An interview w/DSGN-LAB collaborative Illustrator and Graphic Artist, Mark Shepherd
In an unfrequented closet in Northern Michigan back in 1984, Mark Shepherd began his journey on the very first ever created Apple Macintosh computer. Publishing some of the most awkward, funny, and primitive websites back when the internet was referred to as cyberspace he launched into serious study while at the University of Cincinnati with his hands in ceramic sculpture. Upon graduation, Mark began building a successful Illustration business and embarked on teaching academia as an Assistant Professor for four years. Deciding to leave the Midwest for the West Coast, he landed in Portland, Oregon and worked as a senior digital designer within a large award winning global ad agency. Living and traveling over most of the USA, S Africa, Spain, Germany, Thailand, and Portugal with a deep interest in the journey rather than the destination – he’s had 30 years of making and breaking the design iteration process. Currently residing in Northern California and working for the Apple empire – I inquisitively reached out to DSGN-LAB collaborative Illustrator and Graphic Artist, Mark Shepherd, to dig more into his intelligence.
LR: Let’s go back in the time machine to 1984 on that very first ever created Apple Macintosh computer you owned. How exciting that must have been at a time when it was so cutting edge! I am curious about the primitive websites you created when it was coined cyberspace. What was it like witnessing your ideas coming to existence digitally and then sharing them online for the first time?
MS: Whoa! I like the idea of traveling backward in time to the future of cyberspace! Well, it feels like a very long time ago. So last millennium to actually imagine pre-digital anything! My days consisted of walking up a long flight of stairs to enter a tiny dark room that had no windows and sit behind a very small beige box to push gigantic pixels around a monochrome 512 × 342 pixel display. Now imagine, NO ONE knew what a pixel was at this time! I can remember thinking – this tool is amazing – because it afforded me the ability to generate ideas quickly and conceal the inadequacies I had with drawing and sketching. From there on, I knew it was the tool for me because I could hide behind the pixels. Ironically, I made drawings of skulls and wrote personal narratives on analog laser printouts. Needless to say, the computer quickly became an ally. Websites arrived many years later – around 1994 – with the invention of the WWW (world wide web). Immediately, I was drawn to the concept of self-publishing and seeing the power of potentially displaying my artwork to “millions of viewers”. There were absolutely no rules or regulations, no encrypted media extensions – everything was an animated flaming torch! Then I built my own Illustration site (brutalgift.com) which was eventually published in a book about websites back when they still published books about websites! Damn, I miss those days.
LR: Now let’s discuss the present, 2018. With a huge shift in technology, in such a relatively short amount of time, humans have become incredibly dependent on their “smart” phones. With the multitude of content that we are absorbing on these devices, what do you think will have the most impact on our generation and generations to come?
MS: We stare into our smart phones and they deliver dumber and dumber, less trustworthy content. It’s emphatically true that the average person spends 90 minutes a day on their phone. That amounts to around 23 days a year and 3.9 years of the average person’s life spent staring at their phone screen! Yet, middle-aged Americans spend more time on social media than Millennials, upending the common assumption that mostly only young people are addicted to their devices. The truly frightening statistic are individuals ages 18 to 36 that spend an average of 17.8 hours a day being influenced by different types of media. Social media, in particular, occupies around 5.4 hours per day – that’s a lot of time consuming other peoples DATA. The issues moving forward will be based on how we receive and comprehend such content and if we are able to recognize and address our level of addiction to our devices. As so called “users” (that’s all of us) are increasingly tapped into media, the question isn’t whether or not they will hear a brand’s message, but if they will have the bandwidth to listen.
LR: With the current creative pool being so vast with quick and easy design-it-yourself websites, how do you continue to inspire such sensational material that stands out among the mass?
MS: I am consistently inspired by the world around me. It’s intimidating the amount of talent I am exposed to on a daily basis with every trip I take to Instagram or Pinterest opening up a whole new world of creative possibilities. It can be daunting at times to keep up – but maybe we are addicted to this behavior of staying on trend? We are in constant “refresh mode” now.
LR: Who or what inspired you to explore the topic of graphic design that eventually led to your launching of a successful Illustration business?
MS: Super good question. I feel graphic design chose me. I remember flunking out of my statistics course in my second year in college. I recall that’s when I realized how much I loved drawing and using my hands to create. Also, Graphic Design was the practical art of my choosing at that time, it was still considered a “commercial art” when I began taking it seriously as a student. I remember thinking – someone will pay me to draw!? It was always a dream job of mine to be able to sit in the corner, doodle and make money! That is how I saw it as a naive 18 year old. Wait, on second thought…maybe deep, deep down in my subconscious it was Dr. Suess or Willy Wonka? I’m not sure.
