Meet Mark “Blok” Magnaye: A Freelance Illustrator

By Iva Mikles •  Updated: Nov 26, 2021 •  Interviews

Mark “Blok” Magnaye is a freelance illustrator from the Philippines. His work is influenced by the big shapes and bold colors of Bauhaus artists and designers like Paul Rand and Saul Bass, and illustrators like Charley Harper and Mary Blair.

“… sometimes it’s inevitable to find yourself in a rut or with an artist’s block. That’s normal. It’s best to leave the desk and go for a walk. Nature is endlessly inspiring

Artwork by Mark “Blok” Magnaye

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

My name is Mark Magnaye, my closest friends call me Blok. I am currently based in the Philippines and working as a full-time freelance illustrator.

I grew up in a small town in the province of Bulacan, in the Philippines during the ’90s. I’ve always had an inclination toward the arts.

When I was a kid, I always liked drawing and making things with my hands. It is something I never grew out of. Fast-forward a few years, and I was a fresh graduate with a degree in Fine Arts on my hands. My first job was working as a children’s illustrator for a small start-up company. After a few years, I decided to make the full-time switch to freelance illustration. I am currently represented internationally and have had the opportunity to work on various projects, big and small, here and there.

A random fact about me is that I was born with a caul. It is supposedly rare and happens only in 1 out of 80,000 births. If you believe the myths and superstitions, then I am very lucky and I would never drown.

What inspired you to make art?

During my childhood in the ’90s, Japanese anime was a huge thing in the Philippines. Being in a small town with nothing much going on, it was my earliest exposure to visual art. I was into Sailormoon, HunterXHunter, Fushigi Yuugi, Akazukin Chacha, and all that.

My ultimate childhood dream, actually, was to create my own anime. Growing up, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the arts. I entered the U.P. College of Fine Arts, and there I learned visual art beyond anime and cartoons.

My taste became refined and I began to gain a deeper appreciation for different forms of visual art like design, photography, and, of course, illustration. I was inspired by the mid-century style, especially by the works of Paul Rand, Charley Harper, Mary Blair, and the Polish School of Posters.

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

I studied Visual Communication at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts, although I would say I am mostly self-taught in terms of technical skills.

In order to be admitted to the university, you had to have skills and pass a talent test, so even before I went there, I knew how to draw and use a couple of Adobe software programs.

What I learned in college is mostly theories and principles, which are also very important. Nonetheless, attending the University of the Philippines was a big part of my artistic journey, and it was such an enriching experience.

Artwork by Mark “Blok” Magnaye

How did you develop your own art style? Where do you go for inspiration? How do you keep your creativity flowing?

I didn’t have a solid style back when I was in college.

It was a time when I was just trying everything and learning from it. It took me a while to develop a style that I was happy with and could say confidently, “yes, that’s me.”

I have an affinity for mid-century style. I love the simplicity of it, the use of big shapes and bold colors. Bauhaus artists, designers like Paul Rand and Saul Bass, and illustrators like Charley Harper and Mary Blair all inspired me. You can see their influence in my style. I also worked as a children’s illustrator for a time, which has hugely influenced my work. It encouraged me to try and remember to inject whimsy and humor into my work wherever possible. 

I think it was Maya Angelou who said, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” I tend to agree because I find myself the most creative when I’m working. But sometimes it’s inevitable to find yourself in a rut or with an artist’s block. That’s normal. It’s best to leave the desk and go for a walk. Nature is endlessly inspiring.

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

I had my first illustration gig when I was in my final year of college.

After seeing my illustration work, one of my instructors referred me to one of his colleagues at the Marine Science Institute for a project. I was commissioned to create an instructional comic about red tide (harmful algal blooms). It was distributed in some public schools in the Philippines and, I believe, in Japan too.

Soon after graduation, I worked as a children’s illustrator and, ultimately, as a full-time freelance illustrator.

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

Currently, 100% of my income comes from commissions from my illustration work.

I’m lucky to have hardworking agents from Making Pictures and Creasenso who have my back. I am trying to explore other income streams as it is important for freelancers to diversify.

What are you currently working on?

I am regularly illustrating the splash for the Money section of the Sunday Telegraph in the UK.

I have a couple of projects too which I cannot talk about yet. I post all work, and sometimes life updates on my Instagram: @blokism.

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

Being open and curious, I think those are the most important traits, not just for an artist, but for anyone to have.

It’s how we grow and gain new perspectives in life. As an artist, your unique perspective is your superpower, your weapon. You make it stronger by opening yourself up to new experiences and the world around you.

Artwork by Mark “Blok” Magnaye

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

As a digital artist, I can’t imagine working without my computer (PC over Mac) and Adobe software.

I used to be so adept at just using the mouse to create my artwork, but now I have become dependent on my Wacom pen tablet. I also find my iPad Pro + Apple Pencil to be really useful and handy when I’m creating sketches for clients or working on the go.

But wherever I go, I always have a dermatograph pencil and a grid notebook with me.

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

I love and collect picture books. I acquired most of my collection from thrift bookstores. I actually prefer thrifting to buying new books. The books themselves have their own story. A child once loved and owned these books. Somehow they ended up in a thrift store and, by chance, made it to me. They’re my treasure. I’d like to think I’m now the guardian, the keeper of the book, the story, and its memory.

A few of the most cherished ones in my collection are The Forest (Ricardo Bozzi, Violeta Lopiz & Valerio Vidali), Spring is Here (Taro Gomi), My First Nursery Book (Franciszka Themerson), The Lost Children (Paul Goble), Alice in Wonderland (Mary Blair), Every Friday (Dan Yaccarino), Patrick Michael Kevin (Betty Peckinpah), Raquel’s Fantastic Hair (Luis Gatmaitan, Beth Parrocha), and Papel de Liha (Ompong Remigio, Beth Parrocha)

What advice would you give yourself as a beginner artist? Or alternatively please include your favorite quote and the author.

This quote pretty much sums up my artistic journey and how I try to approach life:

 “I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.” –Roald Dahl

Get in touch with Mark

Thank you, Mark, for joining us today!

All artworks by Mark “Blok” Magnaye, 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.