Matthew Skiff is one of the best up and coming designers out there right now. He has worked with some amazing clients including: Paramore, Panic At The Disco, 410 BC, Vagrant Records, Fueled By Ramen, Family Force 5 and many more! He has already produced a handful of really excellent designs and his career is only just beginning. He was kind enough to give us an in-depth interview, his first ever in fact and as you can see by the responses; he is just as good at offering up insightful answers as he is consistently amazing artwork.
Tee Hunter: What is your background and how did it lead you into design?
Matthew Skiff: From the time I was a little kid, I would sit in front of the TV and just draw. I would be watching the 90’s Batman and X-Men cartoons are try to mimic what I saw on the TV. From then on I knew that I wanted to draw for the rest of my life. I got big into comic books and through that I would try and go that route with my life. In middle school we had some form of a design class that taught me how to use Photoshop that I really enjoyed, but once I got into high school I went back into traditional pencil and paper art. I got to college I still had the idea that I wanted to work in comics. I took a lot of drawing classes, but then the realization set in that it is pretty hard to get a career in the comic book industry unless you are really good.
I decided to look at my other options and took some graphic design classes and really enjoyed them. It let me use my love for illustration and apply it something more practical. When I graduated from college I tried to get a job at some local design firms. I would call or e-mail any design firm I could find but never really got any results. In the downtime of looking for a job, I worked on personal Illustrations. I submitted some to contest sites and even started e-mailing bands and clothing companies to see if they needed and designs. At the beginning it was very slow and somewhat discouraging. Eventually I started hearing back from these bands and clothing companies and pretty much dropped the idea of working at a design firm. Looking back on it now, I’m glad I didn’t get a job a design firm, I don’t think I could do the whole “9 to 5” thing and get up and actually commute to a job. I enjoy being able to wake up when I want to, walk over to my computer and work whenever I feel like it.
Tee Hunter: What do you enjoy most about designing and why?
Matthew Skiff: The best part about designing is that it’s different every day. One day I can be drawing some crazy design dealing with blood and guts, and the next day I could be drawing a Unicorn or some kind of movie parody. I get to use a lot of stuff from my background, what I enjoyed growing up with and what I enjoy now into each design. It’s great and really lets me get creative with how I approach things, and it rarely gets boring. It’s also helped me make a lot of new friends and contacts. There are some people and bands that I would have never of thought of meeting, let alone work with. Even with all the competition in the field, the design community has been really helpful and friendly and I’m very thankful for all the people that I have met and helped me out along the way.
Tee Hunter: What are your tools of the trade?
Matthew Skiff: I’m going strictly the digital route. I work in Adobe Illustrator and use a Wacom Intuos3 6X11 drawing tablet. I’d like to get back into more traditional pencil and paper work, but my schedule now doesn’t really leave any room for exploration.
Tee Hunter: What is it about tshirts as a medium that both designers & consumers love so much?
Matthew Skiff: I’d have to say that, at least with me, I feel like it’s wearable art. Clothes really do say something about you, and t-shirts are the most expressive with that. As a consumer you can really tell people what kind of person you are by what is on your shirt. As a designer I think it’s awesome to know that there are people out there that picked out your shirt and are wearing it because it spoke to them on some kind of level.
Tee Hunter: What is your personal favourite tshirt design (done by you) and why?
Matthew Skiff: Out of the shirts that have been released, I would have to say that it would be a tie between Medusa for 410 BC (pictured above) or the Teen Wolf shirt I did for Farewell (pictured below). The Medusa shirt took me absolutely forever, drawing every single scale, it was a nightmare working on it, but I am happy with the results. I really like doing designs for 410 BC because it’s sort of different than anything else I do, much more serious and clean. The Teen Wolf shirt is just a great idea, and I have to give it up to the boys of Farewell for coming up with the idea. Teen Wolf is one of my all time favorite movies, so it was a joy to be able to do a design based off of that.
Tee Hunter: You do a lot of design for music, what is it about tshirt design and music that creates such a bond?
Matthew Skiff: I think that music and art in general have always had a strong bond. Sometimes you buy a CD because you like the band and the music, and sometimes you buy a CD because you like the art on it. I think right now, band merch is so huge because it’s a great way for bands to make money. Music sales are declining, so the only real way for bands and record labels to make money is off of the merchandise. I have also found out that a lot of people in these bands are very big into art and design and have really great ideas. And, I don’t know about anyone else, but when I’m working, I have to have music playing in the background. I’ve tried having the TV on while working and it just isn’t the same, music gets me into a certain groove that makes designing much more enjoyable.
Tee Hunter: Who was your favourite band to design for?
Matthew Skiff: Picking out favorites is always hard for me. The first band that I ever designed for was iwrestledabearonce. They will always be one of my favorite bands and clients to work with. They have great ideas and they really trust me and let me go crazy on designs, plus they let me do art for their CD art (pictured below) and that was pretty exciting for me. Farewell is another band that I like doing designs for, they have some pretty crazy ideas for their designs. They are around the same age as me and like a lot of the same things I do, so they give me a lot of design ideas that I can really relate to.
Tee Hunter: Who, of anyone in the world, would you like to design a tshirt for?
Matthew Skiff: Volcom, I have always wanted to do something for them. I was all about Volcom as a brand when I was in middle school or high school. They have such creative art direction in all of their designs, they have have simple vector based designs and then flip it and have some of the craziest illustrative designs. Rockett is another company that I would love to do work for, I love their designs and their designers are some of the people I look up to most in the design world.
Tee Hunter: What have been the highest and lowest points of being a professional designer?
Matthew Skiff: One of the highest points in my career was when I got a design picked up by 410 BC. Back when I was starting out I e-mailed them to see if they needed any designs because I really liked their shirts. I got the standard “we aren’t looking for any designs right now” answer. But then months later I made a werewolf design and then got an e-mail from 410 BC saying that they wanted it. I was pretty excited, and from then on, me and 410 BC have had a pretty solid relationship!
One of my lowest points would have to be when I started letting other people’s work effect my own. I would brows places like emptees and other t-shirt sites all day long, and then other peoples styles and ideas started to get into my work. At that point I had to take a break from designing, I stopped making art completely for a long period of time and stopped looking at other people’s art all together. After a very long break I gradually started back into designing, changed up my style and technique and bit and started fresh.
Tee Hunter: At what point did you realise you could make a living from designing & how did it feel?
Matthew Skiff: When I started out, I would do a design a week. When it grew from a design a week to 5 designs a week or more consistently, that’s when I knew that I could make a living off of it. It felt great, but it was also a little bit overwhelming. There were times when I didn’t think I’d be able to keep up with the workflow. I eventually got over that and thought to myself, I would rather be doing this then going back to my old job of working in the customer service department at Best Buy. Just thinking about going back to that job gives me the shivers.
Tee Hunter: What one tip would you give aspiring designers?
Matthew Skiff: Don’t expect anything to happen over night. I know a lot of people and have a lot of friends that are trying to get into design and are finding a lot of trouble with it. Competition is strong right now because everyone is trying to get into this field, and everyone has the tools to be able to do it. The best thing I can say is to practice and draw your butt off every single day. The more you practice the better you will get. Oh, and learn how to spell too, I really stink at it but have found out that it is very important.
A big thank you to Matthew! You can check out his portfolio and hire him via his website: www.ithew.com