The East Sider: Clark Huggins

Once a struggling actor in New York, the Providence native came home to find major success in sci-fi illustration


East Sider Clark Huggins knew early on that he loved illustration; it just took him a little while to fully embrace it as a career. The Bristol native took courses through RISD’s junior school during high school, and later did some undergraduate work there after transferring from the illustration program at Syracuse University, ultimately completing an acting major UC Santa Cruz. He later earned his master’s degree through the A.R.T. Institute at Harvard University’s theater training program, and made the seemingly obligatory move to NYC to pound the pavement, look for acting work and bartend on the side.

It would be 13 years of Shakespearean stage productions, commercials and small gigs, but a major turning point came when Clark realized he couldn’t stand to mix one more cocktail and decided to start looking into storyboarding work as a way to maximize his illustration background. Eventually, a higher up at the prestigious advertising firm Ogilvy and Mather offered Clark an unpaid internship, which led to paid work.

“Once I actually started doing it and found out the financial workings, I realized I could quit waiting tables and actually make this a career,” says Clark. It was the financial lifeline he needed to continue pursuing his acting dream. Eventually, however, a new picture started emerging.

“With every kick in the gut I received as a New York actor, something wonderful would open up for me in the illustration world,” he says. “I’m fortunate, because a lot of actors don’t have that entire other thing they love that they can pursue.”

As lifelong “big fan of nerdy stuff,” Clark took the week-long Illustration Master Class at Amherst University in 2008 and was stunned to find that some of the most important luminaries in the sci-fi illustration industry had convened to teach the course. His work has since appeared in card games including Android: Netrunner, Call of Cthulhu and Star Wars, as well as Image FX Magazine, Spectrum and Infected By Art. He has drawn storyboards and advertising for True Blood, American Horror Story, Damages, Underemployed and Naked Vegas.

Clark also inadvertently created his own product, Reckless Deck – a card deck of various tropes: character attributes, costumes, weapons, accessories and modifications from sci-fi, fantasy, horror and steampunk. He was using it as an illustration tool for times when he had trouble coming up with what to draw. He would just pull three cards from the deck, and voila: instant inspiration.

“When I first started using the deck, the combinations were so bizarre and irreverent,” says Clark. “I thought, ‘That’s not how it’s supposed to be, but what if I just go with it?’”

Clark’s wife, Kelly, pushed him to share his invention with other illustrators by offering it as a product, and it turned out to be a big hit. Clark is now perfecting a second version of Reckless Deck, with a new design, new cards and added features. He also intends to create a deck aimed towards kids “Reckless Deck introduces an element of anachronism that I enjoy,” he says.

“These genres and fandoms can get a little precious at times, so there’s a tension when different worlds bump up against each other that can be almost pleasurably annoying.”

Clark Huggins