I recently had to make a reluctant decision. I had to kill off The Endling Patreon page I had only just started (and it was my second attempt).
Of course I had high hopes. This format would force me into action - I’d knuckle down to finish the story and actually draw it, because people were paying me for it. I’d eventually be able to cut back on other projects and focus more on The Endling as more patrons came in. I’d have my first graphic novel finished in a year, and ready for the world.
But, life has a tendency to get in the way of high hopes (that sounds very pessimistic.. I’m not). I take on a lot of work because I have a family, and in the first few years of my freelance career work was infrequent and my endlessly-patient wife supported us during those times. So these days I take on as much as I possibly can. I struggled to make time for The Endling as I worked on multiple client projects. And you can’t expect people to pay money, even $1 a month, and only get fed the odd scrap of content. It was immoral. And stressful, due to the guilt I felt at letting them down. So I decided to pull the plug.
There was another reason too. Another path presented itself, away from creating stories and further into commercial creative enterprise. It’s a new venture which I should be ready to tell you about very soon. This would require all of my spare energy and brain power, and would have to happen alongside my existing career as I have to earn a crust (and they compliment each other anyway). And it’s these paths that I want to talk about…
One of the best things about life, in my opinion, is it can take you down paths you never thought you’d go. You can work in the media and discover a passion for illustration, and those drawings you do can open doors to a whole new career. You can do a scribble in a notebook that becomes a trilogy of books. You might think you’re on one path, and realise halfway down it it’s going somewhere completely unexpected. It keeps things interesting.
The key is to go with it. Allow new doors and paths (and other euphemisms) to reveal themselves to you. Follow your gut. Try not to stress - you are most likely making the right decision. You only have one life, and the more variety in it the better. This is turning into a self-help post, but really I’m trying to convince myself more than you. Because it is scary. But that’s good. Again, it keeps things interesting.
This new venture might fall on its arse (as we say here in Ireland). It might not work out, and I might fail at it. But that’s ok, because whatever happens, happens. I’m not giving up on The Endling, or any other of my stories. I still want to write more books. But right now my gut is telling me to pursue this other thing, and my gut has steered me this far.
So allow yourself to choose your battles, let your focus shift onto whatever seems the right course of action. It’s more fun without a map*.
*this from a guy who can’t drive to his local shop without googlemaps.
Oh and I know I’m teasing the new venture a bit, here’s a hint…
…specifically, Bluray/DVD covers (I’ll do book covers in another post)
Over the last few years I've been lucky enough to create many covers for Arrow Video. It currently stands at 76 pieces of art (including booklet covers, box-set individual covers and outer box art) and counting.
Creating cover art for films is probably my favourite thing to do. Distilling a film into a single image, capturing the mood, genre, atmosphere, choosing or designing the right typography is very challenging, but in the best possible way.
So I thought I’d make a little post about it, starting with how I got started…
I’ve mentioned before (in my 10 Year Anniversary post) that I got a private commission to create some alternative film posters. I’ve always loved films, but I had no idea that the alternative poster scene was so huge (now I’m very happily part of that great community). I caught the bug. So, for fun, I made posters for my favourite films - The Shining and Pan’s Labyrinth.
Now, here my memory is a little murky, because I can’t remember if I had done the Back to the Future poster with Under the Floorboards at this point. But, I do know it was Mike Wood of UTF who told me about Arrow… So, I sent in my work and asked (politely) if they’d keep me in mind for any cover commissions. Thankfully, they came straight back and said they’d keep me on file. And very quickly, they gave me my first commission - Roger Corman’s The Haunted Palace.
I think this might still be my favourite cover I’ve done for them. I wonder if it’s because I was so eager to impress, I gave my heart and soul to it. But then that would imply I haven’t done that for every cover since, which is untrue. But somehow I think I just got this one right.
