“I don’t think illustration is something I’m naturally good at,” said illustrator and graphic designer Mark Owens. “I just practiced over and over again, and eventually I got good. After I drew Spider-Man 3,000 times I could finally draw him properly.”

The 26-year-old has been using the Roost as his freelancing space since 2013. Born and bred in England, he describes himself as being from the “hardy snowy north,” so it makes sense that the freelance project he’s the most proud of is a recent snowboard series.

Mark’s journey to Australia began in 2012 when he met his partner (an Aussie named Angela) in Turkey where he worked as a designer for a cruise company. When the company eventually told him they didn’t want to pay him anymore, he took off with Angela to tour around Europe.

Three and a half years ago, the couple moved to Newcastle. Mark first joined the Roost to work on part time labour-of-love projects. Since then he’s been able to secure steady freelance work. Currently he puts in anywhere from 40 to 70 hours a week from the Roost.

“Having steady commercial work allows me to pursue the stuff I want to do like snowboards and T-shirt graphics,” Mark said. “I put a lot of time and effort into those even though they don’t pay as well.”

Along with working for the snowboard company (named Douk), Mark’s worked for agencies in Newcastle including Headjam, Thurnham Teece and Mudbath and Co. For Mudbath and Co., Mark painted the mural in their front office to make the space seem more like “their own”. He’s also worked for a surfing company in the US called O’Neill.

“O’Neill Wetsuits are one of the biggest wetsuit companies in America. They’re all very laid back; they won’t get back to your email because there was good surf. They love their job because they get to make surfboards, but they don’t love replying to emails,” Mark said.

He loves working for O’Neill and Douk. The project he’s most proud of is the four snowboards he’s just created for Douk for their 2016 lineup.

Douk Boards

Each year Douk creates duel guy and girl boards. This year he designed the men’s board to look like a beer label and the women’s board to look like a cider. The company loved the idea so much that they’re now using a micro-brewery to brew a beer and cider with labels designed like the snowboards.

“The third board is called Bone, so that’s a big complex illustration with lots of elements. It’s inspired by ancient Hieroglyphics and the power of snakes and bones and teeth,” Mark said. “It’s ancient European, very Dark Ages, black magic done with fun colours.”

Douk Bone Board

His fourth board is called Beast, and it’s inspired by a Native American folklore tale. It’s an old story told by a grandfather about a fight going on inside him. According to the myth there are two wolves inside you, the good wolf (representing peace, love, hope etc.) and the bad wolf (representing anger, envy, sorrow etc.), and according to the grandfather, the one you feed is the one that survives.

Douk Beast Board

He decided to take on the project during a work week when he had very limited time available.

“It’s all a bit of a blur of energy drinks and pizza,” Mark said of that particular week.

The Beast board concept involved a very complex illustration with a blizzard in the forest, and Roost members helped Mark out during the project, particularly the Beast board.

“I was spending ages trying to get the snow right in the blizzard; I was researching all the ways to do it, trying to make the snow look real, replicate the pattern. And Johnson (a Roost web developer) and I went for a coffee, and he asked ‘Why don’t you just draw the f*cking snow, hey?”’ Mark said.

It was like a light bulb switched off in Mark’s head, and he realised if he just went about it the hard way it would actually be easier. So he drew a blizzard, which took a while.

He appreciates the friendships he’s made at the Roost.

“When I first got to Newcastle, I didn’t know anyone but Angela and her friends. The Roost not only gave me a good place to practice being a freelancer and make connections, but also gave me friends,” Mark said. “We would have game nights. I met illustrator Ben Mitchell, graphic designer Sean Bell, developers Johnson Page, Chris Stonestreet and everyone else.”

“It also put me in touch with the creative industry in Newcastle,” Mark added. “The more you engage with this community, the more you get out of it. You can’t just be a freelancer at home in your room and expect clients to fall into your lap.”

To learn more about Mark’s work, visit http://sharkpoems.com/

This article by Alex Morris first appeared on Medium.