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  • Annette Dawm

Sparks of Excitement with Mark Wills

Mark Wills is an artist that describes himself as an “open book”. Over the last few years, he discovered a passion for making prints on a gel plate. In January 2023, he created a YouTube Channel called “Gel with Mark” in order to share his art and knowledge with others. Today, he has over 3000 subscribers! However, Mark said that he is “not one for number counting”.

He stated, “I’m very free with explaining and sharing my process…. I’m just happy to share my discoveries with people. I’ll answer questions if asked and I’ll try and figure out problems if I am able to. At the end of the day, if the content I produce is of interest and is helpful to others, then that’s always a bonus in my eyes.”

“I've always been artistic. One of my earliest memories is of my grandad drawing for me. He drew loads of detailed, colourful bird illustrations which I kept in a folder. This was a big inspiration for me at the time….”

Aside from his grandad, Wills has also been inspired by “masters” like “Gustav Klimt, Hieronymus Bosch, M.C. Escher and Egon Schiele” and many other contemporary artists that he follows on social media.

“….I'm attracted to a diverse tapestry of influences, really. My creative journey finds inspiration in all manner of things from the awe-inspiring beauty of the natural world, to the raw energy of bustling urban landscapes, and everything else in between.”

Although Mark discovered art at an early age, he lost his creative spark until more recently.

“After I finished Secondary School, (you may call it high school)” He continued, “I went onto art college and then onto university and completed a degree in Drawing and Applied Arts.” He felt as though his degree provided him with “no training whatsoever… in the business and marketing side of being an artist. I finished university unclear and lacking direction.” Eventually, he began lino printing.

“I did become interested in photography for awhile but that kind of fizzled out. I then started a family and got married. So, free time for me wasn’t really available. It's only been in the last 2-3 years, I would say, I’ve felt the need to become more creative again.”

“I liked the idea of lino printing because of its hands on approach—the skillfulness of it and the bold graphical imagery you could create. However, the reality was that—for one—I still didn't have the time to invest in becoming proficient, technically, to achieve a level of mastery I was satisfied with. Don't get me wrong, the allure of those sharp, clean lines and the tactile nature of the process were undeniable, but I was getting too frustrated with it. This is when I stumbled upon something called a gel plate. I’d never heard of one before, so I did a bit of research and it piqued my interest. I thought I'd give it a go. What could I lose?"

"I should also say that during this time, I was feeling creatively stagnant. I have that trait of being somewhat of a perfectionist and was trying to control every outcome of my creative endeavors. I was even boring myself artistically! I decided, at this moment, to change a few things, quite dramatically. My thought process was that I was just going to be massively experimental. I didn't know hardly anything about the gel plate or much about mono printing in fact. So I set about discovering what could be achieved and what limitations there were. I let go of all of my control. I approached it with little to no thought of what I wanted to create and just purely experimented and played! I found this to be extremely freeing. The sparks of excitement were reignited from this point on.”

In terms of his advice for others who might be in a similar situation, Mark said, “….If you are feeling stunted or blocked in a creative way, maybe investigate other creative means. You just might find that’s all it will take to open those creative floodgates that have been holding you back!”

There are many suggestions online about what not to do with a gel plate in case it doesn’t turn out—or worse—wrecks the plate. On the other hand, according to Mark, people should not be afraid to do what apparently “can’t be done”.

“I’m very much into experimentation. I'm constantly striving to expand my knowledge—refining techniques as I go through the creative process, all in pursuit of achieving the specific outcomes I'm aiming for. When I hear, ‘Oh, that can’t be done on the gel plate’, it starts a fire in me and makes me take it upon myself, as a challenge, to try and see if I agree with that statement.”

“….There is a huge interest, if you look at gel plate printing on any social media platform, regarding magazine/LaserJet image transfers. There seems to be quite a lot of difficulties in being able to achieve this method successfully. Some people find it easy and others, like myself, aren’t able to achieve the desired result at all. There can be a lot of factors that come into play for why you can’t get it to work, like paint brands, the amount of paint used, how long you put the image on the plate, how much pressure to use and the type of laser print etc. I'm not particularly keen on using someone else's images… but I do have some of my own drawings that I thought might be interesting to explore transferring. That's what got me investigating. I found a video regarding graphite transfers, which I tried, but this also had its own drawbacks. This then led me onto experimenting with charcoal and I discovered that you can get a really good image transfer using this method. It was also something that I’d never seen anyone else doing, so it was a new discovery for me. I shared my findings on my socials and found that it was a new idea for a lot of others also. I was getting a lot of people thanking me for what I’d found, which is always nice. This transfer method is now my go-to transfer method and it’s how I start most of my gel prints currently.”

“….I would say that I approach the gel plate from a slightly different angle than the majority of people using it.... From my understanding, the gel plate was created for the crafting industry. It is still heavily connected to this industry now, but there are a few of us who are branching out and pushing it in new directions. I’ve taken this versatile tool and use it for creating unique, one-of-a-kind mono prints. I have taken it away from the commercial end of the creative spectrum and pulled it more into the realms between decorative art and fine art.”

He described his work as “…compositions that harmoniously interweave elements of quirkiness, vibrant hues, technical proficiency, delight, and a subtle undercurrent of peculiarity.”

It might surprise people to know that Mark hasn’t always used ‘vibrant hues’. He admitted that working with colour has been one of his biggest challenges.

“….As far back as I can remember, I have never used colour. Now, I'm not sure why that is. Was it a fear? I couldn’t tell you. I was always just a pencil and paper type of guy. The gel plate gave me the bridge to walk across, introducing me to a world of vivid possibilities.”

“Colour, as I understand, is a huge learning curve. The intricacies of hue, tint, tone, shade, value etc. and their relationship to one another is a very interesting subject in itself. I've only begun to scratch the surface…. I'm very much into quite bold colour schemes at the moment….” Mark mentioned that he enjoys “the pairing of turquoise with yellow…. I love a splash of pink too, which before, to be honest, I didn't care too much for the colour pink.”

Mark Wills has been featured twice in Pressing Matters Magazine as part of a print challenge. At first, he was featured in the “runners-up section” and eventually he went onto win. One day, he would like to do a full interview with the publication. He is also working towards turning his hobby into a source of revenue:

“….I’m working on websites and learning about art business and marketing skills. I’m hoping to make my art much more of an important aspect of my life going forward…. It’s going to take time as it’s a steep learning curve, but I’m chipping away at it, bit by bit.”

For more information, please visit Mark at the following links:

Photo courtesy of Mark Wills.

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