Also worth pointing out here, at this stage I already loved doing my own type. I had done this big job for Whelans where I could make any sort of gig poster I liked and I had cut my teeth playing with typography and title design on that job. So on Haunted Palace I designed the title. And my love for combining illustration and typography, and matching both to the subject, has lead to all my cover and poster work in film & publishing (so if it’s a field you’d like to get into, try to push your skills in both letters and images.. it’s not essential, but definitely desirable).
To my relief, the cover went down well with both client and collectors. And so they came back with another one - a real cult favourite… Buckaroo Banzai.
This was my first taste of mixed reaction (in covers.. plenty of my stuff previous had mixed reactions!). Some people loved it, some people hated it. I certainly see lots of room for improvement but thats the case with all old work (you get better as you go, so you are more critical of past creations because now you can do much better - it’s why we tend to hate our older stuff). In any case, it didn’t put Arrow off…
Next came Zardoz* and what I think is my favourite title design I’ve done…
*or it could have been the Bob Hoskins double Mona Lisa/Long Good Friday.. That used stills and the existing title designs so I don’t tend to include it, although the backgrounds and over all design is all me…
On to how I make them…
I'll watch the film a couple of times, first to get the mood, then to collect stills I think might inspire an idea or be useful in the composition. While I'm doing this, I'm scribbling terrible thumbnails in a sketchbook as the ideas come. When I've decided on the best options, I'll send the roughs off to Arrow for approval, and then the final art is made.
As mentioned, I prefer to make my own titles where possible. But sometimes a typeface just does the job better. Either way, it’s all about matching the type to the mood of the film.
So that’s a quick version of my road to Bluray covers. I’m still making more (there’s a few that haven’t been announced, and a few in the pipeline) not just in covers but in posters, concept art and more.. And all because I made some fan art, and sent it off in the hope the right people would like it.
Next post will be book covers.. But for now, here’s a selection of my personal favourites from the DVD library (including one from my Ignatius Fitzpatrick portfolio, The Apartment).
And in the meantime, please feel free to comment - ask questions etc. Happy to give tips or answer anything really (within reason)… :)
September 2018 marks ten years since I decided to leave my career in the media in London and move home to Ireland to pursue my dream of being a freelance illustrator.
It has been an oscillating path, full of ups and downs, peak and troughs, disasters and delights. It's certainly never been boring. And it couldn't have happened without the support of those around me, most particularly my incredibly patient wife, Orla.
So as it's a special anniversary for me, I'm going to be a little (very) self-indulgent and list some of the great things that happened. Then I'll get on my trusty soap box and (briefly) describe why I got to do these things. But before I do, know that these are the highlights - they were peaks, poking out from a thick soup of panic, anxiety, relentless ambition and more panic. It's not an easy road, but it is so rewarding. The soup was worth it.
So, here is my self-indulgent list (yay me)
Whelan's changed my career because they gave me carte blanche to create any kind of art I wanted as long as it was cool. One piece, The Bogs, got my first professional recognition with inclusion in the Society of Illustrators 56 book and exhibition. Doors opened.
The O'Brien Press took a punt on me and published my debut novel, A Cage of Roots. Then took more punts and published two more. So now I have a trilogy, and a prize-winning one at that. Life-long dream fulfilled.
A famous Irish actor who shall remain unnamed commissioned me to make posters for his favourite films. Made me realise I love making posters for films. I made some more for myself, including one for Pan's Labyrinth that to this day is still the most popular thing I've done. I sent some to Arrow Video, who have since commissioned 76 pieces from me and counting (amazing client). The Pan's became the cover art for a special edition in Germany & Austria. I got to work with Warner Bros (twice - on IT & Mowgli) & Universal (more on that in a sec). All on the back of one private commission and some fan art.
Another punt, this time from the agency Shannon Associates. They became my agents even though I wasn't a 'slam dunk' (a quote - it meant I wasn't immediately marketable (true), but they had faith and took a chance). I asked if they could get me book cover work. They did, and I've gotten to make covers for all of the biggest publishers in the world, for famous authors like Michael Grant, Rick Riordan and more. They basically changed my career, and I'm forever grateful.