LR: You also have your hands in ceramic sculpture. Do you experience the same amount of excitement designing on a computer versus something more tangible like clay?
MS: Two different animals with the same head. The creative process remains in tact. However, nothing is more immediate when you are creating without a tool between you and the medium – such as dirt or clay. It is seductive, sensual and sexy! It gets in your teeth, skin and down in your lungs. A computer doesn’t even come close, it’s like fucking a robot with a condom on. A favorite piece of mine would be the “Cloud on Stilts” sculpture, which is just a lump of Papier-mâché and wire.
LR: Consumers have no idea the time and effort that goes in to branding content. Countless amounts of hours are spent sitting in front of a computer. How do you counter balance your work life and what brings you joy away from the screen time?
MS: You are so right about the time and effort that goes into branding, glad you asked! What brings me joy is picking on a banjo. I love making collages that make very little sense. That activity relaxes and always surprises me – it is one exercise when I am doing WITHOUT thinking. Allowing the scraps of paper to tell me a story, one I could not dream up within my own mind. It’s when I feel most in the flow, or present moment, and just allowing things to take it’s own course. It has become fundamental play time. Also – I love creating songs that never existed and then singing them aloud to my soon to be wife. But, hearing her sing brings me much more joy. As well as travel, not vacationing, but true travel. Traveling seems to be a lost art, so many folks work hard and take a week or two off to reset in a hotel in Hawaii. I thrive off of placing myself outside my comfort zone. When I am forced to be more inventive, outgoing and generous with my time – meeting strangers inspires and refreshes my spirit! Learning from other cultures and perspectives is invaluable to how you see your own set of inflexible beliefs, they suddenly become much more fluid and mutable. Witnessing a human being’s kindness is truly inspiring. I sincerely believe kindness brings joy – a daily practice. A new friend from Sri Lanka advised me to visualize the color purple – she explained the importance of mastering the power of purple and forgiveness. Tennis also helps me decompress outside of work as well as practicing and applying a growth mindset. I encourage anyone to read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck for developing habits that will improve their entire life – not just in the workplace. I also have a few other side projects that must remain anonymous! “The most important question anyone can ask is: What myth am I living – Carl Jung.”
LR: On your website, mmmshepherd.com, there is a category where you write topics you’re passionate about. Your latest release entitled The Creative Resistance highlights what a man’s role in feminism looks like. With current organizations fighting for women to get paid equally, not all men feel the same. Without claiming to be one of the newly minted male feminists that have recently popped up at the women’s marches, where did your empathetic compassion for such a topic derive from?
MS: I was raised by women – my mother and four sisters. Being surrounded by women, I quickly understood the concept, underpinnings and prejudices surrounding them. It’s mind boggling that still today women generally earn around 80 cents for every dollar that men earn. In general, women demonstrate more compassion, empathy and emotional intelligence than most men. Women deserve equal pay as well as leadership roles! This would help balance out the patriarchal system that has given rise to endless wars, poverty, homelessness, abandonment, racism, and greed! I feel that this has all been normalized and accepted as “what humans do”. It’s time to tip the scales to a more gentle, humane paradigm, to one that is rooted in respect for the earth and all life.
There is a native story about a father and son walking along the beach, each of them carrying a stick. The son begins dragging the stick through the sand – scarring the earth. The father wanting to instill rectitude, reverence of life, affinity to the natural world, consciousness that he is of the Earth – not separate from – and that the Earth is not a resource to pillage and take from. He teaches his son that he is one with the soil, air, water, and all of nature and further explained how he was actually harming the earth by dragging that stick through the sand. Now – imagine yourself as a small child receiving THIS message – instead of the messages that we receive today in western culture! Would we revere our relationship with the planet differently?
LR: You also explore the dawn of the sensitive machismo, in your article entitled C.C. Rider Vs The White Knight of Soul. I am reminded of the Pre-1960 Male that projected a tough, rugged, unreachable, silent, and often violent facade. Now evolving toward the kinder, gentler, somewhat emotionally available, in-touch-with-the-needs-of-others kind of Man, brings me to my next question. Be it branding, advertising, social media outreach, and filmmaking – we are shifting away from the idea that Men are macho and powerful and Women are weak and emotional. Being a Man in creative leadership roles, will we ever truly escape this history of discouraging and disrespectful depictions of gender, sex, and power?
