We featured Mick Marston’s work in NT#21, December 2009. Seven years seems like a fair amount of time to pass before returning to his own brand of digital illustration, these days often done under the banner of Sheffield design collective Dust, who Mick has worked with since 2000.

We also featured one of Mick’s pieces in our 100th ‘Best of Sheffield’ issue and I spelt his name wrong. Sorry about that, Mick. Pleasure to have you.

What’s your background as an artist and designer?

I’ve always drawn since I can remember, so about 49 years in the making. I went to work as a screen printer after leaving school in 1981 and eventually did a foundation course at Sheffield Polytechnic in 1987. From there, I studied Graphic Arts & Design at Leeds Polytechnic, where I specialised in printmaking. I now work there part-time as a senior lecturer, although it’s now known as Leeds Beckett University.

I began working as a freelance illustrator in 1998 after completing an MA. In the last 18 years, I’ve worked for a wide variety of clients, many household names, on a wide variety of projects. There have been fallow periods, but I’m busy again at the moment – ‘A stopped clock is always right twice a day,’ someone once said – and when I’m not busy working for money I still make stuff regardless. Often the best work comes from the down periods.

How long have you been at Dust and what’s your role there?

I’ve worked with Alun and Patrick at Dust since they started back in 2000. They are both alumni of Leeds Met. I began working there full-time in May 2015 after taking a sabbatical from lecturing. I was becoming more interested in the wider application of graphic arts and design and was finding illustration a bit limiting. I now work at Dust three days a week, where I continue to dedicate most of my time to illustration, but have a creative role on other projects in the studio. If I had a door with my job title on it, it would probably say ‘Art Director’.

On the Dust website, you describe your creative process as ‘like mining a skip’. Can you say a bit more about how you work?

I read voraciously – anything – and I love to learn. I pick up lots of stuff. It’s about making connections to aid the creative process. A lot of the things I retain in my head are pretty useless for the majority of the time. I have no idea how a television works, for instance, but I do know what trepanning is, and I know about phlogiston and the blue wool scale (these are all things I’ve used lately).

I know the lyrics to countless songs too, but I’ll forget important pin numbers. So that’s where the skip mining reference comes from.

Are there any particular artists and designers who have influenced you?

Yes, hundreds. Here are a few, in no particular order: Paul Rand, Saul Steinberg, Philip Guston, Paul Klee, Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso, Ben Nicholson, Edward Bawden, Paul Nash, Louise Bourgeois, The Chicago Imagists (Karl Wirsum, Jim Nutt et al), Josef Albers, Jerome Snyder, Kasimir Malevich, Marcel Duchamp, Oyvind Fahlstrom, Alvin Lustig, Ollie Eksell, Saul Bass, Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast, William Scott, Bob Gill, Ben Shahn, Eric Ravillious, Robert Motherwell, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, The Fleischer Brothers, William McKnight Kauffer, Abram Games, Stefan Kanchev, Lance Wyman – the list goes on. The more practices and practitioners you have as reference, the more you can forge your own identity. If you have only one point of reference, you’ll end up being a cheap imitation.

What’s on the horizon at Dust?

We are a multi-disciplined collective, so nothing is ever predictable: more books, more exhibitions, more interesting people to work with.

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Sam Walby