Illustrator Interview: Matt Kenyon

Illustrator Interview: Matt Kenyon

Ikon Images

Describe your work in three words

Conceptual, Broad, Graphic

How did you get started in illustration? Did you always want to be an artist?

I always wanted to have something to do with art but was unsure what that would be until I got to university. Within two months of starting my degree, I switched from fine art to graphic design/illustration, and never looked back.

How do you approach a new illustration, where do you start?

I try to distil the subject matter/copy down as much as possible - perhaps into a single sentence - which I can then set about finding and combining visual metaphors for. If I can seamlessly introduce secondary or tertiary details of the subject matter without overcrowding or otherwise undermining the main concept, so much the better.

Man falling down slide on Snakes and Ladders board

What inspires you?

People, Nature, Politics based on sound evidence, well-written/reasoned copy, and good journalism

What’s been your favourite topic to illustrate / favourite illustration and why?

I don’t have a favourite topic. I love it when a commission comes along that immediately inspires a concept that is completely new, innovative, and interesting, while encapsulating the subject matter in a nutshell. That can happen with any kind of topic you can think of, but usually when the publication or author has put a new, or very personal spin on it. So maybe it’s more the way the topic is handled rather than the topic itself that makes it more or less favourable.

Cross-section of office block showing employee making their way up to board room level

What’s been your most challenging commission?

I don’t want to get into particulars, but generally I find it more difficult working for individuals rather than professional art editors/buyers. You’d think individuals would be easier to work for as fewer people are involved in decision-making. However, I’ve found individuals can be too involved with whatever it is (their product/brand/business) that I’m being asked to illustrate, and don’t understand that (oftentimes) the more you try to say with an illustration, the less meaningful it becomes. It’s very disheartening to have a really neat or concise concept destroyed by a bunch of disparate tweaks and additions.

What is your favourite medium to work with and why?

I often work to very tight deadlines and simply have to work digitally these days so I can respond to last minute mods and dimension changes in a timely fashion. I enjoy working in more traditional media when sketching out ideas, or life-drawing.

What does your workspace say about you?

Practical, unkempt, wooden, detached.

What bit of kit can’t you live without?

Drawing tablet.

Matt Kenyon's garden room studio office

Do you have any other creative endeavours outside of illustration?

There was a big mobile game I was introduced to by my young son and become very involved with during lockdown (despite being no gamer). I regularly ranked in the top 100 players and had just started making a few gameplay/tutorial YouTube Videos. Unfortunately, the game is Russian owned, so I decided I had to uninstall and quit the game in February, once the invasion of Ukraine began. Making those videos was very creative, and I enjoyed being in complete control of the whole thing. I didn’t advertise the channel at all (as I was still learning how to make decent content), but got some good traction and feedback early on, so it’s a real shame I had to stop before I could really get going.

Name a favourite artist or an artist who inspires you

Paul Nash & Stanley Spencer - I feel like there’s a sense of both universal and very provincial (uniquely English) truth in their art, that coexists beautifully, and is very difficult to pin down or explain.

Matt's 2 Minute Self-Portrait

Matt Kenyon's 2 Minute Self Portrait

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