One Minute With…
Melanie Matthews

Animal Band - Melanie Matthews Interview

Hi Melanie, thanks for taking the time to chat with One Minute With. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.

No worries, thanks for having me! Let’s see, I’m an illustrator living in Melbourne, Australia. I create artwork for all kinds of things – one of my favourites being a kids’ meal box for a national fast food joint – but mostly I work in advertising and publishing. Lately I have been exploring different things like hand-lettering and drawing maps, which has been really fun.

How did you get into illustration? Was there a defining point in your career, and if so, how did it shape you as an illustrator?

I always drew as a kid. One of my favourite hobbies was writing stories and drawing pictures to go with them.

After school I studied illustration, and this became a turning point for me in my life – I realised that, hey, I could do this freelancing thing. Getting paid money to draw stuff? Sign me up! Sometimes local illustrators would come to our classes and speak about their career and how they started. This had such an impact on me, I think. I really wanted to be like them.

Almost immediately after I graduated I got my first job illustrating a book cover. It was a kid fighting a dragon and it was completely different from anything that I do now. They were so happy with the work that they asked me to work on some interior illustrations for the book series as well. All of a sudden I was a bonafide freelance illustrator. Hooray!!

I continued to work with that client for 2 years on a couple of different projects, and still talk to them now and then – my experience with working with them taught me a lot about building and maintaining relationships with clients.

I’ve only been at this for a few years so I still have loads to learn. I can’t imagine ever doing anything else though. This is way too much fun!

Melanie Matthews Interview

If you could change one thing about your career to date, what would it be?

I think maybe studying something else for a little while would have been really useful. For a few years I studied fine art; this was before I did illustration. It was the biggest waste of time ever. I wish I’d spent it learning something completely different, maybe zoology or even music.

I used to be a promising jazz musician, playing the double bass. I was really good but I ended up giving it away. Anyway, the point I’m getting at is that perhaps my work might be more interesting if I had done something different for a while. Something that I could look back on and draw ideas from, I suppose?

Does that make sense?

Totally! Now, animals seem to be very much your thing, with just about every illustration of yours featuring at least one. Is there a reason for this? Or are they just easy to draw?

That one is easy, I just love animals. I love drawing them and I find them endlessly fascinating. I have my favourites, but drawing any animal is such a joy to me. By looking at it and drawing it, I learn about how it works, why it looks a certain way, and sometimes how it’s solved problems through evolution. I think it’s incredible.

For some reason I can’t really get that excited about drawing people. Usually I try to replace people with animals if I can. It makes it more fun for me.

Bear - Melanie Matthews Interview

So, you live in Melbourne – does your location affect your work in any way, and if so, how?

I don’t think so, not really. Many of my clients are local, but I also have a lot of clients in the US. I work while it’s nighttime there, and when they wake up they have sketches waiting in their inbox. Then they have the whole day to send me their feedback while I sleep. It works out pretty neatly that way.

I could work from anywhere in the world I reckon, as long as I had a laptop, a Wacom tablet and a reliable internet connection. It’s one of the great perks of being a freelancer these days.

Tiger - Melanie Matthews Interview

Where do you see yourself in, say, 5 or 10 years?

Maybe I’m dreaming but I’d love to be living in New York and being an illustrator there. That would be nice. Give it 30 years maybe?

Aside from that it would be wonderful to be earning most of my income through self-generated projects instead of client work. It would be awesome to do picture books and perhaps even a graphic novel.

Leaf Pattern - Melanie Matthews Interview

If, in some Freaky Friday-like situation, you could live the life of another designer, illustrator or creative, for a day, who would it be, and why?

Yikes. I have no idea. How about Mary Blair? I could see how she works and somehow magically absorb some of her talent. It sure would be interesting to see what it would be like being a woman and working as an artist/illustrator for Disney during the 50’s.

How would you define success? Do you think you’ve found it yet?

This is probably going to be the most boring, eye-roll-inducing answer ever. But success to me would be making a good living working on stuff that makes me happy. If I can get to that place where I can work and not worry too much about when the next job will come in, or whether I’m going to have to eat ramen next month, and have enough that I can go traveling every year, then, well. Happy days.

For the record, I’ve never had to live on ramen. Whew.

Tassie Devil - Melanie Matthews Interview

And finally, what tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in design or illustration?

Be prepared to learn as much as you can about running a business and working for yourself. These days there aren’t too many in-house illustration gigs, so most of us freelance. Read books, attend conferences and talks and things. Doing all this stuff gave me a real head start after I graduated.

Although, I know some people who would recommend spending a few years working in a graphic design studio or something to learn the ropes of running a creative business. I didn’t do this but I think it’s a rad idea.

Oh, and keep drawing, love what you do, yadda yadda yadda. Obviously.

Thanks Melanie!

Many thanks to Mel for taking some time to talk to One Minute With. I really enjoyed interviewing her, and hopefully you enjoyed reading it!

Why not check out Melanie’s site, and follow her on Dribbble and Twitter?

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