Matt Saunders: From street art to Pottermore, making it as an illustrator

At a glance

Name: Matt Saunders Illustration

Industry: Freelance Illustrative Design

Key Learning Points;

Work with whatever you can find when starting out

Starting out can be a sink or swim moment, but it’s also a period where you might be most open to working creatively.

You need to be able to look at whatever is around you, and think about how you might be able to monetise it – in the early days, Matt painted on pieces of wood he found on the street and made it work!

Create what you love and in time, people will look to you for it

My favourite line of any Inkbike interview;

If you draw enough stuff related to magic, eventually wizards will show up at your doorstep’.

I genuinely can’t think of any way to summarise this any better – bravo Matt, bravo.

Take care of yourself to perform at your best

A creative block comes from burn out, take care of yourself so that you’re able to keep up your creative momentum.

Look outside your medium for inspiration

It can be easy to flock to similar communities to get ideas for your work – painters following other painters on Instagram, illustrators following illustrative subreddits etc. 

Look elsewhere for unique inspiration, whether that be movies, photography or something removed altogether. 



I don’t know about you, but when I think of LinkedIn, I tend to think of people either sharing viral videos about something vaguely related to science or an office manager sharing boomerang GIFs of their team that they made on their phone (inexplicably always shot portrait-mode). 

It was to my great delight then that amongst the office GIFs I noticed one of my connections like a comment on an unbelievably beautiful piece by the artist Matt Saunders.

After viewing the portfolio on Matt’s website, and discovering the work he’d been commission to produce for the likes of Time Out, The Financial Times and Pottermore, I knew that he was someone that needed to be featured on Inkbike.

With an incredible body of work now under his belt (and much more still to come), Matt’s story embodies everything that Inkbike lives for – he didn’t set out to be an illustrator ever since he was a kid, but it was an interest outside of his job which he chased until it became his business.

Matt’s interview is a brilliant source of inspiration for any creative that’s looking to make a living with their craft – enjoy!

 

Did you have formal training on illustration?

When I graduated I specialized in animation/motion graphics this where my first job started I always had a passing interest in illustration. On an evening after my day job I would focus on creating illustrations and trying to find my voice.

I would paint in nightclubs throwing myself in the deep end. So I guess I am self taught as I didn’t have higher education in illustration.

Did you start off your career working full time as an artist or was it a gradual process?

I had a full time job as a motion graphic designer for 6 months , I was then let go by that job as this was the peak of the recession and went out on my own.

How did you first start making money as an artist?

I would juggle between doing freelance motion graphics work, editing, film making, animation, illustration, art working. I became extremely diverse in terms of how I made my income so I could support myself independently.

I would always come up with new ideas to generate income; at one point I was painting on planks of wood that I’d find in the street. You just have to grab what you can find and think how can this be monetised. It was a bit of a sink or swim moment where I had to do whatever I could to pay the bills.

“You always want to try to be ahead of what is going on around you.”

What was your first client commission and how did it come about?

I think it was for a friends band it was a t-shirt design and I was paid the grand some of £100, which at the time seemed like a lot.  

I imagine that one of the most difficult things to do when first starting out is figuring out how to price your work – did you ever struggle with that when getting off the ground?

I think it was a lot of trial and error and learning what styles work for certain budgets, the more you do it you learn how to become more efficient with your workflow so you end up working less for more money and your work becomes better as well.

It’s also about being more confident and knowing what you are worth and if a client doesn’t value that , you need to have the confidence to say no and walk away. It’s difficult when you’re starting out though, as people will take advantage of you.

 

Have you ever had to deal with people taking credit for, or even profiting from the work you post online? If so, what happened and how did you deal with it?

I have had a few instances, but if anything comes about I normally get my agents to sort things out when this happens. My style can be complicated so it’s not as easy to replicate.

What have been the most successful ventures you’ve undertaken for raising your profile as an illustrator?

I think creating work for myself is always a successful venture, if you produce a handful of unique pieces/concepts for yourself for each year, this will bank roll you in the future.

You always want to try to be ahead of what is going on around you.

“If you draw enough stuff related to magic, wizards will eventually show up at your doorstep.”

How did you secure an agency?

I was super lucky!  My agents were just starting out and still trying to find their voice as an agency. Now they are one of the most sought after in the world.

My illustration work back then is so different from what I am doing now and I feel like I’ve grown with the agency. The talent under the roof of Handsome Frank is incredible and we all push each other a long.

Illustrating for Pottermore is such an impressive achievement – how did the opportunity come about?

If you draw enough stuff related to magic, wizards will eventually show up at your doorstep. I’m a big believer in finding your audience and voice and anything in that is similar to your voice will find you.

This has happened quite a bit where things that inspire me will eventually cross paths with me. Slightly different than work but I was in the last Tim Burton film and I don’t think this would have happened if I didn’t put myself out into the world.

Have you ever found that you’ve gone through periods of extended ‘creative block’ in your career? If so, how have you overcome it?

I don’t really get creative block just more frustration , there are so many things I want to do and sometimes things get in the way be it work or life. There is a stack of projects I want to do and I just need to put my time into these.

Ive learned that blocks are linked to burning out and taking care of yourself to not think about anything is a helpful way to open ideas up.

 

Are there any particular tools, platforms to raise the profile of your work, pieces of software or anything else which you consider to have been particularly influential in your career as an artist?

Explore and be curious put down instagram/twitter there are so many interesting artists/styles that have been done in the past that can be applied to your work.

This could be films or photography, but look outside whatever medium you are in.

Are there any tools you think that absolutely every artist should have?

Adobe software is a must if you are wanting to be a commercial working creative these days and a notebook and a pen so you can always catch rough ideas and jot down thoughts.


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Fin.

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