Saturday, October 17, 2009


Interview With Matt Dixon

Having worked with game graphics since 1988, and many other licensed publications throughout his career as an illustrator, Matt Dixon is one of the pioneers in the field of Concept Art. The beauty and diversity contained within each one of his works of art, as well as his distinguished imagination, have been a true inspiration to me. In today's post I'll be asking Matt a few questions in which any aspiring artist or designer should use the answers to as a source of motivation.

Q. Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up, how did your journey as a concept artist begin, or what were your ups and downs? 
I grew up in Birmingham in the UK. I think I had a very normal childhood, and I always enjoyed computers and especially drawing. That's where my journey as an artist began as there's never really been a time when I haven't been drawing. The progression from drawing for fun to drawing as a job ( if you can ever call it that ) was very natural and was not something I ever planned. After school I worked in guitar shops for a few years until a friend offered me a job at his videogame development studio. I worked there for more than 10 years, gradually moving away from 2D and 3D production art into concept art. Really it was this creative environment of this studio along with security of the job which allowed me to develop my digital art skills and I remain very grateful to the guys who gave me that start.

Q. What different types of projects, commissions, or jobs have you taken throughout your career?
While at the development studio I worked on a wide range of licensed projects from movie properties like Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean to well known game franchises such as Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon. As a freelancer I've been lucky to work with an even wider range of clients, everything from book jacket and collectible card illustrations, to t-shirt designs and even graphics for an office cleaning company.

Q. What is it like to be a concept artist? What were the challenges, daily demands or routines? What do you find boring, and what do you enjoy?
What's it like? If you're someone who enjoys drawing and imagination then it has to be the best job in the world. My daily routine stays pretty much the same - I begin by answering emails and dealing with any paperwork, then the rest of the day is spent drawing. How cool is that? Organising schedules, dealing with paperwork and tax returns is not very exciting, but this takes up a very small amount of time and the drawing more than makes up for half an hour signing contracts or a trip to mail some documents. Really, there's nothing about the job which bores me and the occasional challenges of a changed brief or a very demanding client only help to keep things interesting. It's great!

Q. What's your greatest inspiration, specially since you do have a unique style where people can tell if a piece was done by you. For example, the figures and faces of your female characters are quite special and unique to your style. 
I'm often asked what inspires me or where I get my inspiration from and the honest asnwer is that I just don't know. It's not something I ever go looking for, and there's not a particular source that I look to if I feel uninspired. I just go with what feels natural to me. That's the way I've always approached drawing and I can't see a time when I would do things any differently. I listen to music constantly while I work, so I suppose that must help to inspire me and of course I love to look at and learn from other artist's work and that must influence what I do, but I can't define a single source of inspiration. I think everything has the power to inspire!

Q. Can you summarize the the stages of working on a project and some of the development methods?
It depends very much on the project but I like to start work as soon as possible once the brief arrives. If I know that a project has to be scheduled for weeks or months in the future I put it to one side and try to forget about it. That way I can approach it anew when the time comes to work on it. I find there's an initial rush of ideas as I read through what the project requires and I like to try and ride that wave of energy, getting as many ideas drawn out as I can. Sometimes these are no more than scribbles, but there's usually something in that first flood of thoughts that I can pick up on and develop. Once I've chosen an idea, I like to see it through, so I tend not to abandon a concept even if it looks weak or unsuitable for the project at hand. Trying to solve any problems with the idea can throw up new and interesting directions to take it in and I can always refer back to that initial 'bank' of ideas to start fresh if needed. Any concepts which are ultimately rejected get stored for possible future use.

Q. How big of a part does symbolism, modernism, realism, or any other cultural movement play in conceptual works?

That depends on the artist and their approach to conceptualisation. Concept work usually comes with a fairly specific brief which tends to channel the creative process in a particular direction, though the artist can clearly draw their inspiration from any aesthetic they choose. Where it does play a part, it's likely to manifest more the creative process than in the end result, though it's clearly an advantage to have as much knowledge to draw upon as possible.

Q. Are there any defining characteristics of a concept artists besides being imaginative? For example, I was told by one of my tutors that animators have to be a bit obsessive. It's one thing that gets them through some of the endless frame-work.

I wouldn't agree that you need any particular characteristic to be a concept artist, or any other artist for that matter. Surely what drives us is a passion for what we do, and enjoyment of the creative process? If it wasn't enjoyable, then why would we do it? I imagine that would override any character traits that may help or hinder us to a small degree.

Q. Working as an illustrator, would you say it's true that if your passion (or hobby) becomes your job, you'll have nothing left to do for fun? 
Absolutely not. I'm sure any artist with a good imagination can think of plenty of other things to do for fun! :) And who said that something stops being fun just because it becomes your job? I enjoy sitting down to draw as much today as I did as an eight year old.

Q. What is your word of advice to those aspiring to become concept artists and how they can begin?
That's difficult, as the world of concept art and illustration has changed very much since I began. I do know that it's a very competetive field and there are a lot of amazing artists out there. To succeed in this profession, you have to be good. Really, really good. That means lots and lots of practice - there really is no substitute for time spent with a pen ( pencil, stylus, brush etc. ) in your hand. So if there isn't one there, you really have to be able to justify why.

Thank you so much for your time and insight. Your help is deeply and sincerely appreciated.