Photo via Mike DeKay for Grain & Mortar.
I certainly think one should have confidence in the work they produce, but if ego drives you more than authenticity, it’s usually pretty noticeable. So it’s always such a treat when really talented people also happen to be genuinely kind and gracious individuals as well. That couldn’t be more true when you’re talking about Omaha artist and graphic designer Matt Carlson.
I’ve worked with Matt on a couple of projects over the last few years. Most recently we collaborated on a set of limited edition prints for sale at the newly opened hutch store in Midtown Crossing. Fabulous to work with as well as an inspiring graphic designer at local studio Grain & Mortar, he agreed to do a little Q & A with me so I could introduce him to you guys!
“Midwest Made” holiday letterpress coasters from Grain & Mortar.
COOP: Where are you from originally? Are you Midwest Made like your company boasts?
Matt: I am from Omaha. I’ve lived here all of my life. So yes, I am Midwest Made! My family has a lot of roots in the Midwest as well. So I guess it’s in my bones, baby! At Grain & Mortar, there’s this great sense of honoring these Midwestern values that we’ve grown up around or experienced from living in this area of the country. They (G & M) have been cultivating and crafting this really rich, industrial Midwestern aesthetic for many years, so it’s been fun for me to acclimate to that sort of vibe and experience how it permeates the studio and the work coming out of it. It’s pretty cool.
COOP: What do you feel is the biggest difference between fine art and graphic design? It’s all art, but how does it feel working with a computer more than getting your hands dirty?
Matt: I think working on the computer is the biggest difference for me personally. I really have grown to love it, but for a while I thought that I would never get much out of it. Once I got to know the design programs that I now use everyday, it was a real lifesaver in terms of process.
I feel like I carry a strong background in drawing and painting into the design and illustration work I do, but yeah, the tactile experience of getting down and dirty with the materials is definitely gone. (For now at least!)
COOP: How do you think you arrived at your personal style? Your illustrations and graphics have a fluid and somewhat quirky sense to them. Would you consider that accurate?
Matt: Probably just many years spent toiling away at different drawing and painting styles and experimenting with different materials. And being influenced from a young age by weird graphics and illustrations. Whether that be from skateboarding, cartoons, comics, pogs, streetwear, graffiti magazines, etc. In general, just a mix of ephemera from a lot of the subcultures I grew up on that had an influence on me. And I’ve always loved print… I just love paper and things printed on paper. So I get a lot of inspiration from found printed matter, and I think that has influenced my work in a lot of ways too. So yeah, I guess I would consider that accurate, that my work is “quirky,” but to me it’s just normal. I don’t see it as that weird, but I hear that a lot from other people, and I see where they’re coming from.
COOP: What does your creative process look like?
Matt: Working in a design studio now, my creative process is a lot more collaborative and diverse in a lot of ways depending on the project at hand. Well, it’s a lot different now that I mostly work on a computer, but normally I try to force myself to do as much preliminary sketching as I can. Then I take a picture or scan it into the computer and start building out shapes and layers in Illustrator. Sometimes it feels more natural to just start designing on the computer and bypass any sketching, so that happens a lot too. I really enjoy texture and the surface quality of imagery, so adding that is usually an important part that comes toward the end.
COOP: How did you arrive at the concepts for your limited edition prints featured at hutch?
Matt: Jessica reached out to me, and said she was looking for some local artists and craftspeople to create work for the new hutch store that was reopening in Midtown. I was really stoked about being asked to be a part but didn’t really want to show any old drawings or paintings at the time. So I thought it might be a great opportunity to do some screen prints.
We (me, Jessica, and Brandon) kicked around the idea together for a bit, figured out some of the logistics, and then I just started to think about the space and the type furniture and accessories coming out of the shop. That helped get the ball rolling in terms of style; sort of going for a more retro vibe that had some influence from midcentury modern graphics and design. I bounced some of my initial ideas off Jessica and just started working on the series. The idea for Still Life came first, and from there we crafted the idea that each poster would have the theme of “life” in it. We wanted there to be some overlap within the pieces, but collectively didn’t want it to feel so much like a “series.”
COOP: Choose between these:
Beer or whiskey?
Matt: IPA. All. Day.
Leather or suede?
Punk rock or classical?
Pizza or hamburger?
Matt: Pizza. It’s just the best.
Money or power?
Matt: Definitely not power. So money!
Getting up early or staying up late?
Matt: Sleeping in.