You may know Mark Kowalchuk as one of the people behind Calgary-based artschool Skateboards, but he’s also an accomplished artist. He’s worked with companies like Santa Cruz Skateboards, Volcom, Globe, Nixon, Remind Insoles, JSLV, Yes Snowboards, Calgary Underground Film Festival, Dutch Wheels, Olive Skateboards, New Line Skateparks, as well as bands In Flames, and Woodhawk. So you could say he’s pretty well known. Some people say that he’s more well known internationally than he is in Calgary. Read on to learn more about Mark. Photos by Liam Glass.
Where did you grow up?
My hometown is Thunder Bay, Ontario, where I lived until I was 21 years old. I moved to Toronto for 4 years while at university and then moved out west to Calgary. My cousins all live here in Calgary but my immediate family still lives in Thunder Bay.
How long have you been skating?
I’ve been skating since grade 8. My first deck was a Santa Cruz Jeff Kendall ‘Atomic Man’ with indy trucks and bullet wheels.
What was the skate scene like in your hometown?
The skate scene in my city really sucked. We didn’t have many good skate parks back then. There was one vert ramp that was like a death trap and a few really small janky concrete parks where the features were barely ridable. Most of us just built launch ramps or skated street (ollieing tennis court nets or stairs at our high school).
Who do you skate with?
Oh man, I use to skate with everyone back in the day when I first moved to Calgary 15 years ago. But now that I’m a father and 40 years old, I have to plan my skate days a bit more and who I skate with. I skate with the artschool team of course. Denis Lebel, Ryan Hall, Dwayne Wiebe, Beau Larson, Erica Jacobs, Chris Winklemann, Dillon Gallagher, Liam Glass and Josh Makorto are usually the people who drag me out to skate these days (sorry if I forgot anyone).
Where are your favourite places to skate (spots/parks, etc)?
I’ve been skating my buddy Chris’ indoor mini ramp a lot, since it’s winter. Overall, I tend to skate at Southwood the most because I like the features there. All the Newline parks that are going in are pretty rad, there’s still a few locations I need to hit up.
What do you do for work?
My day job is doing graphic design and I do freelance illustration for skate and snow brands in the evening. I’ve done design work for most major brands these days. As an artist you need to wear many hats and I’ve been dipping into doing art for the music scene lately too.
Tell us about Artschool
Jeff Talbot and I formed artschool just over 10 years ago because there wasn’t anyone else designing boards in Calgary at that time. It was a real dry spell for Calgary and skate brands. It was actually Jeff’s idea to fire up the company and to make the vibe of the brand into a fine art focus. Instead of having pro skater’s names on the decks we would have featured artist names. Forming the team was easy, I just got all my friends to skate for us. I chose the name artschool because I thought it was fitting, considering how many years I spent in art school and all the components of life that helped form who I am now.
How did you get into art?
I wish there was a better answer to this one because I get it asked quite often. From a young age I just enjoyed drawing and showed a bit of skill at it. Some people struggle with knowing what they want to do when they are older but I always just knew.
What’s your favourite medium?
Ink is definitely my favourite medium to use, I think my linework style makes my stuff distinct and recognizable.
How do you develop a concept? And is most of your work skate-related?
Coming up with concepts is different every time. If you’re working on a design for brand, they sometimes give you some sort of insight to what they are looking for as a starting point. When doing work for yourself, the sky is the limit. I usually just try and come up with 3 ideas and rough sketch those to see what translates the best and take the best concept farther. It’s like skating, some days you can go skate and land every trick first try and other days you just don’t. Some days I need to step back from the sketchbook, chill out and come back to it when I’m feeling it. You can’t force art.
What do you do with your pieces?
For the most part I sell all my paintings after I finish them. I keep a lot of my production ink works though, for a black and white art show I’d like to have some day. Sketches I usually do whatever with. I’m not attached to my art, once
I’ve created and have a photo of it I don’t really need to hang onto it.
Have you had any shows/any coming up?
I have a few pieces of work up in places right now. I just finished some hand painted decks for Santa Cruz skateboards that will be released this spring. I also currently have a painting hanging up in Whistler at Lululemon, with all the funds going to breast cancer prevention. I don’t have any solo shows planned at the moment, with the birth of my son, I had to put that stuff on hold for a little bit but I have plenty of art projects still on the go.
What piece are you most proud of?
There’s been a few milestones for me art-wise. I don’t think I have any favourites per say, but I did really enjoy the early works I did for In Flames and Hieroglyphics. Back in the day, getting picked up as a Volcom artist was big for me but all these things add to your ever-evolving portfolio. Thrasher did an art check out on me last July and I was really stoked to be in a magazine I grew up reading as a kid. It is the skate bible, after all. Working with Steve Berra on some small projects has been rad too, he’s been very supportive of my art.
What’s next for your life?
To be honest, I really don’t know. I’m just taking each day as it comes and rolling with the opportunities that present themselves before me. At age 40, the projects have a way of coming to me now, which is rad. Art is a hustle but at some point, it becomes easier the better your credentials get. I’m going to enjoy drawing my son Jonas fun artworks for the moment and hopefully he doesn’t think I’m a total weirdo.