Visual storytelling with Marcus Kwame
Marcus Kwame is an artist whose love of storytelling took him to drawing comics and illustrate books. Influenced by music and the innate creativity of his daughter, he aims at representing the full range of black experience in his illustrations.
DID YOU KNOW EARLY ON THAT YOU WANTED TO BE A PROFESSIONAL ILLUSTRATOR?
I knew very early on that I wanted to create art, although I didn’t necessarily know that it was a career option. I just knew that I loved to draw and I didn’t want to stop. Later in high school, I started really considering a career in comic books and other types of illustration. I had a very supportive high school art teacher named Mrs. Pace, who insisted that I go on study art in college.
DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR FIRST PAID JOB AS AN ILLUSTRATOR? HOW DID IT COME ABOUT?
I remember doing a variety of poster designs and spot illustrations for people and organizations after graduating college. I can’t remember which one came first, but one that stands out in my mind was a poster that I designed for The New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators annual conference weekend. It was one of those situations where someone who was familiar with my art recommended me. I’ve gotten a lot of work over the years on the strength of people having seen my art in one place or another.
WHICH MEDIA DO YOU USE TO CREATE YOUR ART AND WHY?
When I paint, I tend to use watercolors or acrylic paint. It depends on what effect I want to achieve. I enjoy working on canvas and having the freedom to layer paint and explore. I also love India Inks. You can do a lot with them, from bold line work to subtle washes. I’ve also gotten into digital illustration over the last 5 or 7 years.
HOW AND WHEN DID YOU START DRAWING COMICS?
I created my first sequential art stories when I was in grade school. They were really simple at first. Just a series of illustrations on printer paper that told a story. Throughout middle school and high school, the stories became more involved. Even though I majored in Illustration, I drifted away from comics in my college years. I felt the urge to tell stories again a couple years after graduation. I worked on some short stories and then went on to co-create the series, Snow Daze with my friend Leo.
BESIDES VISUAL ART, WHAT INSPIRES YOU THE MOST IN YOUR DAY-TO-DAY LIFE?
I’m very much inspired by other forms of the arts. Music has always been a big inspiration for me. I see visuals in music, and those visuals often find their way into my work. I’m inspired by conversation, the exchange of ideas. My biggest inspiration is probably my daughter. She overflows with creativity, and reminds me to embrace the pure joy of creating.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR CULTURAL HERITAGE AND HOW THAT HAS INFLUENCED YOUR WORK?
I’m African-Caribbean by way of Jamaica, but I’ve lived in the United States for most of my life. I feel connected to these different sides of the Black experience, and the entire African Diaspora. I seek to represent the range and diversity of the African Diaspora in my larger body of work. Pop culture representations of Black People often fall short of representing our full humanity and beauty. I want to make sure that we are seen.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE PEOPLE TO FEEL WHEN THEY LOOK AT YOUR ART?
I don’t have a specific thing that I want or expect people to feel. I know what I put into each piece. Sometimes I have a very specific intent, and sometimes the story comes through me. Most of the time I want to convey something positive. I also want to make people think. Either way, once I’ve finished a piece of art and put it out into the world, I have to accept that I can’t control how it will be perceived or felt. I’m always interested in hearing what people take away from my art. Many times their interpretation is similar to mine and other times they see something that didn’t occur to me.