Back to the movie posters, because this is my favourite one. Mike Woods of Under The Floorboards had a license from Universal and asked if I'd like to do a poster for Back to the Future. I'm an 80s kid, so it was a firm 'yes'. He submitted my rough for approval and it all went a bit crazy. We ended up on Skype calls to Universal with them telling us that 'Steve' (Spielberg) and 'Bob' (Zemeckis) loved the design and they wanted it to be their official 30th Anniversary poster, to be used at London Film & Comic Con to raise money for The Michael J Fox Foundation. I got a personal letter from Bob Gale (who wrote and produced the three films). I even got in the local paper with a government minister. Will always owe Mike a debt of gratitude for that.
More punting on me... A couple of years ago a very old friend was doing a Kickstarter for his band's new album. One of the things they were hoping to raise money for was a music video. I had never animated before, but I asked them if they'd consider me for the job, and, thankfully, they agreed. Knowing that I couldn't animate. That's faith. The old mate was Simon Cullen, the band was the incredible Ships, and thanks to them I got to add 'animation' to my job description.
Ok I'm wrapping up the boasting now. Just one more. The good people of Light House Cinema recently commissioned me to do artwork for their Brad Bird Season. I'm a big Brad Bird fan (especially The Iron Giant) so I jumped at the chance. I made this:
...and then they invited me to a special preview screening of The Incredibles 2, where this happened:
There's been so much more. Good and bad. But, honestly, pretty much mostly good. Too many things to list here without boring the pants off you (if I haven't already).
Oh and this is all obviously just professional stuff. I also got married, moved to my favourite part of the world (Co.Clare) and had two amazing daughters. That's the important stuff, so I left it out.
And now, the soapbox...
The reason I got to do these things was I didn't give up. I just flat-out refused to stop making art my job. I could not have done this without Orla and the rest of my family being so supportive (even when it was harder for her than me. She may argue it still is...)
I also put a huge emphasis on personal work. I never considered working on my own projects a waste of time. They are the opposite of that. Nothing opens doors more than personal work. So if you are an aspiring commercial artist - make sure you draw what you love, make time for the stuff you are passionate about and I promise opportunities will arise, your work will improve and you will get where you want to go. And when it comes to books - just write the f***ing thing. Start writing - the first draft doesn't have to be good. An idea will only be an idea until you actually start putting words down. Oh and (cheese warning) believe in yourself. Self-doubt is in all of us, particularly creative people. Just push the doubt aside and remind yourself that you have what it takes to succeed. All the time.
Exercise and mediate. These help with that last bit. Watch films, read books, go to galleries - embrace culture in all it's forms. It fills up the well that you need to draw from. An afternoon at the cinema is work. Don't feel bad about it.
And lastly, you're always learning. Enjoy that part.
So, I sincerely apologise for the self-aggrandising nature of this post. But, you don't get a ten year anniversary every day, right? And I hope at least the last bit makes it beneficial for someone, other than me and my ego. For me, I can't wait to see what the next ten years brings. I won't give up, that's for sure.
Some thanks (not in order of merit)
Jamie East - my old boss at Sky Sports and HMPJ/Channel 4. Spotted my talent and encouraged it, allowing me to draw when I should have been working. Hired me twice, didn't fire me when I partied too much, and let me quit with his blessing.
Damo Farrell - gave me much of my early work, saw potential in my sketchbooks, taught me how to make a story.
Simon, Justin, Gail, Jodie and the team at Shannon Associates. Game-changing for me. And put up with me hounding about payments.
Michael, Ivan, Emma, Susan, Kunak, Ruth, Geraldine and all at The O'Brien Press. Took a chance, and helped me realise a dream I've had since I was a nipper. Emma Byrne has to get a special mention as she asked me to pitch a story. Susan Houlden too for being an amazing editor and whipping the books into shape.
Fran, Kevin and all the producers at Arrow Video for being my most regular clients with consistently fun jobs.
All the clients I've had over the last ten years. Sorry I can't list individually, but know that I enjoyed working with you and appreciated the work!
