PK 060: How Matthew Griffin Took The Scary Plunge to Become an Illustrator

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Matthew Griffin hasn’t looked back since deciding to become an illustrator seven years ago.

“I’ll always put immese pressure on myself
to improve, but that’s how you get better, isn’t it?”

~ Matthew Griffin

Seven years ago, Matthew Griffin had a glittering career as a journalist working for Sky Sports and Channel 4 TV in London.

So what prompted him to give it all up, return home to Ireland, and try to make it as an illustrator, despite having no experience?

The answers are all in this week’s podcast…

Matthew Griffin: His Creative Journey

These days, Matthew specializes in movie posters, book covers, and illustrations for newspapers and magazines.

His artwork for the 30th anniversary of the Steven Spielberg classic, Back to The Future, has been selected as the official poster design for the London Film and Comic Convention.

Yet, just seven years ago, it was a very different story. Aged 29,  Matthew was enjoying all the perks of a career in the media…but he knew something was missing.

That thing was illustration. And, it took a move back home to Dublin and a long hard slog for him to finally start earning a living from his real passion.

He says: “I knew I wanted to be an illustrator, but I had no idea what an illustrator even did. So, I set about contacting people who I thought might be able to help, such as artists and art directors at agencies.”

Matthew already had a portfolio of work, so he sent examples of this to various people in emails asking for their advice.

And, although he says his portfolio lacked direction at the time, he was pleasantly surprised to get encouraging emails back from the people he’d contacted.

He explains: “Eight or nine times out of 10, the person you’re contacting has been where you are. Sure, a few artists are lucky enough to have success straight after art school, but for the majority of us, it takes a lot of hard work and years of finding yourself, improving, and learning.”

For Matthew, the last seven years have been all about finding work, developing his skills, and learning what to put in his portfolio.

He says: “My early portfolio was a real hotchpotch of work. I even had some cartoons and caricatures in there. Through talking to creative directors and other artists, you get a good sense of what works for you.

“After a while, I knew exactly what to cull from my portfolio. I got rid of the caricatures and cartoon stuff, and instead worked to create something unified and more presentable.”

Matthew Griffin on Becoming a Professional Artist

Matthew made a big decision seven years ago, and it hasn’t always been easy.

“I spent half my time panicking!” he jokes. “I probably spent more time trying to make contacts than actually drawing, because it can take a few years just to get your name established.”

He also made it his goal to get to know other artists in his native country. And, although his first application to join the Illustrators Guild of Ireland wasn’t successful, he kept on working until his work was accepted.

Eventually, his hard work paid off. The commissions started to become more regular, and Matthew even found his work being looked at and approved by a famous Hollywood film director!

“Designing the Back to the Future poster was a real whirlwind,” he explains. “I ended up in Skype calls with people from Universal Studios in LA, and I’m told Steven Spielberg himself approved my final design!”

When he’s not producing posters for famous Hollywood studios, Matthew also likes to work on personal projects. His designs for films such as Pan’s Labyrinth have proved hugely popular, and led to numerous commissions for book covers and illustrations.

“It took me a long time to realize what to put in my portfolio,” Matthew explains. “For example, if you want to design movie posters for a job, then you need to fill your portfolio with movie posters! It seems so obvious now, but it wasn’t always this way.”

matthew griffin a cage of roots illustration

Illustrations from Matthew Griffin’s children’s book, A Cage of Roots

A Cage of Roots

Most recently, Matthew Griffin has returned to his writing roots and produced his first children’s book, A Cage of Roots.

His novel, the first of a trilogy, was published this March to widespread acclaim, and he’s currently busy writing and illustrating the sequel to come out next year.

“It all came about through a chance meeting with the book publisher I produce covers for,” he says. “The art director asked me if I had any of my own stories, and I told her I’d got notebooks full of ideas.”

And, after writing the first chapter and getting feedback from the editor, Matthew went on to write six chapters before being offered a publishing deal.

So, seven years on, it seems like Matthew’s risky decision to become an illustrator has really paid off.

However, he’s determined not to rest on his laurels, saying: “I’ll always put immense pressure on myself to improve, but that’s how you get better, isn’t it?”

Listen to this week’s show and learn:

  • Why reaching out to other artists can help you launch your art career
  • How personal projects can actually lead to commissions
  • Why learning to cull your portfolio is part of your development as an artist.

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Thanks for listening to our show! We’ll be back next Wednesday morning 8AM EST.

Cheers,

Mitch

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