Matt Johnstone: Illustrator – Jan 2011

Here at LovePencils we love to hear all about the people that use our products. Whether a professional artist or a doodler, we really enjoy learning what makes you tick as a creative!

We’ll be bringing you some interesting interviews over the next few months and to start us off is illustrator Matt Johnstone. Take it away Matt!



Tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in a country village in Sussex called Steyning, which is near Brighton. I was always keen on drawing, being creative, making things and doing things myself. Since graduating from Central St. Martin’s College of Art & Design I work as an illustrator based in London and have illustrated for clients such as Drink in Brighton, Nokia and Penguin Books. I’ve been lucky enough to illustrate for The Guardian newspaper since May 2007, producing monthly drawings for the sport section. I currently live in South East London and enjoy cycling, running, watching Arsenal, eating and drinking good ale.

How would you describe your work?

I use pencil, pen and ink to create line drawings and colour them in a basic way with blocks of colour. My drawings are usually quite detailed, often slightly surreal or humorous and aim to tell a story. I have an almost cartoon style that might come from copying cartoon characters from comics when I was young combined with watching too much Family Guy at University. Hopefully my drawings are fun and enjoyable to look at. I also seem to draw a lot maps.

How did you start out as an illustrator?

I did Art and Design Technology A-levels and then did a Foundation studies course in Art & Design at City College Brighton and Hove. I was lucky enough to get accepted to do a BA Hons degree in Graphic Design at Central St. Martin’s College of Art & Design in London, I contemplated doing a degree in illustration but I was always a bit wary to focus on something I thought that I wouldn’t to be able to get a job in. The course was very broad and was more focused on ideas, throughout the course I experimented in different creative disciplines but I enjoyed drawing and animation the

most and I think it probably showed when I went for job interviews as they seemed to think I would be better suited to doing illustration than being a Graphic Designer. After that I kind of realised that I should just give it a go and see what happens and I was lucky enough to get a few commissions with magazines, although they were low paid afterwards jobs seemed to come in slowly, I moved to London, hired a desk in studio and still work there today.

How has your illustration style evolved over the years?

I think it has got more detailed than it used to be, my style was a bit sketchier when I first started and as time has gone on it has got more precise and fussy for some reason? I think there has always been a graphic element to it but my line has become thinner and more condensed.


Do you sketch out your ideas for a piece first or dive straight in?

I always sketch out my ideas first using pencil, I find that if I sketch with a pencil it is quicker for me to get ideas on the paper and the line is a bit freer. After that I usually ink in my drawings which is a lot more precise and detailed, sometimes I use a darker pencil to strengthen the lines too.





Do you have your own studio? How have you made the space work for you & your creativity?

I rent a desk in a shared studio in East London with other self-employed people; there are other illustrators in the studio but also a mixed bag of other freelancers that specialise in a range of creative practices including graphic design, web design, photography, book design, theatre design, film, interior design, product design and architecture. It is pretty handy to be around people in the same boat as you and good to get help, opinions, or tips from them but also useful as some of them are excellent at making tea. I sometimes see other artist’s desks and get a bit jealous as they suggest a hive of creativity with paintbrushes and pencils spilling out of mugs, shelves’ overflowing with paper and pencil shavings lying on the desk in a Bohemian kind of way but my desk is the opposite – very ordered, tidy and I know exactly where everything is. I wish my desk wasn’t like this but I think it’s just because I have a slight case of OCD. My creativity seems ok, it is usually better when I have lots on and there is a bit of pressure to deliver. I try to get in early and I’m pretty strict with my hours I work so I have time to switch off, relax and do other things in the evenings which is a really important to keep fresh and enthusiastic about working. Drinking a lot of tea seems to do wonders too.

What is your favourite piece of work and why?

It is probably one of the first illustrations I was commissioned to work on I had just graduated and was living at home with my Mum and Dad and out of the blue I got a call about a job illustrating a map of pubs in Brighton from a great bloke called Simon. As it was my first real job I put the most effort I’ve put into anything ever, I was really determined to prove I could do it well. I spent about 7 weeks working on the A1 map going from my bed to my desk and went a bit crazy in the process through lack of sleep. I soon learnt that I couldn’t work like that for every job and I am a lot more structured these days. I guess it’s my favourite because it got me going with illustration and although I nearly went mad creating it, other jobs started to come in afterwards.

Who or what inspires you?

Nature, everyday life, funny things that I see, strange experiences, things that annoy me, odd characters, Family Guy, The Simpsons, Futurama, rubbish television, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington, David Mitchell, The League of Gentlemen, Funland, Bottom, River Cottage, Shepards pie, short stories by Jeremy Dyson, Where’s Wally, Asterix comics, Agent Arthur puzzle books, Roald Dahl books, comics, eating, football, the news, detail, the countryside, real ale, watching Arsenal, going running, beer pump badges, cartography.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to become an illustrator?

Make sure that you have a website with your work on it, even if it is just a blog that you setup for free. People who are looking to commission illustrators will be looking through lots of different people and they need to be able to see your work quickly and easily or they’ll just get someone different for the job. Send your work out to potential clients either by email or post. I’d also recommend if you do get commissioned to agree terms of copyright, fees and where the illustration is licensed to be used (and for how long) with the client and get them to sign the agreement before you begin the work. Other than that work hard, believe in your ability and don’t give up!

What are the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of being an illustrator?

You are your own boss, you get to work lots of varied projects and you get to draw for a job!

Do you have any top tips or handy drawing techniques to share with readers?

I often find it useful to use a light box when drawing. Sometimes I have done a drawing and a client will want small changes done for example altering the expression on someone’s face or re-drawing the text on a sign, so I put the original drawing on a light box with a new bit of paper on top and then you can draw it to fit in the space exactly.


We’d like to thank Matt for this interesting insight into his life as an illustrator! If you’d like to see more of Matt’s work, why not check out his website: