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Delayed dream dares Marc Cook to make fashion illustration his career

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By KEN BECKSpecial to The Wilson Post

It would be erroneous to paint a picture of Marc Cook as a starving artist, yet at age 46 he possesses a deep hunger for success as a fashion illustrator.

A recent layoff from the medical field has caused him to relaunch a dream he laid aside 25 years ago.

“My pictures are very realistic, very technical, refined and intricate,” said Cook recently in his Lebanon home. “The best way to describe it would be as almost realistic fashion portraits. I don’t like to do portraits but I can. I really like to draw the clothes. My mind will focus on details, but it is always the clothing first.”

The artist labors five to 10 hours a day at his craft as he sketches an outline and then works from top to bottom. His work is big as he paints on a hot press illustration board in one of three sizes: 20 by 30 inches or 30 by 40 or 40 by 60. Today, he works on an Armani piece.

“The media I work with is Prismacolor, which is nothing more than a high-priced coloring pencil,” Cook said. “I specialize in black and white. Where I do my best work, you can really see the contrast. It’s almost photographic looking.”

Indeed, it’s hard to tell if his elegant fashion plates he creates are based on fact or fiction. “Some are real people, some are made up,” he said.

The artist moved from Nashville to Lebanon while in the third grade, and his mother, Nancy Cook, taught business classes and was an assistant principal at Lebanon High School for five years.

Marc began drawing while in middle school and took private lessons from Lunette Gore Partlow, as did many other Lebanon children, in his early teen years as she gave him the backbone of his art education. By 15 he realized he enjoyed drawing fashions as he imitated newspaper advertisements of fashion models.

“I flipped through magazines and tried to see what I could copy and make it the same,” said Cook, who studied art at Lebanon High under teacher Penny Chenault for several years.

“She gave me an F one quarter because I wouldn’t stay with the curriculum and was drawing other things,” Cook recollected, “but she realized that I had my own style and told me to keep drawing.”

After graduating in 1981, Cook studied fashion illustration for two years at The Art Institute in Atlanta. “It was there that I studied the body, drawing muscles, tendons, bones, inner organs, getting honed into the body and how clothes fit on the body.”

But while he dabbled in art, Cook did not aggressively pursue his drawing dreams.

“Years ago, I realized I didn’t want to go to work 9 to 5 doing this. I have had my work appear in such magazines as Vogue, GQ and Mademoiselle, and I have worked with designers to draw their clothes,” said Cook, whose drawings have been displayed in Green Hills at Gus Mayer and R. Joseph Menswear.

The artist worked with his brother, Randy Cook, a local businessman-turned-minister, for 11 years and then was a medical buyer for nine years. “My love is medical, but my passion is drawing,” he said.

Through much of the 1990s, Cook’s sharp eye served him well as he did photography work at more than 75 Indy Car races for Firestone Racing at tracks in such cities as Detroit, Atlanta, Cleveland and Indianapolis.

But a major influence, Cook’s best friend, Jacque Ruditys, kept him close to his art. “She has been the driving force, a true believer in what I do,” he said.

Recently, Cook has been networking with friends in the Nashville art arena, and he is hoping for an invitation to display his work at Art Crawl, a first-Saturday-of-the-month event in downtown Music City. 

“In the past it was fashion designers and business, but now it’s people that really like my art. They come to my house and say, ‘Gosh, I really love that picture.’

“I’ve come back, and that’s where I am right now. I just got a commission to do a model. My passion is my drawing,” he reiterated. “There was a time when I just wouldn’t draw. But I realized the Lord gives you this, and if you don’t use it, you’re gonna lose it.”

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at

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