Born in Leicestershire, England in 1964 , like many of his friends,
Mark had only one ambition during his school years, and that was
to fly fast jets with the RAF. At the age of 13 he
was devastated to discover that his eyesight was less than
perfect and therefore unsuitable for military
flying. This discovery completely knocked him
for six and it took him years to decide what else he wanted to do
with his life. Eventually after leaving school at 16 and
working for the Co-op for two years , Mark managed to get a job
in photography, thanks mainly to a portfolio he had built up
whilst working on a free local newspaper.
Photography soon became a good outlet for his inborn creativity
and during his 10 years in the business he worked in most aspects
of professional photography in London, Leicester and Nottingham,
shooting everything from cat food to lingerie,
I preferred the latter! he says. Mark started to paint aircraft on canvas at the age of 17 as a hobby.
A lifelong interest in flying and aviation history
together with his professional knowledge of light through
his career as a photographer, soon combined to
produce work of the highest standards in this exacting
field. In 1987, he became the first ever Artist in
residence at the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon in what was the
first major exhibition of his work.
At the age of 27, Mark was elected to become the youngest Full
Member of the Guild of Aviation Artists and shortly after, left
photography to make a full time profession in aviation
art. His knowledge of his subject was put to
the test only a month after when he competed in and won the TV
quiz show The $64,000 Question answering questions on the Battle
of Britain. His work so impressed the host Bob Monkhouse
that he bought one of Mark's originals there and then.
Around this time,Mark was contacted by the Chairman of 30
Squadron Association RAF with a view to commissioning him to
paint a 75th anniversary painting for the
Squadron. He drove down to their base at RAF Lyneham
and for the first time came into contact with the life that he
had so wanted as a schoolboy. "The first
thing that struck me was why I hadn't considered joining the RAF
in a different trade apart from flying" , Mark
reflects, It honestly just never crossed my mind at
the time, it was either flying or
The subsequent painting was received with great acclaim within the
RAF and soon commissions were rolling in on a regular basis from
various Squadrons including a three year association with the
world famous RAF Aerobatic Team The Red Arrows.
On top of this, and more importantly for Mark, the Squadrons were
offering him the chance to fly with them as part of the research
process. By 1995, he had built up many hours of military flying in types such
as the Hercules, VC10, Gazelle and Tucano in the UK, Germany and
Cyprus. However, his boyhood ambition of flying in a
fast jet still eluded him .
Then, on a grey autumn afternoon in 1996, Mark found himself sitting in
a BAe Hawk of 208 Sqn at RAF Valley in North Wales ready for take
off. An hour later after a thoroughly uncomfortable but exhilarating tail chase 20,000 ft above
Snowdon, his feet touched the ground once more and he realised
that that boyhood ambition had been finally achieved, in the most
unexpected way possible.
He flew again in a Hawk a few months later and then the following
year he topped all of this by spending an hour at low level in a
Harrier, "the most incredible experience of my life" he
reflects "finished off with the famous Harrier bow, when the
aircraft hovers above the ground and dips its nose towards the
"As a boy I used to marvel at seeing the Harrier perform this trick
at airshows,I never ever dreamed that one day I would be
in the cockpit looking back" Understandably, Mark thought that that experience would mark the peak of his flying 'career' but in 2010, he flew down to New Zealand to take up Oscar winning film director Sir Peter Jackson's kind invitation to 'come and fly in his WW1 aircraft'. Having flown down with his wife Asia on the Airbus A380, the contrast when climbing aboard the Be2f was quite remarkable! After the flight which was accompanied in the air by an Se5a, Mark then clambered aboard the Fe2b in the exposed gunner's position for a truly unforgettable flight, this time being stalked by a Pfalz for 'the full effect'.
climbing aboard and 'strapping in' to the Fe2b's seatless gunner's position.
In the last 20 years, Mark has become firmly established as
one of the world's leading aviation artists with many of his limited
editions now only available on the secondary
market and his larger originals now regularly selling for over £10,000.
In 2004 Mark was approached by Osprey to take over from Ian Wyllie to paint all of their aviation book covers. Since then he has completed over 100 covers in three major and very popular series, thus ensuring that his work is seen in bookshops around the world.
In 2002 the first book of his paintings 'War in the Air' was published by Crowood Press, providing Mark with another one of those lifetime ambitions fulfilled. The second volume was published in summer 2012.
