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Cambridge urban painter Mark Skipper captains his own street art rig



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Mark Skipper has developed a unique method of painting on the go.

Protesters in front of King’s College lawn by Mark Skipper
Protesters in front of King’s College lawn by Mark Skipper

The urban artist has set up his own portable studio to get the results he wants – art on the move, so he can sketch and paint while he’s watching street-based events whether they be protesters, buskers, shoppers

or tourists.

He explains that he developed the walking artist style to keep up with street protests.

“I got the idea from incredibly expensive Etchr art satchels,” he says while touching up a portrait of Fort St George.

“I bought a laptop bag for £1 from Romsey Mill charity shop and modified it with some recycled webbing and a bit of sewing. This lets me put the shoulder straps in opposite corners. The bag’s internal structure comes from a discarded corriboard roadworks sign.

Mark Skipper, urban artist, outside the Fort St George. Picture: Keith Heppell
Mark Skipper, urban artist, outside the Fort St George. Picture: Keith Heppell

“I put two pieces together with opposite polarity to make it strong, and cut out holes for water and a paint box. I clip sketchbooks onto it with bulldog clips, including the special one modified with a bike spoke to hold my water container.”

Mark has a day job – he writes software for a Cambridge-based cybersecurity company – and likes to paint the town when he’s not working.

“I like to paint – I call it urban sketching – in Cambridge every day,” he says. “It’s a bit like a prayer or a meditation.”

Being organised, he sets himself tasks. One was his Mill Road project, which saw him draw or paint the architecture of the famed street during lockdown – for this he filled two sketch books with more than 80 drawings.

Mill Road shops, by Mark Skipper
Mill Road shops, by Mark Skipper

“Each sketch took about 45 minutes or an hour,” he notes. “I started with Antwerp House dental surgery, because it was there and I thought ‘Wow, this is the most beautiful city’. I’m not inspired by the university but Mill Road is incredible. It has the swimming pool, the mosque, the old mosque, Mill Road Labour Club, the Salisbury, the Earl of Beaconsfield – there’s too much choice, so I decided to do all of it.

“I didn’t tell anyone – it seemed hopelessly ambitious, but I started and kept going. It didn’t cause any problems at work, it was like having a lunch break.”

He likes to record events in this way because “what you’re seeing is what it’s like being part of it”.

The Fode pen, traditionally used for Japanese calligraphy, is appreciated for its ability to draw thick and thin lines with the same nib
The Fode pen, traditionally used for Japanese calligraphy, is appreciated for its ability to draw thick and thin lines with the same nib

A Coleridge resident, Mark is dyslexic and speaks with certainty about what that means for him, his job, and what he calls “my existential angst about climate change”.

“I am dyslexic and it confers a great advantage on the work I do now – my ability is to hold the big picture in mind while working on the details, and that includes software and art.

“It’s a spatial thing, where you translate problems into a diagrammatic interpretation and you can infer things from it.

“At school I didn’t know about dyslexia. It presented a challenge and I feel I’ve smashed it. I’ve achieved what I needed to do, but the education system thought I ought to learn at a different rate.

Climate march in Cambridge by Mark Skipper
Climate march in Cambridge by Mark Skipper

“The gift of dyslexia is the ability to process knowledge visually. The work I do in motion feels very much more alive and dynamic.”

Mark studied art at A-level, then put it aside.

“Three or four years ago I started doing art again,” he said. “I have to capture certain things at the time because I might have to stop working at any time. If I had practised daily for 30 years as I do now it could be very different.

Mark Skipper with freshly minted urban art
Mark Skipper with freshly minted urban art

“The reason I practise is not to get better, I’m doing it for the sake of the moment spent drawing, which is a bit like daily prayer.”

The discovery of the Fude pen – a type of brush pen, generally used for Japanese calligraphy – has also helped.

“I love them as you can do a fine line or a thick line with them,” Mark says.

He’s also a member of Cambridge Urban Sketchers.

“There’s a monthly meet-up,” he says. “What they find surprising is that I’m a software developer with a sketchbook!”



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