Northeast artist Rivard brings sharpies, skateboards to schools

Northeast artist Mark Rivard helped students create skateboard artwork this spring, culminating with a show in Uptown. Photo by Dani Werner

Mark Rivard drew his first skateboard artwork about 13 years ago, when he was holed up in his mom’s basement while recovering from a skiing injury.

Since that time, the Northeast-based artist has gained international recognition for his Sharpie-on-skateboard drawings, starring in commercials for the brand and opening his own art education business.

Rivard recently wrapped up projects at the Downtown-based FAIR School and the Prospect Park-based charter school Venture Academies, helping students put on an art show June 1 at Cal Surf in Uptown. He said his goal wasn’t just to have students create art but also to help them realize that they can potentially make a career out of their passions.

“My goal is to influence thinkers. To motivate youth to innovate. To push new ideas creatively,” he wrote on Facebook earlier this year. “It doesn’t always work. … But when it does it’s pretty cool to see.”

Rivard’s journey into the art world began in about 2003, after he underwent a full knee replacement. He took one of his old skateboards and drew a black-and-white rendition of the Minneapolis skyline on it, a work that drew praise from friends. Eventually, he and some friends formed an art group, putting together their first show in June 2004 at the now-defunct South Minneapolis nightclub Blue Nile.

Mark Rivard web
Mark Rivard

“We kind of went a little crazy and hung black curtains all along the wall,” Rivard said of the show, which happened on a Wednesday night. “It was basically a low-budget, do-it-yourself-style art show.”

He and his friends weren’t deterred, however.

Rivard and some buddies got a house in Uptown and continued to be creative, an atmosphere he described as “just a big party house, basically, with a bunch of artist kids living there.” He moved back to Colorado in 2005 after his leg healed, but he continued to do art, piquing the interest of an investor.

It was around that time that Rivard had his first contact with Sharpie, thanks to his aunt, an office-supplies manager. His aunt had mentioned Rivard and his work to a Sharpie sales representative, leading the brand to reach out to him about hosting a workshop in Breckinridge.

Rivard continued to stay in contact with the Sharpie after the workshop, pitching it on the idea of endorsing artists in the same way companies such as Red Bull endorse athletes. He became part of the “Sharpie Squad,” a group of artists worldwide who promoted the brand, in 2009 and part of a smaller group of Sharpie artists in 2010.

FAIR kids web
Rivard (far right) smiles with his students at the June 1 show.

Sharpie consolidated that group down to four artists, including Rivard, in 2011, building an ad campaign called “Starts with Sharpie” around their stories. It produced mini-documentaries about each of the artists and included them in advertisements that had a national and international reach.

“I was sort of the face of Sharpie for a year,” said Rivard, whose ad was featured in publications such as US Weekly. “It definitely increased the visibility of my artwork.”

That increased visibility led a Woodbury school to contact Rivard about coming to talk with its students. Rivard ended up writing a short curriculum and working with students at the school for a week, leading to other educational projects.

Nowadays, Rivard works with schools, nonprofits and library systems across the Twin Cities and even with several across the country and internationally. He brings in what’s left of his once-massive Sharpie collection and blank skateboards to the sites, giving the students the freedom to draw what they like.

The goal isn’t just to teach art, Rivard said, but it’s also to help kids recognize their dreams and realize that it’s possible to follow them.

His students appear to appreciate his passion and insight. Erik Daniels, a 12th-grader at FAIR, said Rivard helped him get better at drawing superhero characters, such as the Marvel and DC Comics characters that were on his skateboards at the Cal Surf show.

Daniels wants to eventually work for DC and create Batman comics. He is planning on attending Winona State in the fall and studying art.

“Mark’s just always supportive of what we do,” he said.

Erik Daniels
Erik Daniels

Eleventh-grader Cecilia Speranzella has worked with Rivard since the beginning of the year and said that “everyone was excited” for his program, “even people who don’t do art.”

“He’s so smart and resourceful,” Speranzella said of Rivard.

Venture Academy ninth-grader Aaron Cardenas said he felt like Rivard’s program could motivate people “to do what they dream of and try new things in life.”

“It was a whole lot of fun,” Cardenas said. “I loved it. Hope I can do it again.”

For his part, Rivard plans on continuing his work with youth, starting with an event for 40 Minneapolis Public Schools students that’s tentatively scheduled for July 6. Students would create skateboards that would be hung Downtown during the X Games. The students would also get free passes to the games, which are July 14–16 at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Rivard is planning to go on a 10-base tour with the U.S. Air Force after that. He said he’s already pitched the Air Force for a second round of touring and will be looking to continue working with youth.

Visit to learn more about his art and education work.