He is basically self taught, and developed a
style, when younger, based on his favourite artists of the time
Frank Wootton, Michael Turner and the Airfix box art genius Roy
Cross. Over the years his work has developed its own
style and is now as recognisable as that of his boyhood idols.
He works exclusively in acrylic on canvas
and board and is probably one of UK's foremost exponents of this modern
paint. An easy medium to learn but a very difficult medium to
master, Mark's acrylic paintings are nearly always mistaken for
oil paintings due to the richness and thickness of paint he uses.
"Although there are many and varied
reasons for using acrylics rather than oils, the principal
benefit is that within minutes of finishing the painting the
paint is completely dry". "As most of
my professional work has very tight deadlines, especially the
Norwegian works, I know that I can roll up a canvas and put it in
my bag and board an aircraft for Norway within literally minutes
of completing the finishing touches." "This is
just impossible with oils".
He has a vast library of books and models
and is also the founder of ww2images.com a WW2 internet photo library, which
was launched in August 2000. (He used his extensive
knowledge to write all of the thousands of captions
therein). The library also contains a lot of his WW2 paintings and the whole thing is specifically
designed to become a high tech source of information for today's
generation to learn about the sacrifices of their 1940's
The fast jet flying, apart from being great
fun, also has a very real use.
"It is absolutely vital for any
military artist to be able to visualise well and
accurately. Obviously, most things we paint we
cannot do from life and with aviation even more so.
Therefore we have to instinctively know what is right. This
takes years of experience and research especially with painting
air combat. Having flown a few tail
chases (mock dogfights) with the RAF, one gets subconsciously a
very accurate idea of the size, attitudes and positioning of
aircraft in combat.This would be very
difficult to achieve accurately without the flying
"I also try to paint what you actually
see when you're flying. When in tight formation with
another aircraft, you only get an impression of panel lines and
rivets, you don't sit there counting the whole lot of
them. The main thing you do notice ironically is the
pilot moving around. Most of us aviation artists tend to
paint him behind a mass of reflection but in reality you really
can see the colour of his eyes!"
"I've also noticed how difficult it is
to positively identify aircraft with national markings even at
reasonably close distances. When you're flying you
tend to see other aircraft as light and shade and this is what I
try to show in my work. I certainly have
great admiration and respect for all veteran pilots who had to
make split second decisions as to who to shoot at in the heat of
battle, I'm not at all surprised that mistakes were
Quite apart from this, Mark has found
further reason to admire his boyhood heroes, "Flying in
(simulated) combat at speed must be one of the most exhausting
things I've ever done" Mark says, "When you consider
that the young men of Fighter Command went up four or five times
a day and literally flew for their lives in this exhausting
aerial arena , I would suggest that they were fitter both
mentally and physically than most of our sporting 'heroes' of
today. In many ways I now hold them in
even greater esteem than I did when I was a schoolboy and
I still can't get over the fact that I'm now able to meet
and hear the stories first hand of all of my boyhood heroes."
The principal element in all of Mark's work
is handling of light. Having spent 10 years in
photography, he developed an enormous appreciation of the
positioning, colouring and diffusion of light sources. This is
clearly evident in his paintings.
"I love studying light and its
associated tricks and nuances. As a photographer, when you have
to make a plate of cat food look interesting, you realise that
the only answer lies in the lighting! You soon learn
that you can add colour, texture and mood all through the careful
manipulation of light. When it comes to painting, the
same rules apply and, historical accuracy permitting, the artist
should use every trick he can to suggest the mood of the
The biggest factor for which Mark's work is known around the world is his attention to historical accuracy. Having studied aviation all of his life and written books on the subject, he knows his subject and never uses 'artistic licence' when painting historical scenes, " I just think that it's disrespectful to the airmen we paint if we don't strive to capture the moment exactly as it appeared when it took place. Sometimes this can make the painting far more difficult, especially with regard to weather conditions and markings, but I just don't see the point in painting a 'nearly accurate' painting!"
Mark married his Polish wife Asia in 1997 after a chance meeting on a train 2 years previously. The couple now have two children, Kasia (12) and Szymek (5) and split their time between their houses in Wroclaw in south west Poland and Enderby, Leicestershire.