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Matt carves out a career in illustration

Illustrator Matt Griffin in his studio at Clarecastle. Photograph by John KellyClarecastle resident and self proclaimed “design nerd” Matt Griffin is making a name for himself, having tapped his way into the world of illustration.

Originally from County Meath, Matt has had a long connection with Lahinch and three to four years ago moved to Clarecastle, where he works as a commercial artist/illustrator.

He began his career in London in a different sphere, having worked for eight years in the media. While he was working there, he maintained an interest in drawing.

“I was always very much into drawing but only purely as a doodler. While working in the media, I was a music journalist for a while with Channel 4 and Sky Sports and in both those jobs, I ended up doing a lot of graphic design. Then my boss ran a blog that was very popular in the UK called Holy Moly and I did illustrations for that.

“They were joke illustrations of Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse that went viral and we ended up getting half a million hits a month on those illustrations. I decided then that I wanted to be an illustrator. At the time, there was talk of a book with Warner on the back of these. But I learned because I’d done them as an employee, I didn’t own the rights,” he said.

At that time, Matt said he was feeling a bit homesick and thought about doing illustration and graphic design full-time.

“I’ve always been obsessed with graphic design and art. I was always more into graphic design than fine art,” he said.

Matt got in touch with people in the know and asked how he would do it.

“I was encouraged to come home and I was told I was good enough to make a living at it. It was very tough the first few years to establish yourself. You’ll do any work for anyone who will pay you. You don’t really have your own voice as an illustrator at that and you’re not really going to rise above the rest. But I found the more you keep at it and the more you do, the more you build up your own skills and you start to have your own voice. The more you gather momentum, the more interest you generate and you build the reputation,” he said.

Matt said apart from the short commute to work that comes with working from home, he also very much enjoys being a professional nerd and working in an area that he is passionate about.

“I would have been a design nerd in that sense, also quite a nerd in a general sense. I love Japanese animation and all that sort of stuff. This is just being a professional nerd really. A lot of it is about trends and styles and being able to make stuff that is popular among pop culture, such as music fans. I worked in that area so I know I can make images that are desirable to people interested in that. So it helps being a bit of a geek and it definitely helps being obsessed with the industry as a whole. You have to do a lot of research and know your stuff,” he said.

Matt has been engaged in a lot of different areas, having worked with animators, publishers doing illustrations for books and advertising. These days he works mainly in publishing and also in poster design. He is heavily involved in poster design for Whelan’s in Dublin and also Kenny’s in Lahinch.

He feels now that he has a body of work behind him, he is trusted more to come up with his own stuff.

“Before you would have an art director saying what they are after and you are really a gun for hire to work up their ideas. These days, people come to me because they like my style of work and they say ‘here’s a theme and do what you like’,” he said.

He’s currently working outside his comfort zone and a Spanish publisher is testing his skills with medieval and celtic themes.

“The gig posters at the moment are my favourite because I don’t get any art direction on these. For these, people just trust me to just let my imagination run away with itself so I’m in control of the art direction. It has also lead to me doing a private commission of movie posters for a well-known Irish actor called Aidan Turner, who is in the Hobbit movies. Again, this is a case where the trust is left to me and these are the movies I want done and go for it,” he said.

“Recently I designed the poster for the Galway Film Fleadh and the poster was printed and framed and presented to President Michael D Higgins at the closing of the fleadh there,” he said.

Matt is also a member of Illustrators Ireland, a not-for-profit organisation for the illustration profession in Ireland. Up until recently, he was a member of the executive committee and he is currently the only affiliated member residing in Clare.

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