Matt Blease is a former designer at Liberty who creates comic-book inspired artwork and visual puns. We spoke to Blease about his influences and work so far…
A graduate from Edinburgh’s Napier University, Blease has a weekly spot in the Guardian’s G2 supplement and has produced illustrations for the BBC, Barbour, Waitrose and Random House, as well as bike brand Brothers Cycles. After working in-house at a creative agency, he joined department store Liberty as a senior designer before deciding to pursue a career in freelance illustration. Blease is now represented by London agency Breed.
CR: Who or what do you look to for inspiration?
MB: I am inspired by people. Our weirdness! Our use and misuse of language, our quirkes and eccentricities. the everyday situations and odd little scenarios that people find themselves in. Skateboarding has also influenced me in many ways, not just from the visual aesthetic but by the very nature of it. It’s such a pure simple pleasure and reminds me to not take myself too seriously.
CR: When did you first develop an interest in illustration?
MB: At school, knowing that I was obsessed with comics, a friend gave me a book called ‘How to Draw the Marvel Way’, and this was probably the point when I became aware that drawing could be a job. 90 percent of the drawings I did as a kid were based around skateboarding or ideas for comic book inspired characters. 10 percent were monsters…[but] that 10 percent got ripped up by my mum and dad because they thought they were giving me nightmares!
Illustrations for the Guardian’s G2 supplement
CR: And how would you describe your style?
MB: Someone described my work recently as provoking a ‘smile in the mind’ reaction, which I think sums it up nicely. Retro comic influences and colourblind colour choices help keep my style playful.
CR: You say your work is influenced by your background in graphic design. In what way?
MB: Working as a graphic designer has really helped me approach illustration in a different way. Graphic design is about problem solving, it’s often about communicating an idea in the most effective and efficient way possible. It’s helped me to really understand a brief and get an idea across without getting lost in all the fuss.
CR: Can you tell me a little more about your role at Liberty?
MB: I was the Senior Designer at Liberty, leading their graphic design team. The work was really varied, from designing window concepts, marketing campaigns, in-store graphics, advertising, packaging to art directing lookbooks, and even drawing all over the walls in the stationary department.
T-shirt designs for Brothers Cycles
CR: Why did you decide to focus on illustration instead of design?
MB: It’s ok to have your own style as an illustrator whereas as a designer you are constantly switching your style from brief to brief. Also I love drawing, simple as that. Once I’d decided to go freelance I was only ever going to focus on illustration.
CR: And why did you decide to go freelance?
MB: It’s always been the plan. I think I was waiting for the ‘right time’ but realised that there really is never a right time, as soon as I made the decision everything fell into place.
CR: What advice would you give someone looking to work as a freelance illustrator?
MB: Figure out what you do best, and just go with it. As soon as you stop worrying about all the things you can’t do and focus on what you can, the right projects will come.
CR: What project are you most proud of so far and why?
MB: In terms of scale, the Movie Mashups project for the Guardian (below) was huge. I had to draw 50 characters with interchangeable body parts and accessories that represented the top fifty films of 2013, so over 300 body parts… it became a bit of a labour of love. I’m also really proud of all the work I’ve created so far for Brother Cycles. It’s great to have the opportunity to help shape the aesthetic of such a young brand that I really believe in.
The Guardian Movie Mash Up
CR: What would be your dream commission?
MB: I would love to design a coin. It’s something that people handle every day; I love the idea of having a little illustration in everyone’s pocket.
CR: And who would you most like to work with on a project and why?
MB: It’s impossible! But, I would’ve loved to have worked with Charles & Ray Eames. They managed to create things that were beautiful, functional and playful all at the same time.
CR: What’s the last project you worked on, and the next you have coming up?
MB: I worked on a really fun little project with Bene, a furniture design company, for Clerkenwell Design Week. They asked me to come up with some inventive workspace solutions all based on the Invention Ideas drawings I’ve been working on (below). The next is something that I’m really excited about called Radical Muslims: a series of short comic strips based around three Muslim men that live to get radical. I can’t really give too much away but it’s like Point Break, with better beards and no beaches.
Bene drawings & Blease’s inventions