MS: Yes! Perhaps we will evolve past these depictions, but unfortunately for humanity even with all its brain power – moves infinitesimally slow. These views of others that we perceive as “different” from ourselves are merely illusions or deceptive beliefs, and they are rearing their ugly heads once again in full force under our current administration. So, I am not sure how we will move past our prejudice and hatred as a collective conscious, but we do need to hold on to that dream! Lift up heroes that believe in kindness, generosity, equity, respect. Remain hopeful – for without hope we are surely doomed. We are stuck on the idea around winning and being right. Too many battles are fought over who is right. The current debate in regard to climate change is the most frightening! Unfortunately, the most pathetic aspect is that our industry of branding actually relies on these stereotypes and incessantly reinforces them! Be it gender, class or race. Humans now brand themselves and the industry regurgitates it back so quickly that it has next to no time to take hold as a trend. So now we are seeing a continuous non-stop conversation of my brand-intermingled-with-your-b
LR: The power of advertising and how it can influence the world had you so generously offer your graphic design services free of charge to organizations fighting for social, environmental, and civil rights causes. One example is your Unarmed Water Protectors campaign for Standing Rock. Did this experience validate any view you may have on how essential branding and design can bring about change and awareness for the betterment of the planet and it’s resources?
MS: A wise soul once told me to use my power for good. Now everyone has their idea of good, and it differs. Humanity is currently becoming more and more fractured. Advertising sends a measureless amount of messages into the world uninterrupted. What if these messages were not only about selling products but actually selling ideas that benefit humankind? Shifting our consciousness away from greed, destruction and dystopian fantasies! We seem hell bent on ending it all ourselves. Imagine uninterrupted messages from the Dali Lama, Black Elk or MLK – for instance? Would we be leading different lives if it were not rooted in consumerism and useless signifiers of wealth? Choosing fashion made from hemp or questioning waitstaff at your local restaurant about how your fish was caught is no substitute for systematic change. How has human civilization gone from Plato to this? This form of messaging has been conditioning us long before we were born – as seen from the brilliant carousel scene in the television series, MADMEN.
Working on the Standing Rock project allowed me a small window into the world of the powerless, the defenseless. Unfortunately, one way or another – the powerful usually “win” in the end and get their oil pipeline built. But then we all lose again. This is the sad thing, I just do not see much effort placed into a win/win strategy. Can we have a world with clean drinking water AND toxic chemicals spilling and leaching from endless pipelines that snake through that same water supply? With every small victory there always seems to be a much larger war. I feel that the vulnerable deserve a voice. Or voices! Because one day we will all be vulnerable – so we must listen and act to protect the earth since we are dependent and connected to her. If I could have one super power, it would be to have MADMEN Don Drapers charm and wit to hypnotize all of humanity into respecting and honoring earth and life itself – the same type of reverence we seem to hold for much less important THINGS in our lives.
LR: Branding, Graphic Designing, and Art Directing for high tech innovator and augmented reality company, YOUar, brings us full circle in discussing the future now of the internet. How will this next technological step further impact the way we interface?
MS: I am skeptical – to say the least! I feel inventors always believe their inventions are going to somehow save or ameliorate humanity. It seems to be a paradox since the man that invented the ship also invented the shipwreck. I have no idea what impacts the evolution of technology will eventually have over us and the way we will interact. We keep throwing new technologies, apps, phones, watches, nanobots, VR, AR, etc – without considering any of the consequences. I can already see how this current technology (pharmacology, iPhones) has isolated teens, and created delusional lives that further creates the anxiety around day to day struggles they face. Technology seems to speed things up – where we want a quick solution to a very complex set of problems. That may be the problem? I do not see it enhancing our relationships and understandings of each other. These newer technologies seem to foster division, additional isolation and depression. How to fix it? More technology?! As we immerse ourselves further into a simulated abstracted world – it will be the seduction of a seamless dream. Talk about addiction! One that many argue we already live in. I don’t see the positives of this technology assisting humans to fully engage and be present with each other. Humans can barely practice active listening without being distracted by their own thoughts. I believe it will be the impulse to escape the messiness of human interaction and enter a world of your choosing – whatever one can dream up. How do we cultivate and nurture interaction and not divert with these new tools? That will be the question moving forward. If you really want to learn about living with technology in a more balanced way check out, Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen’s – The Distracted Mind.
LR: Thank you, Mark Shepherd, for sitting in that tiny unfrequented closet in Michigan back in ’84. The world needs and desires creative leaders such as yourself that will travel outside of their comfort zone to stand with standing rock. Men that honor and respect women’s rights and speak up about equality in the workplace. Brand designers who are passionate about the betterment of humanity in what and how we are being fed to consume! You – are an influencer! Now, if the masses could be exposed to more leaders with this way of thinking – there really could be a big transformation in our world! Imagine the shift in humanity if we all got off of our digital dementia devices and took better care of ourselves and our now limited resources on the planet. In the creed of the Neon Renaissance – “Be good to me and I’ll be good to you”. Who is going to stand up?
See more of Mark Shepherd’s work
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
Lindsie Reitz is an editorial artist covering a wide range of topics that showcase creatives in all forms of media.
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