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Skipping gears with Mark Lacey

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The strongest passions often show themselves at a young age.

Mark Lacey was introduced to professional illustration when he was a "spotty teenager", but the guy had the boldness to apply for a position at a research laboratory and his career has been developing non-stop since then.

For this Member Spotlight, let's gather to read the story of an ambitious and motivated creative with a burning passion for his craft. And a great love of cars and music.

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How did you get into the industry?

When I was a spotty teenager I applied for a Senior Illustrator position at a research laboratory. I had no relevant qualifications or professional experience but I loaded my application with samples of my work and a department head had the vision to see that I would slot right in. They employed me and also sent me on a day-release Technical Graphics course to get my professional qualifications. Five years later when the department was closed I moved straight on to a freelance career.

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Where are you based now and who do you work for?

I am based near Stansted Airport about 25 miles north of London. I have worked for many companies over the years. Recently my focus has been automotive and I have had the pleasure of working on projects for Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, Lotus, McLaren and Rolls-Royce among others. Somehow, I also managed to get a name for jewellery photography and retouching, not something I originally planned to do but it presented a challenge and it is a very rewarding subject to handle.

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

I would have loved to be a musician. Music is big part of my life, though I can only listen, I do not have the talent to play anything more challenging than the triangle. The double bass appeals to me most - yes, maybe playing bass in a jazz-fusion trio would be perfect.

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Can you explain your creative process?

Illustration and retouching is all about observation. You need to listen carefully to what the client believes are the essential qualities of their product and then do your best to highlight those areas while keeping the final image 'real'. This is not that easy, as what you would consider to be 'real' the client does not always agree, and then you have to factor in the opinions of the photographer, creative team etc. Most things in the creative industry are subjective so there is no right or wrong, just individual preferences. So, once anything up to a dozen professionals have had their say you can end up with some very compromised looking images. 

Personally, I believe the most successful images are those that receive a gentle manipulation. Although that does not necessarily mean less work.

Recently I have been working on private commissions for owners of luxury cars, it has been interesting to see how their view of their car differs from that of the marketing department. I enjoy this work too, as the car is clearly the focus, and it gives me the freedom to present my own interpretation.

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

I started with pencils, airbrushes, board and paints so the move to computers was the biggest change. I still use the same techniques of drawing and masking before applying colour and it is a long process. I do not believe that the computer saves me a lot of time, unless there is duplication, but it is a lot cleaner and healthier than surrounding yourself in a cloud of airborne paint particles, and slicing the ends of your fingers at two in the morning with a scalpel. 

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What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

I am motivated by subject matter so if it appeals to me I can easily stay focused. I do tackle less appealing subjects as they all present their own challenges. On the automotive side there have been some questionable projects but it is strange how you come to see the appeal as you work through the project. Once again the challenge comes from making that vehicle as appealing as possible without compromising the original design.

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

I am sorry, but I will have to loosely quote Enzo Ferrari on that - the next project. However, working up the images for the customer Ferrari Portofino book was particularly satisfying, even though many of those were complicated cut and shut compositions.

How do you recharge away from the office?

Music and travel. I do enjoy listening to music and attending concerts, though as most of these are based in London I do not go as often as I used to. I have a couple of TVR's that are used for weekend travel and memorable touring holidays on the continent. They are great fun and enable me to meet with like minded people and go to places and events I would not necessarily have chosen myself.

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

Most aspiring creatives go to uni before seeking a career. Looking back I would have loved to have that opportunity. When I started work as an illustrator it was straight into the specialist subjects that were of importance to the Lab. My advice to anyone at Uni is get your head down and make the most of this chance to be creative. This is the one time in your life when you can do you want and explore your limits with the minimum of interference. Once you get into the work environment then others will have more influence on your thought processes and creativity.

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

I would love to see a time when when all the hardware and software work together. But that is just wishful thinking, right?

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