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Mark Harfield's Long-Lasting Love for Art

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Mark Harfield wants to be like Pierre Soulages, Al Hirshfeld or Jean-Jacques Sempé.

He wants to keep loving art for the rest of his life, and work hard enough to keep creating in his twilight years – perhaps as he enjoys some nice travel across the world, going back to the earlier stages of his career. Mark has travelled a lot before becoming a freelancer, constantly cultivating his art to achieve his goals.

For this Member Spotlight, we were lucky to exchange views with one of the most hard-working creatives in our community, as he told us about his dreams, hopes and beliefs for the creative industry.

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How did you get into the industry?

I grew up in New Zealand and attended a school for graphic design in Wellington, which is the capital city.

Since leaving NZ as young man I have lived and worked in Sydney, Brisbane, London, New York, then a return to NZ and now Paris, where I have lived for the last 10 years. In the early years, following graduation, I worked in retail and advertising, however once I got to London, (this was back in the punk days of the late 70’s) a fellow kiwi and myself (Tom Fraser) started ‘Bunch of Artists’ producing satyrical merchandising, including postcards, posters and tee shirts.

I spent the 90’s in NYC, initially as a freelance illustrator/designer, then started my own design company. After 9/11 returned to NZ for a while, continuing illustrating and designing. Got a gig for Bacardi Global Brands creating a travelling pop-up environment to promote whisky. This was deployed in different cities in China, Asia and Europe. Pushed me well out of my comfort zone into areas such as spacial design, furniture design, logistics and much much more, it was an incredible gig.

After this I landed back in Europe and have been freelancing here for the last decade, enjoying projects including branding, way finding for Aeroport de Paris and illustration.

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

I love architecture, however I like things that happen quickly, and building takes time… so something with quick results, that can be fast and fun, flying maybe, I also like knives and am pretty good with a scalpel. Before vector drawing programmes I used to illustrate by cutting coloured film with a scalpel and layering it into something that resembled a silk screen. I also like product design, carbon fibre and new materials and admire the work of artists like Ross Lovegrove.

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Can you explain your creative process?

I think essentially we are trying to solve problems within time and budget constraints. This takes time to learn and practise. The actual talent has to be there in the beginning and as Miles Davis said, 'you either have it or you don’t, age won’t give it to you.'

How has technology affected the way you work (if at all)?

I have been fortunate enough to span a long and interesting period in the industry. I was a young kid when hippie/anti capitalist culture ruled, then it got cool to be more professional. I was working before the computer took over the industry, back when what we did was a little like magic to the client.

The value of what we did was highly regarded by enough industries and compensation was good. The computer was an incredible liberation on one hand, it was suddenly possible to have the whole factory at your fingertips, changes didn’t have to wait until the copy came back from the typesetter, the images from the darkroom etc.

However as clients began to learn the methods and how we deployed our creativity, the craft was devalued. Fast forward to now and deadlines have shrunk along with the remuneration. What used to be work for cash can now be no more than work for likes…

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What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

Not wanting a real job… and loving the world of communication, design, art, comment and humour.

What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

No one thing. To continue to be in demand and have my experience appreciated makes me feel very lucky. I want to be like Al Hirshfeld or Jean-Jacques Sempé or Pierre Soulages, working into the twilight years…

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How do you recharge away from the office?

I have two teenage daughters, they inspire me and give me energy. That and drugs and alcohol.

Just kidding. I try to keep away from the bleach...

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?

If you need a brief, a deadline and approval to get you going, then graphic design, illustration, motion graphics, communications etc is for you. It is not easy to make a living and it is a bit of a roller coaster ride being a freelancer, however if you have your health, some talent and a lot of tenacity then it is possible.

If you do not need a brief, deadline or approval and you have talent and conviction then fine arts may be more rewarding. The stakes are higher and you may never make any money, but if you hit, you can blow up and have a fine ride.

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What’s your one big hope for the future of the creative industries?

It will keep evolving without my big hope, we just have to stay nimble, a little lucky too! Also I understand why we all refer to our domain as a creative industry, however, I think we often forget that all industries are creative...

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

Bring back work for money, rather than work for likes

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