ArtArt Interviews

Interview with artist and designer toy creator Marshall ‘Mr. Mars’ Ballantyne

Under the company name of MrMarsStudios, artist and illustrator Marshall ‘Mr. Mars’ Ballantyne creates fun and unique works. Originally from Houston, Texas, Marshall is an expert at airbrushing and sculpture. His work appears annually in gallery exhibitions and retail stores. He currently lives and works in Denver, Colorado, where he runs his own company called MrMarsStudios. Recently, he discussed his experiences as an artist:

Meagan Meehan (MM) of Entertainment Vine: How and when did you decide to become an artist?

Marshall ‘Mr. Mars’ BallantyneMarshall ‘Mr. Mars’ Ballantyne (MB): For me personally, there was no certain point to becoming an artist. The passion was always there. I loved to draw at a young age, starting with Hannah Barbera. I always wanted to be a cartoonist for them… my dad seemed to love the idea. Soon my friends were into Dragonball Z, and I remember reading the definition in the wild hair and baggy pants and being completely infatuated with the stylized representations. I remember I was always skateboarding, filming, and trying to get sponsored until about 16, when I “sold” my first custom painted hat to my friend Jack Bain. The transition seemed to happen naturally, haha. Obviously, graffiti was a huge influence to my style and I looked up to those type of “Urban” artists, but I realized early my mind makes money which sustains me, and better yet, my customers are extremely “Soul Filling”, always sending cool pictures of my toys, giving me details on what they liked in their box that week… why neglect that?

MM: Growing up, which artists/types of art interested you?

mrmarspaintingbMB: Scribe. Scribe. Scribe. Scribe. He is an amazing artist from KC, MO. On top of all that, he is a huge influence on the art and culture surrounding the children in Kansas City and Denver (my hometown) being a part of the Children’s Hospital Art Directing. His styles, characters, and cartoons inspire me every day. He is literally the reason I started to develop my rogue “graffiti” into toy art. I wanted to make everything like him. Haha. Now I realize that imitation isn’t always the best idea, but I was so intrigued with his style. Being a male nanny for eight years, I love kids. I started actually teaching classes on toy customization to children of all ages soon after picking up the designer toy art forms. I remember being about 17 when he visited my local graffiti shop, (shout out to COMMUNITY SERVICE) and did a huge mural on the back wall. I was just beginning to customize designer toys and had a good relationship with the shop. The guys actually began selling my toys out of my own case on consignment and we sold everything for the first few months! Needless to say, I stopped by and remember meeting him for the first time and having him sign my “DF” graffiti crew book, and I was speechless. I mean literally speechless. I think I couldn’t talk. I remember thinking “God he probably thinks I’m an idiot!” I don’t even remember what I tried to sputter at him, haha. Hope next time I meet him it goes a bit better…

MM: How did you get into comic-type art?

MB: My father. Hannah Barbera and Comic Books. He was always interested in these and naturally so was I. I remember him handing me down some crazy old comics from his father, back when Disney was making “Chip and Dale” comics…I remember some “Bonanza” being throw in there… I’m a child of the ‘90’s, we had so many good cartoons playing at that time from “Johnny Quest” to “Dexter’s Lab” to “Scooby Doo”, I soaked it all in.

MM: How did you go about getting your work shown publicly?

img_2554bMB: Community Service. The first shop that seemed to notice me. They were down the block, sold spray paint and all the dopest brands. I must’ve bugged them a few times before they let me in. When my stuff started selling it was much easier. Eventually they hooked me up with my own consignment stand and good rate. I couldn’t be more blessed. After that I started to hit local shops around my hometown in Denver, CO. A buddy told me of a high-end sneaker retailer with great stock, so I went in and pretty soon they were selling my stuff. Eventually they gave me an art show every year to boot. I made a killing the first show and owe my real “artwork” sales to them, not just designer toys. Eventually I was selling my work in Barber shops, and local MMJ dispensaries which seemed to fit my style, Haha.