My folks and my brothers for backing me all the way. In-laws and friends too.
And Orla, Holly & Chloe. My girls.
My Patreon project (http://www.patreon.com/mattgriffin) for The Endling is not about me making loads of money. It’s more about lighting a fire under me to get this project out of my head and into the world. And I think it’ll be fun sharing my process (a little frightening too - like a lot of creative problem I suffer occasionally from imposter syndrome). So it’s going to be good for me, I think, whatever happens. And I think it should be good generally. So i’ve decided that 50% of all donations will go to charity. I’ll change them up each month, maybe hold polls for the patrons to decide on one from a selection. But either way, on the day Patreon process the payments to me, I’ll donate half.
So there you go. If you decide to become a patron, you can rest assured your hard-earned money is going to two good causes ;)
Something I love to do even more than drawing is to dream up stories.. I’ve always done it, from when I was a small kid, and got to do it for real when I was a big kid with my three books. I think up a new one nearly every time I take a walk, which is great because it means the well isn’t dry, yet, but bad because I have so many it’s difficult to develop them all. Still, I’m going to try...
The ideas I have aren’t just for books. I have the graphic novel I’ve mentioned before - The Endling - but that’s part of a book series too so maybe not that different. There’s also shows - animated ones. I have notebooks full of them. And over the last few years I’ve learned a bit about the pitching process through good friends in the industry so my plan is to develop some of the good ideas into pitches and see where it leads me.
This is one I came up with a few years ago (maybe 2014) about a group of future scientists sent to Enceladus to study the microbial life found by an imaginary probe (a relative of Cassini maybe). The story is split into two timelines - the long journey there and the group after a year or two on the moon. Things have not gone well. I have the pitch somewhere so I’ll dig it out & post. It would be an irreverent comedy.. a little red dwarf maybe.
I have a lot more. I’m developing one at the moment that I’m very excited about called ‘The Last Door of Talun’, which I’ll post about when it’s ready. I also have an adult novel called ‘Ghost Music’ which I’ve started (I really want to write an adult book), another children’s book based on a concept I worked on years ago with the good Damo Farrell (director, producer, animator & renowned puppeteer) called Lusus Naturae (about a circus with a very big (huge, mean, dangerous) difference. There’s a more arty project called ‘Domum Novum’ (again with the Latin) which is my little love letter to the philosophical, thought-provoking sci-fi I adore, which involves a book, an exhibition, a short film and an album (demos already made - one track with animated video in the works to be released soon hopefully).. there’s a show for pre-schoolers (The Me’s).. an animated film called ‘Mountains of Glass’ about surfing and magic.. I’m sure I’m forgetting some..
So the reason I’m posting this is.. these are all just ideas.. pipe dreams.. but so was writing a book in the first place for me.. I’m going to work hard to develop them into something real.. all of them! & If you’re reading this and you have loads of ideas..you just have to back yourself, and put the elbow grease in to make them more than a sketch.. the idea is the easy part.. the hard work comes after.. But - go for it.. I’m gonna
*que simply the best music*
EDIT - Here is the original pitch copy for Enceladus. I did this before I learned what an actual pitch entailed, so it would need to be re-formatted into a proper one. But, maybe it gives you a basic idea of what this one might entail... Could make a good web comic. Another job to add to the list.
I have issues with social media, from an illustrator perspective, which you can read about in this article I wrote for the AOI a couple of weeks ago. It's a necessary evil to me, rather than something I relish. But it is necessary, as in this day and age it's my shop window. So, I'm not going to go deleting all my accounts. Yet.
One thing I am going to do is use this blog more.
As it's mine-all-mine, I'll post whatever it is I feel like posting and I might be able to offer some insight into what it's like as a pro commercial artist & author. So, to that end, here are my first random musings...
