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Interview with Adobe Stock Contributor Mark Kirkpatrick

By Catherine G. Wagley

Self-taught Seattle-based artist Mark Kirkpatrick is finding a growing and appreciative audience for his work online—in part by making his work available for purchase on Adobe Stock.

The mountains in Mark Kirkpatrick’s Landscapes series look like they could exist either on the moon or in some eerily romantic desert. Kirkpatrick, who has worked in Seattle since 2005, spent this past summer working on this series, digitally rendering scenes of white, jagged mountains against a washed-out sky, or of mountains lit by a pinkish sun lurking behind a small island with palm trees on it. “I like the idea of solitude, the barren landscape,” says Kirkpatrick. In the past, especially when he was still drawing and painting with pen and ink, he would base his images on more recognizable scenes—a New York street, for instance, or an airport cafe. Now, his images occupy a realm of their own. “They’re not really based in reality,” he says. “I think they’re inspiring each other at this point.”

Kirkpatrick, who runs a design studio called Visual Humans and takes on commercial work as a way of supporting his personal work, grew up in Costa Mesa, a Southern California city with a pronounced surf and skate culture. He wasn’t an avid skater himself, but he did spend time in skate shops, reveling in the bold graphics. Chocolate Skateboards, a brand with a cartoonish, pop aesthetic, was a favorite.

In 2000, Kirkpatrick moved to East Lansing, Michigan, to attend Michigan State University. He studied business there and, in 2001, founded a T-shirt company called Invicid. He would design the shirts—bubblegum machines, skulls, and streetscapes made appearances—and a collaborator would help him with the printing. They sold the shirts online to an international audience and made just enough money to sustain the project.

From the start, Kirkpatrick, who has always worked in design, was self-taught. After college, he moved back to California to take design work at a skateboarding company. He stayed until 2005, when he left for Seattle because he wanted to live in a place with a different vibe. He didn’t actually visit Seattle before moving there, but he liked what he knew from a distance about the Northwestern aesthetic. He imagined the mountainous landscape and the cool breeziness of the Puget Sound being different from Southern California’s sunny airiness. He taught himself basic web design and secured a design job at Starbucks in 2007. At the same time, he spent his free time hand-painting ships and urban scenes.

“I’ve kind of always gone through phases with art,” says Kirkpatrick. Early on, Edward Hopper’s quietly moody panoramas influenced him, as did the stylized 1930s urban scenes of painter Ben Shahn. But a few years ago, Kirkpatrick started looking at the work of artists like Mark Winkelmann, who goes by the name Beeple and digitally renders otherworldly, comic imagery.

Kirkpatrick uses Maxon Cinema 4D to render his images; then he moves them into Adobe Photoshop to give them the nuances he wants. “It became more compelling once I gained a few skills,” he says. He still keeps a sketchbook, but now he works primarily on an iMac, with two large screens on his desk. He also has a large-format printer and a drawing table nearby, so he can print an image and work on it by hand if needed.

He has experimented with imagery based on architectural and mechanical items such as bridges and army vehicles, but it’s his landscapes that have a decidedly magical, immersive quality. They also feel cinematic, and he has begun considering animation as a next step.

While he has exhibited two-dimensional work, Kirkpatrick’s images live primarily online, where they reach an attentive audience. “I get a lot of emails from people saying, ‘It’s so beautiful, I wish I could live in this world,’” he says. “I wouldn’t say I’m creating these to escape, though. Some of them, I make with exploration in mind.”

Check out more of Kirkpatrick’s work on his Adobe Stock page and in his Behance portfolio.