MM: Do you have a favorite piece? If so, which one and why?

img_3741bMB: Hmmm…. I actually have two favorite pieces which haven’t sold…They both are made off extravagant molds to begin with, one being a customized Ron English “Toucan Tony” I did a few years back, making him a mobster with a shotgun and brass knuckles. Currently up on display at a local Designer Toy Boutique, Lowbrow. The other is a pirate captain customized from an old Rotofugi toy. It broke a few times in shipping and shout out to Ian from Nugglife it is fixed and back in good hands with my brother from another mother, Aaron from Martian Toys. Still for sale I believe…

MM: You also run your own studios called MrMarsStudios which is an LLC. Do you work with other artists?

MB: I do run my own LLC as well, MrMarsStudios began as legitimate way for me to make sure my art funds went back into my art haha. I love seeing my business card and seeing my CPA now, haha. As for working with other artists, I don’t employ any unless necessary. I employ work time to time if needed for extra sanding and casts and molds, as for other artists, it’s ALL me. Painting, invoicing, social media, it’s a struggle and sometimes and I always want more time, plus maybe some coffee. Haha just answering these questions took me almost three months…I do however do “Collabs” or collaborations, with many other artists, constantly seeking people out do better projects and pieces that will further my style and theirs. For instance, me and Shawn Wigs have a good upstanding relationship… I think we’re on series 5 of our collaborations… I never can remember haha, but they all seem to be a hit and we’re proud of our work. Coming Together allowed us to make such pieces as the “Mr. Krispy”.

_dsc0098bMM: What are the benefits of having a company?

MB: Legitimate tax write offs. Haha. Sike, I was always one that wanted to run his own company, so this just made more sense, plus I have to have everything as legal as possible, so I can continue in the future. Some real benefits are the fact that having this sustained on paper is a good reason to keep going after it every day. I hear from everyone that I motivate them with my work ethic. That’s a benefit enough, for now.

MM: To date, what has been the most rewarding experience involving your artwork and/or being an artist?

_dsc0014bMB: The most rewarding work I’ve had involving my artwork was teaching children. I loved teaching kids how to paint and customize toys when I taught custom toy painting in Downtown Denver. The faces, the intrigue, I was there once. We are now. Children are the future. It’s crazy how we can affect the future in a positive way if we just try harder. I love having art shows, making sales, seeing the faces and pictures of happy customers, but after years of that, I want to inspire others. Kids seem to be REALLY intrigued with toys. Haha.

MM: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to become an artist?

MB: For someone who is aspiring to be a SUCCESSFUL artist, be you. Stick to your guns. You and your gut know alone. So many times I have sought help and guidance through situations I knew I would prevail because I was scared. Don’t let fear run your decisions. You can waste your whole life chasing a dream that isn’t yours and still fail. Plenty do it. Chase your dream. Whether you succeed or not is all up to you and your mindset.

MM: Are there any upcoming projects and/or events that you would like to mention?

crab-bomberbMB: I have HUGE upcoming collaborations with the one and only CASHCANNON! I can’t wait for that one, as well as a perhaps just as big collaboration with my brother CZEE ART TOYZ. WIGS and I can always be expected to be dropping a new series this upcoming year, but I don’t know what will top the Ghostface Killah Signed Toys we put out… I have a MrMarsStudios coffee table book that’s in the works and lucky customers have received prototypes. Expect enamel pins, stickers, and more merchandise, but much more custom painting. I have been reviewing my own character to create into a toy but am still in the design phase. Huge shout out to my fans and supporters for making me who I am. I do this all for the love.

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To learn more about Mr. Mars Studio visit his official website, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Meagan Meehan

Meagan J. Meehan is a published author, poet, cartoonist and produced playwright. She pens columns for the Great South Bay Magazine, Examiner and AXS. She is also a stop motion animator and an award-winning abstract artist. Meagan holds a Bachelors in English Literature and a Masters of Communication. She is an animal advocate and a fledging toy and game designer.
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