London-based digital and mixed-media illustrator Matt Lyon, also known as C86, is the mastermind behind an extensive body of eye warming digital illustrations (I’m not sure that’s a phrase, but it seems to apply here).
Matt’s choice of colour, use of texture and shape is aesthetically spot on. I particularly like his recent set of pattern pieces, which seem to consist of every colour under the sun, despite all working together very well.
Matt was good enough to speak extensively to Ape on the Moon readers about his work.
What got you into illustration?
Now that’s a long story, so please bear with me…
I studied Fine Art in London for four years doing anything and everything that wasn’t painting, printmaking or sculpture, and after graduating ended up working in education teaching photography and graphic arts. It was around this time that I started learning Photoshop, in turn discovering a whole new world of possibilities for image-making.
While teaching graphic arts, I become more and more excited by contemporary illustration and how artists were returning to traditional directions of promotion and development – having exhibitions, developing personal styles of work, experimenting with media etc. I’ve always been an obsessive doodler, and with the inspiration of illustrators and artists’ work I’ve always admired, I soon started creating more and more work.
This was great while I was teaching because I could pass on my discoveries to my students, but soon found that I didn’t have enough time to devote to my art. So just over a year ago I made the scary decision to quit my job, move to London and make art all the time. Since then, all’s been good and I’m doing exactly what I want. Fun times!
What inspired your recent pattern illustrations?
It’s difficult to say really because the imagery and direction of what I do just ‘evolves’ over time. This is how I like to work, drawing everyday and seeing what happens. Over the course of time, it’s interesting to see how my work slowly changes, though never in a conscious way. My pattern illustrations have emerged through my love of shape and colour.
Increasingly, at the moment at least, my work has become more abstract in its focus of experimenting with visual elements. There are overtones of inspiration from folk art patterns / colours, impossible perspectives of optical illusions, geometry and more.
This work is also inspired a lot by music. I mostly listen to electronic artists that really experiment with patterns and sequencing, and I’m sure that this feeds into the visuals too. It reminds of synesthetic exercises that I used to teach, listening to music and creating visual responses in terms of shape, scale, placement and colour.
Can you explain the tools and process behind these illustrations?
All of my work starts as a drawing, taking a line for a walk and seeing what happens. I never sketch things out but just draw with a fineliner or brush pen, careful to accommodate my mistakes as I go. Once done, I scan the drawing in and then hand-trace it in Illustrator. I find this part of the process quite therapeutic in a Zen kinda-way. It can take a few hours, but I prefer it to Live Trace for the sake of creating a manageable quality of line. After the tracing’s complete, I’ll use Live Paint to colour in the design.
I’m really pedantic about colour in terms of composition and combinations because I love experimenting with different palettes. I often have reference images open, usually paintings, as inspiration for possible colour choices. With the colour in place, I’ll often play with a few masks to add variety to the colour range and sometimes replace flat colour fills with gradients.
With the vector work complete, I then work on the design in Photoshop and have fun adding handmade textures, adjustment masks, etc, to add a certain surface tangibility and variation to it. Again, this can take a while because there are so many immediate possibilities and directions to build upon. I often find myself getting carried away with things at this final stage, so usually have to remove things to bring the focus back towards the subtleties of essential elements.
ⓒ C86, 2009
What is in the pipeline?
Next week, I’ll be relaunching my website after a much-needed revamp. At the end of this month I’ll be exhibiting in the group show “Nothing Like Something Happens Anywhere” in Gothenberg, Sweden, as well as another show in South Africa near the end of the year. And on top of that, there’s gonna be some new tees to buy, new stuff for You Work For Them, a secret project with friends in the Black Rock Collective, collabs, doodles, and more!