it.”
Mark’s forward-thinking attitude worked for a second time when he contacted Starburst magazine.
He said: “I’d be a big fan of sci-fi and a regular reader of Starburst. I loved the fact they’d used an illustrated cover. I contacted the editor with some samples of my sci-fi and film-based artwork. Next thing I know, I’m the Starburst cover artist. It’s been a dream partnership having worked on 40+ covers for the magazine.”
Despite being one of Ulster’s most coveted artists, you wouldn’t know it to visit his Dungannon home.
“I only have one picture of my own work in the house,” he said. “It’s one I did of Thom Yorke (Radiohead) because it’s purple and suits the room.”
“Everything I’ve ever done is archived, but I’ve only one of my pieces on display.”
When asked what his dream project would be, Mark said it had just become reality.
“CBS asked me to take part in a full licenced Star Trek exhibition in July. The exhibition will be travelling to big cities around the world. There will be 50 artists taking part including work from Leonard Nimoy.
“I love sci-fi, especially Star Trek so to be one of just 50 artists asked to take part in such a high profile exhibition is a dream come true.”
Mark traced the roots of his passion for character-based art: “I was mad into things like He-Man and Thundercats, Star Wars and Star Trek as a kid. Growing up in the eighties was a good time for all that stuff,” he said.
“It never really leaves you as you can see from my work which tends to be character-based. I try to make my artwork either really quirky or really sinister. The Mumm-Ra piece I did is still one of my favourites.”
Mark, who is a fan of the artwork of Laurent Durieux, Jasper Goodall, Sebastian Kruger, Robert McGinnis, Frank Miller, Jackson Pollock, Jack Kirby, Jim Lee and Alex Ross, continued: “I wasn’t always a digital artist. For years I was a ‘traditional’ illustrator using the pen and ink, right up until my placement year at uni where I learned several pieces of software. I was then able to use my newly acquired skills and apply them to illustration.
“For years I used a combination of scanned, hand-drawn illustrations and digital software. However, thanks to hardware like Wacom’s Cintiq and IntuosPro (drawing tablets), allowing the artist do draw directly onto the computer / screen, I now work 100% digitally. For me, this is a much more efficient way of working as it speeds up the process but retains that organic brush-stroke you would get from pen and paper.”
He added: “I started off working in advertising, then went freelance to get a bit more control over my jobs, but then you’re relying on jobs that come in.
“Whenever I went freelance it was back in the days of portfolios. I used to love going around with a portfolio of my sketches under my arm. The jobs just started coming in and thankfully I’ve been very busy.
“I have to turn down work all the time now. I don’t like doing it, but I don’t want to promise people then not be able to deliver because I’ve taken on too much work.”
Mark does manage to find the odd scrap of free time and when he does, he fills it with yet more artwork.
He recently sketched a ‘re-branded’ bottle of Original Source shower gel. He posted it to his Facebook page and it proved a hit with all those who’ve felt that burning tingle.
He commented: “Original Source gave me a response as well which was cool. It’s a bit of fun, not that time consuming. I get a lot of work through Facebook, from people seeing my art on there and from shares and retweets.”
“I also got a retweet from the Hunger Games for a piece I did which was great.”
Mark concluded that he’s not doing too badly for a guy who gets to pursue his hobby for a living. He said: “It wasn’t until second or third year when I was on placement with an ad agency placement that I moved towards illustration, up to then I thought I wanted to be an animator. I’m doing the stuff that I would be doing for free and getting paid for it. You can’t be bad to that.”