To the Point: An Interview With Alex Mathers
In an attempt to shed some more light on what it means to be a successful vector artist these days, we thought we'd ask some of them! In this series, you'll be able to read some of the delightful interviews great vector and drawing artists have honored us with.
First up, we've had a chance to interview Alex Mathers, whose work we've previously featured here on Tuts+.
How it All Began
My pleasure. Thanks for the invite. I've always enjoyed drawing and making art growing up, since when I was a little nipper with a box of crayons. I did art at school up until the age of 17, where I gradually moved away from it owing to various subject and career choices.
This led to me studying geography at university for three years. It wasn't until after completing my degree that I felt the urge to get out the pencils once more and I started making illustrations for fun. Within a few months, I was adding vector illustrations to stock websites with the aim of making a little side money.
Finding stock websites was a real blessing for me as it made me some good money and really got me to hone my digital illustration skills and my style in response to the many rejections and small sales I was getting through the platform.
Yes, there were many artists that I would come across via stock sites and online that inspired me hugely and motivated me to push my illustration craft. Three artists always stand out: digital illustrators Russell Tate and Simon Oxley, and painter/illustrator "Shag".
I admired their ability to work so effectively with color and shape. One thing that is consistent in all their work is attention to shape, and molding the appealing and striking essence of their images through understanding the power of shape.
Learning Your Skills
I took a lot of use out of the tutorials provided by other artists or various forums. I learned the technical skills behind vector illustration through Lynda.com and some other YouTube video material.
I'm a big fan of the way things are done and presented in Tuts+ and have dipped in a great deal since hearing about what you do. I'm excited to see where you guys are going with the lessons you are offering, in a wide range of subjects.
Pitching my work is always something I've had trouble with, so this is a good opportunity to try and get this right!
My work uses a clean and crisp digital vector style to create simplified, colorful and ultimately very approachable landscapes, maps and other geographically-inspired graphics.
The Creative Process
Having received a brief from a client and discussed the project with them, I'd do something active to let my mind breathe such as go for a run, go on a trip, take pictures of the city, or do some exercise. Then I'd grab a cup of tea or coffee, get plugged into a decent music soundtrack, and sketch out some ideas in Sketchbook Pro for feedback from the client. If I'm doing my own personal piece I'd try and allow for some time to pass between sketching, and coming back to have another look and make some more sketches.
Then I'd take that sketch into Adobe Illustrator and begin using the Pen Tool to create a black outline over the sketch. This process clarifies shape and simplifies the lines I use. I'll then get very friendly with the smooth tool and smooth out the line work. I may paste in some pre-made illustrations of things that I tend to use over and over in my work, such as trees, rocks and buildings.
After this, I'll color, finish up, sleep on it, come back to the work, and tweak.
I'm a big fan of reading, and tend to read a lot of non-fiction, mainly to provide ideas for my platform for creative professionals: Red Lemon Club. I'm currently reading "Mastery" by Robert Greene, who I think is amazing, and probably about five or six other books, including short stories by Haruki Murakami (he never fails to spark great creative ideas), "Simplify" by Joshua Becker, and "Clarity" by Jamie Smart. I probably read ten to fifteen books of various lengths a month.
Most of the inspiration for my own artwork comes from creative showcase sites like Behance and "The Fox is Black", and various other blogs, including the fantastic illustration work from a range of illustrators featured on my own site: Ape on the Moon.
My favorite music to listen to is by various film composers and movie soundtracks, like the work of Alexandre Desplat and Clint Mansell. They're great for working to because they tend to be instrumental and very evocative. A brilliant musical discovery I also made recently is the piano work of Berliner: Nils Frahm.
I couldn't say that there is any one place that keeps me creative, because for me, the cure to any lack of creativity is being mobile. I've always been a nomad, at the micro and macro sense and have tended to switch environments if I've been in a place for an extended period.
One of the best and inspiring places I ever worked was in the library at the top of the Mori Tower in Tokyo when I was living there for nine months in 2012. In London, I'll switch often between my own spare room in my flat, coffee shops when I can stand the insane music, client offices, and public libraries such as in the British library.
It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I made a conscious effort to switch from being a night owl to an early bird. So now I try and get up before 8am and ignore emails while I put in two to three hours of writing or illustration work. I'd consider these morning hours the most important to me as I tend to be clear-minded and most creative then.
I'll have a physical or Skype meeting with a client, a friend or collaborator around lunch. I'll then either work in town or at home for a few more hours before the evening sets in. This is when I'll either be out at an event or with friends or working some more if I have a particularly large amount to get done.
A Word of Advice
Absolutely. Competition is fierce these days, but it shouldn't put any novice off entering the market and going for it. The key thing is knowing how you can provide real value to people who need it, and how to differentiate yourself. Presentation and a good service is vital, as is regularly reaching out to people of all kinds.
Realize that starting out as an illustrator requires thousands of hours of practice in developing a style of your own, so do not expect work and admiration to flood in immediately, and have something to keep you afloat and earning money while you work on this. Like with anything, it takes hard work and conscious effort. Good luck!
Personal Portfolio / Stock Portfolio / Ape on the Moon and finally Red Lemon Club which is one of Alex's active projects focusing on providing creatives with regular tips on standing out and building influence.