Artist Profile: The Iconic Illustrations of Mark Herman

Artwork done by Mark Herman

Three works in artist Mark Herman’s Landmark series // Courtesy Mark Herman

Mark Herman’s bright sunlit Minneapolis studio is covered in prints, sketchbooks, and miscellaneous artworks he’s thought up over the years. We’re sitting back in his cozy office, which is lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves stuffed with photographs, mementos, some of his own artwork, and books that he ironically doesn’t touch.

“I’m a terrible student—horribly dyslexic, barely can make it through a sentence in a book,” he explains. “I love to read, but if I take up a book I won’t draw anything for months, because I’ll be reading the book.”

Herman has the singular, insatiable brain of a visionary. Paging through his stacks of sketchbooks and scrolling through endless digital designs, it’s almost as if he thinks in illustrations, journaling in drawings the way others do with words.

Herman is perhaps best known for his Landmark series, which he began back in 2002. As the name suggests, the series features landmarks both natural and architectural across Minnesota, as well as a handful of spots in California and New York. Herman describes the style as a contemporary twist on the classic Works Progress Administration (WPA) posters of the 1930s. 

Though he hits many of the classic local landmarks—the Grain Belt sign, the Mill City ruins, Split Rock Lighthouse—Herman enjoys depicting lesser-known spots he comes across in his travels. “I like to make sure if I’m drawing something that I see it with my own eyes,” he says.

Mark Herman // Photo by Russell Heeter, courtesy Great Lakes Clothing

Mark Herman // Photo by Russell Heeter, courtesy Great Lakes Clothing

With his dad in the Air Force, Herman grew up around the world, from Britain to the Philippines to Texas. “First five years of my life we lived in England, and then we moved to Amarillo, Texas, and I was sure it was hell, from the Bible,” he laughs. “I remember looking out the window and seeing tumbleweeds flying around and going: ‘This is out of a Clint Eastwood movie.’”

It would be a few more years until he moved to Minnesota from the Philippines in junior high school, but Herman has called the state home ever since. 

As a student at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, Herman was working at the Convention Grill on 44th and France when he received his first paid assignment through his school counselor, whose wife was an art director looking for an image of tennis balls thrown into the air.

It was then that Herman realized a couple hours of drawing could get him twice as much pay as three or more months of waiting tables. “I loved it! I saw it in print, and I was so proud of it,” he says. “And I knew right then there was something for me to do.”

After playing football at Mankato State University, Herman returned to Minneapolis and got a job in advertising for Dayton’s, where he immediately started ingratiating himself with the art department. “All of a sudden [I’m] illustrating for Dayton’s,” he recalls. “I really didn’t need to go to art school.” 

From Sun Country Airlines to Major League Baseball to his own personal work, Herman’s portfolio is impressive, to say the least. And at 59 years old, as others his age are eyeing retirement, he has no intention of slowing down. “You know what the beautiful thing is? With the marketplace I’ve created, I should be able to work all through my life as an artist, and I will never ever quit
creating things,” he says. “I create art even if I don’t get paid. I truly love to create art.”

The path of Herman’s life and career has been defined by his refusal to abide by rules of convention. “I’ll renovate a building here, and I’ll build a product there, and I’ll create art. Somebody said: ‘Why do you think you should be able to do that?’ And I said: ‘I just do it.’”

Name: Mark Herman
Currently Resides: Minneapolis, MN
Medium: Drawing, digital

The October "Sporting Life" cover of The Growler by Mark Herman

The October “Sporting Life” cover of The Growler by Mark Herman