Test, test. Hello, hello. Can you hear me? Great. Hi friend. I take it you’ve seen me around? Me and my charming hand-drawn friends are the Zendesk house illustration style. We have been tasked with illustrating how Zendesk creates better customer experiences. Best. Job. Ever. So much fun.
We get to drive around in a truck…
…and do fun dance routines.
But my favourite moment at work so far was when I got to hang out with these oddball garden tools.
Today’s assignment is a really good one too. I am here to introduce my master and maker to you. Marcus Oakley. He is the talented illustrator that draws us up in his studio in Scotland. Marcus has been a long time collaborator with the Zendesk design team, and we thought it was a long time overdue to get to know him a bit better.
Oh look, here he comes.
Zendesk Illustration: Hi Marcus, my maker. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us. To get started, how about you tell us three things everybody should know about Marcus Oakley.
Marcus Oakley: Of course. I am a Graphic Artist / Self Taught Musician / Flâneur / Day Dreamer / Tea Drinker / Human Being. That’s 6 things, sorry.
Don’t be. Now tell us about your creative process. Do you start with a blank piece of paper?
Yes! Always with a blank piece of paper, pen, and usually a cup of tea.
I simply enjoy the physicality of drawing and connecting one line with another; thick lines, thin lines, zig zag, curved, straight, fast, slow, wonky, abstract and pictorial they all have their own special mood and melody.
That explains why I feel so wonky most of the time. You did that to me. Your style does feel very analogue indeed. What other utensils do you use? And how has translating your work into pixels influenced you?
I’m really interested in the fuzzy and foggy overlap of illustration in art and design. The analogue vs. the digital. Continuously learning that drawing has the potential to be anything and interpreted as anything. Constantly thinking and more thinking. Daydreaming and imaginative drifting. Making and more making. Drawing and even more drawing!
There’s a lot of whimsey in your illustrations. Sometimes a new illustration from you makes the Zendesk design team laugh out loud. How does humour influence your work?
Much like the Beach Boys I’m really into melody, warmth and good vibrations—so I try include these themes into my work.
Fun fun fun! What else is a source of inspiration for you?
Many, many things inspire and influence my work. My surroundings & interests often filter down into my work. Sometimes directly or indirectly.
Here are just a few:
Walking / Cycling / Camping / Reading / Nature / Landscape / Gardening / Architecture / Baking Bread / History / 1970’s Films / Ceramics / Melodic Music / Art & Design
Nice. I do all of that. Now, how did you get into illustration in the first place?
Originally I didn’t set out specifically to be an illustrator, neither did I have a career path. What I knew was that I wanted to live a creative life and make things.
In 1996 I graduated from Camberwell Collage of Arts with a degree in Fine Art & Graphic design. I studied many aspects of Art and Design. Including Type Setting & Letter Press, Typography, Silkscreening, Video Art, Book-Making, Conceptual Art, Painting, Illustration & Graphic design.
After graduation I thought it would be a good idea to work in a design studio. I was fortunate after two months of graduating and a three rigorous interviews to be offered a position as a T-shirt & Textile designer for the British fashion brand Paul Smith.
It was a fascinating company to work for and I learnt so much about working in the creative industries. After three years of literally designing hundreds & hundreds of t-shirt and textile designs, I decided to leave and pursue a career as a graphic artist and to spend more time on my personal art practice.
Since 2000 I have worked on a broad range of projects including book illustration, products, textile design, and packaging.
So good. Now, change of pace: Quick fire! What is your favourite tool?
Pens & Pencils.
What is the best song to draw to?
Anything by: The Beach Boys, Bert Jansch, Gerry Rafferty, John Fahey, Paco De Lucia, Steely Dan, Kraftwerk, and John Martyn. (Check out the playlist below for some recommendations.)
Tunes Marcus Oakley listens to when drawing funny illustrated characters for Zendesk.
Favourite place to work from?
At home in my studio, Although I do spend too much time looking at a computer screen so perhaps somewhere outside with a drawing board, paper, pens, paint, a flask of tea, and maybe some fruit cake.
The art that excites me the most is the work made by people from hundreds and thousands of years ago by many cultures from all over the world. These aren’t really illustrators.
On my travels I have seen so many amazing and inspiring objects. Particular favourites of mine are Greek Cycladic art, Norse artifacts, Japanese Dogu figures, Neolithic standing stones, and Totem poles by the First Nations people of the Pacific Northwest Coast. I love the craft and honesty of these objects.
A person you’d love to meet?
The dudes who made Stonehenge or the Pyramids. Would be great to know how they made those things.
Favourite illustration you created for Zendesk?
A Good Listener. This was originally for the Relate magazine and then later for the Relate conference a few years ago.
Weirdest illustration you were ever asked to draw?
Once I was asked to draw a giraffe wearing a bikini riding a horse.
Lol. Anything you’d love to but never got around to draw?
Would be great to spend even more time outside drawing. I am currently drawing all the flowers in my garden and I meant to do that last year.
That’s great, thanks Marcus. Finally, could you do a little scribble of something that catches your eyes right here in front of you?
Nice. You’re drowning me in this cup. Best work experience yet. Can’t wait to see where you send me next, Marcus.
About Marcus Oakley
Originally from Norfolk, Marcus’ work is inspired by many things — both retrospective and contemporary. These influences include the wonderful harmonic and melodic music of the Beach Boys; the pastoral and folkloric delights of the countryside and the animals that inhabit it; the joys of cycling; the stimulations of tea; the dizzy geometries of architecture and design — and overall the wonders of making stuff. He is currently living and working from Dunfermline in Scotland.