Meet Mario Zucca: A Freelance Illustrator

By Iva Mikles •  Updated: Oct 04, 2021 •  Interviews

Mario Zucca is a freelance Illustrator who was born and raised in a small town in Western Pennsylvania, United States. His love and passion is map-making which allowed him to always have a creative outlet between assignment work.

My first exposure to illustration was from reading comic books. I obsessed over artists like Erik Lersen, Todd McFarlane, and Jim Lee..”

Artwork by Mario Zucca

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Can you please tell us a bit about your background? Please add at least one random interesting fact about you.

I was born and raised in a small town in Western Pennsylvania. I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, and my parents and teachers saw my early passion for art & always encouraged me to pursue it.

I moved to Philadelphia in 1998 to attend Tyler School of Art, and after a few years bouncing around after graduation, wound up back in Philly in 2011 and have been here working as an illustrator ever since.

Random facts about me…

1. As a teen, I won a national art contest that awarded my school a cash prize, which was enough to buy a few iMacs and start a small digital art studio. This was my first exposure to programs like Photoshop and Corel Painter.
2. I love local craft beer, and I’ve been to nearly 100 microbreweries in Pennsylvania.
3. I hate the taste of cilantro. It tastes like soap.

What inspired you to make art?

My first exposure to illustration was from reading comic books. I obsessed over artists like Erik Lersen, Todd McFarlane, and Jim Lee.

Did you study at art school(s) or are you self-taught?

My major in undergrad was Graphic Design, but I quickly learned it wasn’t for me and I switched my focus to Illustration. About 8 years later, I went back to school to earn my Master in Illustration.

Artwork by Mario Zucca

How did you develop your own art style?

Finding my style has been an ongoing process over the last 2 decades.

I discovered my love and passion for map-making about 7 years ago, and it’s allowed me to always have a creative outlet between assignment work. As for inspiration, I’m constantly inspired by the work of my contemporaries, i.e. the work I see in annuals, online, and out in the world.

How did you start making a living as an artist? What was your first paid art job?

My first commission was for the New York Time’s Op-Ed page, and it came while I was still an undergrad. All thanks go to my professors Alice Drueding & Joe Scorsone who knew the Op-Ed editor at the time.

What do you live from as an artist now? What are your main income streams and what is the approximate % split of each?

It fluctuates from year to year, but it’s basically 70% assignment work, 20% print sales/wholesaling, 10% licensing royalties.

What are you currently working on?

Assignment work: I’m currently beginning work on a map of a section of Phoenix, AZ (Arizona, USA) for a real estate client.

Personal work: I’m working on a large city map of Milwaukee, WI (Wisconsin, USA) that will be made into a print and licensed as a jigsaw puzzle.

What do you think are the most important characteristics of an artist?

Passion, tenacity, always striving to improve oneself, and a willingness to take and apply criticism.

Artwork by Mario Zucca

What are the art tools and other products and services you can’t live without?

My MacBook Pro. Also, I recently upgraded to a 24″ Wacom Cintiq and I’ll never go back to my old Intuos tablet. That, and a fresh set of Micron pens.

What are your favorite art and other books (fiction, non-fiction)?

The book I use the most and always recommend to those just starting out is the Graphic Artists Guild’s Pricing & Ethical Guidelines Handbook.

What is your favorite quote?

I’ve always loved the quote from Alain de Botton:

“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed about who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.”

Get in touch with Mario

Thank you, Mario, for joining us today!

All artworks by Mario Zucca, used with permission.

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Hi, I am Iva (rhymes with “viva”). I am an artist, illustrator, founder of Art Side of Life®, and Top Teacher on Skillshare. Since 2009 I've worked as an illustrator, character designer, art director, and branding specialist focusing on illustration, storytelling, concepts, and animation. I believe that we are all creative in infinite numbers of ways, so I've made it my mission to teach you everything I know and help either wake up or develop your creative genius. Learn more about me.