BURNAWAY: Are you from Atlanta?
Mark Montgomery: I’m from a little town right outside of Boston called Milton, Massachusetts.
BA: So you came down south to go to school. Why did you choose the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and why graphic design?
MM: I chose SCAD because my goal was to work for Cartoon Network as an animator, and SCAD was the closest college to Atlanta (home of Cartoon Network) that had the strongest animation program. I had also heard very good things about it, so I gave it a whirl.
I studied both animation and graphic design. Ever since I was a kid in elementary school, I had always wanted to work on cartoons, so studying animation was a no-brainer. During my senior year in high school, I had the opportunity to take a bunch of graphic design courses, and it really struck a cord with me. Knowing that the animation industry was a tough market to make it in, I decided to double major in an effort to make sure I had back-up-employment options that I still would enjoy doing.
BA: What do you enjoy about graphic design?
MM: That’s a big question. In short, graphic design is a medium that has so many different categories within it, you can’t really get bored with it. It’s incorporated into so much of everyday life without people even realizing it. Whether you choose to acknowledge it as such or not, it makes a huge difference in numerous forms of communication and visual communication. You’ve got logos, page layout, interactive design, publication design, branding, marketing, advertising, motion graphics, and infographics. The list just really goes on and on.
Not only that, you can apply the rudimentary principles of design to most all other art mediums and even your way of life and thinking. Design can be as complicated and involved or as simple, yet ingenious, as you want it to be. I’m for the latter, but you can make it what you want it to be.
BA: Is animation something you still want to break into, or have you found a good groove with graphic design?
MM: I wouldn’t mind still doing some animation work. By the time I graduated, I was a little burned out on character animation. But I’d be all for the concept and development phase of different stories: how they’re told and the characters that are in them. That will always be enjoyable. [But] tediously spending hours tweaking in-between frames [with the only result being] a few seconds of animation—that’s not always fun.
BA: Outside of graphic design, you also have a pretty thriving career as a yo-yo champion. How did you start yo-yoing and getting into the competitive circuit? Do you like yo-yoing more than design?
MM: That’s actually an interesting series of events. In ’96, I learned the basics while I was at a private school in Deerfield, Massachusetts, called Eaglebrook School (EBS). Once I started trying some more complicated tricks, I started messing up a lot more frequently. Back then, yo-yos were very responsive, making it easy for the string to snag when you made a mistake. When that happened, the yo-yo would fly back to your hand fast, often times hitting you in the knuckles—definitely not a pleasant feeling. Out of frustration, I decided to let yo-yoing take a back seat for a while.
Fast forward to 2000. My dorm advisor, Bart Landenberger, was an ex-clown in the Ringling Brothers circus and knew some pretty advanced tricks. I started learning a few tricks from him and getting back into it. That spring when I graduated, I stopped by a toy store in Northampton, Massachusetts, the next town over, to buy a new yo-yo. I met a gentlemen by the name of Jack Finn who educated me on the new school of yo-yos and competitions. He told me about an upcoming contest that summer called Y3A (Yomega Yo-Yo Association World Contest), and it sounded interesting. I bought a rubber-rimmed yo-yo, went home for the summer, and went online.
While I was searching for some yo-yo trick videos, I stumbled upon Sector Y, which was a very pivotal moment. This site hosted some of the most incredible yo-yoers based out of California doing very advanced tricks. From that point on, I was hooked. I went to Y3A that year and got second-to-last place in the second-to-lowest division. But I met so many amazing people, learned so many amazing tricks, and just really got engrossed in the culture, so I really didn’t care about my placing. I kept up with it all summer and haven’t stopped since.
BA: What’s your favorite project that you’ve ever worked on?
MM: My favorite project I’ve worked on, I’d have to say, was designing a t-shirt for Self Edge. I’m heavily into wardrobing and clothes, and one of my favorite brands is a Japanese brand called The Flat Head. They specialize in high-end denim and workwear-style garments and accessories. When they release t-shirts, the graphics that are printed on the t-shirts mimic an American design aesthetic from the ’40s.
Upon initial inspection, the look seems almost naive and random. But contrary to belief, when you really break down the composition, [typography], and other accompanying illustrations and elements, the look is very involved and specific. I have a lot of respect for the designers that make the graphics for this brand. So when I was asked to design a graphic for a Flat Head t-shirt that was for a Self Edge release party, I was incredibly excited and honored, but nervous. The design took me at least 40 hours to complete and was the most challenging project I’ve ever had, but very rewarding when complete.
BA: What would be your dream project?
MM: At the moment my dream project(s) would be to design for brands that I have a lot of respect for. Some of these brands include Self Edge, The Flat Head (as mentioned), Sugar Cane, Iron Heart, Real Japan Blues, Dry Bones, Buzz Rickson, Roy, The Strike Gold, Visvim, Sid Mashburn, Leica, Google, Facebook, and Superfuture.
BA: So, we have to ask—the awkward portrait photos on your website are amazing. Where did you find those? Do you collect pictures of people with mullets and terrible school portraits, or was it special for the site?
MM: I can’t say where I got the photos (the mysteriousness is a big part of the oddness). But I can say I had/have a lot of fun finding them.
BA: And finally, what’s your spirit animal?
Look for profiles of our latest heartthrobs on the last Friday of each month.