Eddie Bauer catalog cover, 1982

The career of famed illustrator Mark English can be divided into three phases.

His first job was picking cotton in the fields around Hubbard Texas for $1.50 per day.  There were no museums or art galleries in Hubbard, but one day English saw a picture on a sign in a store window saying "Welcome Rodeo Fans."  He escaped the cotton fields by teaching himself to paint those signs and earned a living chasing rodeos around the Texas countryside.  After being drafted into the Army he was able to put his experience to work lettering signs for latrines.

In the second phase he became a nationally renowned illustrator who received more awards from the Society of Illustrators than any other illustrator.

English's beautifully sensitive portrait of Dracula

Victorian Interior

In the third phase he became a fine artist, selling his artwork in galleries. 

Right now, some of you are probably saying, "Hey wait-- go back to that part about going from painting latrine signs to being a nationally renown artist.  How the heck did he manage that?"

Well, studying at the Art Center in Los Angeles after he got out of the army surely had something to do with it, but when he was asked about his "biggest break in becoming a nationally known illustrator, " he responded:
[T]here was one job.  I had moved to Connecticut and in my first year there I made 20% of the salary that i had made in my last year.... It was a tough year and I had a lot of time on my hands.  I think not having much work enhanced my career more than anything else.  I spent a lot of time experimenting, trying to come up with something unique and different, and I think toward the end of that year I managed to do that on a job for the Readers Digest [for the book, Little Women]....I think that three or four of the illustrations were accepted into the Society's annual exhibition that year.  One of them won an award and got me a little attention.  After that I got into magazines and my career was launched.
English recalls that during that dry spell at the beginning, he went 8 months without getting a single assignment. His wife was worried and money became very tight but he didn't surrender. "I think [it was] the best thing that ever happened to me, but at the time I didn't think so." English studied Vuillard, Bonnard and other painters, and gradually developed a style that worked for him. "I don't think that I ever worked harder at anytime than I did during those eight months, trying to get better and be more competitive."

That, friends, is how you go from painting latrine signs to becoming a nationally renown illustrator.

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