Matt Kenyon

Where are you from and how long have you been illustrating?
I live in Newbury, and have been illustrating for the last twelve years.

What led you into a career in illustration?
I originally signed up for a degree in fine art, but within a couple of months realised it wasn't for me (I didn't feel I had the required life experience or brass tacks). I switched to a degree in graphic design, specialising in illustration. The university wasn't particularly well run, or resourced, but (if you could get past the forty year old cardigans and omnipresent rollups) the illustration tutor was excellent. The computer facilities were practically non-existant (and the few macs that were on offer were booked up days in advance), but there was a full-time life model you could make use of at any time, which really honed my drawing skills. 

How long did it take you to become established after leaving university and what steps did you take to make this happen?
I was pretty lucky. I spent a few months immediately after leaving uni getting a portfolio together, and took to the streets of London, showing my work to as many people as I could. I got a couple of regular magazine commissions almost straight away, and managed to eek a living within the first six months.

How do you market your work now?
Beyond having my work on theispot.com, I don't market my work at all. I'm pretty distrustful of the illustration annuals and havn't done any direct marketing for many years now.

Can you describe your process after receiving a commission?
Distill the copy down to it's essence, think about a few “key words”, use some visual reference, get scribbling.

There’s always a really strong idea behind your images, what do you do for inspiration and to keep your ideas fresh?
I have quite a few old encyclopedias and non-fiction books full of illustrtaions (from the fifties and sixties), that I can leaf through, but generally I just try and get to the crux of the piece – and illustrate that.
I try not to look too much at other illustrators's ideas to avoid subconscious leaching.

There seems to be some concern regarding the editorial market at the moment (falling budgets and fewer commissions) have you noticed any major changes since you started out and what do you think the future holds for editorial illustration?
I don't think there's any doubt that the market is shrinking (at least in the UK). It's not affected me in the wallet yet, but a much higher proportion of my work is for the US than it used to be.

Any clients that you particularly like working with? And any that you’d particularly like to work with in the future?
I love working for the Guardian. They've been commissioning me for many years. When I was at university, it was always my ambition to work for them (because of the way the paper's design standards, and it's history of using illustration – mostly down to Roger Browning in recent years). Despite ultra-tight deadlines, they're pretty relaxed, and great to work for. In the future, I would like to work with some of the big American city newspapers (even though they're a bit staid compared to our press) just for the kudos.

What are the pitfalls in the industry that young illustrators should look out for to avoid being exploited?
My approach when I first started was to get myself into a position where I felt comfortable with my work, and able to do the job proffessionally. I threw myself into it, but always thinking it was pretty unlikely I would be able to make a living out of it (because it's such a tough marketplace and initial success is often down to luck). I think that's a pretty realistic and healthy attitude to have. If anything, in the last ten years, I would have thought it's got harder for young illustrators to get work. My advice would be to make sure you get a decent fee for your work, and make sure you know what the client wants (particulraly in terms of how conceptual he want you to be). With regards to not being exploited – I would be careful about putting work into stock libraries (something I have very mixed feelings about). They can be a good way to get your work seen and generate new commissions, but I'm not sure whether they're damaging to the industry in the long-run.

And what are the best things about being an illustrator that keep you hungry and motivated?
Being creative, being in control of your work, new challenges everyday, being able to tell other people at parties that you do something interesting, choosing your own hours. 
Check out www.illo.co.uk to see more of Matt's genius. Thanks Matt.

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