Artist of the Month: Alex Mathers

Snow monkeys, volcanoes and Google+; our new Artist of the Month Alex Mathers has forged a career less ordinary…

It’s the colour that you first notice about Alex Mathers’ work. His illustrations are joyous, bursting with crisp forest-greens, hot pinks, ocean-blue hues. And boy, does he love a good landscape. “I tend to refer back to landscapes, mountains a lot, especially cross-sections, isometric stuff, I reckon a lot of that is rooted in my Geography background.”

It might be hard to believe but the London-based illustrator and writer is completely self-taught; originally studying the physical features of the earth and its atmosphere.“It’s a funny one. I was always interested in drawing and doing art, and at school I did AS Art and stopped at A level, because I thought that doing something like English Lit and Geography and German was a bit more sensible, and guaranteed of later success, and a salary.

“I ended up studying Geography at UCL (graduating 2006). I then found myself not knowing what to do with Geography … it’s such a broad subject, and covers anything from politics to farming to volcanoes.”

“Alex currently has a portfolio of clients including Google, Wired Magazine, The Washington Post, Sony and Barclays”

Being further distracted by a Masters in Real Estate (!), Alex was finally drawn back to art, tentatively uploading new illustrations to iStock, with the aim of making pocket money. Over 2006-9 the trainee illustrator uploaded around 350 vector illustrations, until it eventually started paying the rent. Ironically, this decision to get back in touch with his creative side started making sense as a full-time career; he currently has a portfolio of clients including Google, Wired Magazine, The Washington Post, Sony and Barclays.

It was seeing the jobs coming through, and realising that companies wanted to commission him, that made Alex think of his playful illustration much more seriously as a career option.“It only really started as a decision made on a whim, and grew into this bigger project.”

We all know that there’s much more to launching a successful creative career than just being talented; we wonder what were the key things Alex did to get his name out there and secure paid freelance assignments?

“It’s hard work … there’s so much more to think about other than the creative work”

“It’s hard work … there’s so much more to think about other than the creative work … The most important element of doing well in illustration is to know how to be commercial – as anti-art as that sounds, it was really handy to be uploading tons of stuff and seeing what the response was to the art.

“A lot of the work I submitted to iStock was really poor and got rejected; it didn’t download or didn’t sell. So it was that process over two years, making tons of art for that site, that really honed my skill … It was from that process that my style evolved.”

As a result of becoming self-employed, he’s in demand by creatives for advice. He’s pooled all this into his side-project, Red Lemon Club, which essentially shares ideas for creative entrepreneurs. “It’s hugely fulfilling, it’s really what keeps me going as a creative. I could’ve given up a long time ago, as it’s taken a lot of time, work and a lot of thought, but whenever I get an email from an artist who says that they’ve been helped by a blog post they’ve read, it keeps you spurred on … I like to think Ape on the Moon [a contemporary illustration site collaboratively ran with illustrator Philip Dennis] as promoting artists too … illustration can be solitary so it’s nice to have something extra going on too.”

“This is the geographical side and influence of my work coming through!”

Alex’s defined style comes from only using the smooth tool and the pen tool in Adobe Illustrator – “I just use the basics” – which is showed off beautifully in our homepage banner, named Urban Geo Block. It’s “a vector illustration that is part of a series of landscape ‘blocks’ showing different types of landscape cross-sections, often of fictional worlds and places. This one shows an urban area and the underground areas beneath, including an underground system with trains. This is the geographical side and influence of my work coming through!”

Alex remains inspired by other colourful illustrators, such as the vintage drawings of Matthew Lyons. ”I’m also currently really inspired by the exciting work of a few artists who work in computer generated 3D graphics like Erwin Kho, Timothy J. Reynolds, and Jordan Speers, as well as a handful of people doing original work for big animation studios like Kenard Pak and Daisuke Tsutsumi. Also a massive fan of my friend Dan Matutina’s cutting edge illustration work and the cool lines of US illustrator Ping Zhu.”

So what’s coming up? Apart from helping his ‘Red Lemons’ with creative advice, he is working on top-secret illustrations for Google+ as a freelancer, and plans to live abroad again after a fruitful experience living in Japan. “I would recommend every creative to do a stint of travel, even if it’s just a week here and there, and bring your sketchbook. You can’t beat it. If you’re spending all week in your room, it can be very, very stunting; you’ve just got to keep getting out and experiencing new things.”

See more of Alex’s work at 

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Posted on 31/07/2013 by thedoublenegative