I really think this hits the nail on the head. There was an interesting debate on Twitter about it with fellow illustrator & story-maker Nashatobi (check out his Patreon) who felt that we should take the audience into account, and try to create a story to appeal to people, rather than just ourselves. But I disagree. If you try and create things you think other people will like, you'll fall short. You have to create things you are passionate about yourself. That passion will shine through, and has a much better chance of attracting people than second guessing their tastes. It's a 'build it and they will come' scenario. So - make what you love, the rest will follow. I think anyway. Two sides to every coin.
I'm reading Dune again. It's my third time reading it (I love it - true genius) but, shamefully, I've never read the sequels. But I will after this. I did this image of Paul at the beginning of the year, and I'd love to do illustrations for the whole book - so I'm reading it this time with that in mind. But I give myself so many personal projects, I wonder if I'll ever get around to it.
I am at the moment in one of those periods where I have almost too much on. But, while I often think I'd love a clear schedule and room to breath, in fact I tend to make better work under pressure. I always do this to myself - take on tons of work - and I think I do it on purpose, because while it might be stressful, my subconscious knows it will bring the best out in me. So I am my own worst enemy and best mentor all in one. Here's what I'm working on:
Three new DVD covers for Arrow (these ones are all involving stills instead of illustrations)
Lots of book covers. One for Harper Collins, one for Penguin, one for Scholastic, one for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and now booked in two for Simon & Schuster.
A screen print of an imaginary cover for Stanislaw Lem - The Futurological Congress. I've been at this for months, only able to snatch time on it. Which is frustrating, as of all my projects, this is the one I want to do most. It's for a commissioner I've wanted to work for for years, and a subject I love. Need to make some proper time for it this week.
A poster for Taxi Driver for a gallery in LA, and a poster for Belleville Rendezvous (as my alter-ego Ignatius Fitzpatrick) for the same gallery.
Content for my Endling Patreon
Oh and being a parent, husband etc.
Film recommendation - A Prayer Before Dawn. Amazing, harrowing (not for the feint of heart) true story about a heroin addict in the worst Bangkok prison who finds redemption in Muay Thai.
Music Recommendation - What ever you're into - music is subjective.
Podcast recommendation - Everyone should listen to The Blindboy Boatclub Podcast
That's it for now, more random musing to come in time...
I've been curious about using Patreon for a while now. The prospect of earning a little on personal projects, allowing a little less time on client jobs (or at least removing the need to take on too many) is naturally very enticing. In fact, I went as far as setting one up a few months ago - but it was unfocused. I was looking for patronage which would allow me to work on anything that popped into my head - a bit of a gamble for Patrons for sure! So I got rid..
But, the thought of using it for something useful was still there. I thought I could use it more as a Kickstarter-style crowd funder for my graphic novel project, The Endling. In return for a small contribution (1 tier - pay what you like, from $1 a month), patrons could get a front row seat as I build the project more or less from the ground up. I could share the process not only from an art perspective, but also the story development itself. So, I've gone and done it.
This is a project I'm extremely passionate about. In fact, it's just the opening gambit of a concept that will, all going well, stretch beyond the graphic novel to novels and, hopefully, much more. The central conceit allows me a practically limitless sandbox to play in, all within the same story world. I can have any setting I want, because it's all based on multiple universe theory and the infinite variations of our reality that lie therein..
If you'd like to help with the project, I am of course always grateful for new patrons! And I will do my very best to make it worthwhile for those kind folks who part with their hard-earned money...
One of the best parts of my job is holding the finished object in my hands, whether it's a book cover, a dvd, poster.. whatever. But it doesn't get better than this.
To represent one of my favourite films of all time is a huge buzz. And it goes to show the importance of personal work - this was a piece of fan art a few years ago.. Now it's a cover for Del Toro's masterpiece. So if you are an illustrator just starting out - make sure you make time for your own work. It opens more doors than anything else you do...
This is where I work.. in a little room above an antique shop and one of the best coffee shops in Clare. The room was once a sergeants bedroom, a hundred or so years ago.. and now it’s where I come everyday to create art and stories
I hope you like it.. Any suggestions welcome - just send me a message on the contact page...