Pulling up to the ramshackled train station of small Southampton suburb Totton, you’d be forgiven for presuming that not much happens here. However, entering Matt’s quaint bungalow on a sleepy side street and being welcomed into the Canning way of life (along with the 5 cats, dog and two gorgeous daughters) you are greeted by a sense of constant activity, with the children’s artwork and doodling covering the dining table - “We just sand it down every few months to clear the top”. Out back you find an almost football pitch sized garden equipped with treehouse, two ‘office’ sheds, and reams of bunting, and it becomes quickly apparent just how much creative energy can come from one family unit.
We spent the day with Matt at his home and favourite pub chatting to both him and his wife Clare. Clare herself manages to juggle home-schooling both girls, researching a PHD and setting up a social enterprise for local self-harming teenagers with the aim of teaching them life skills such as meditation to manage stress. Here’s a little insight into Matt’s life and work.
Your graphic design skills are completely self taught. Will you tell us about how you started doing design work, and what advice would you offer someone just starting out in the field?
I started out designing sleeves and posters for my band at the time, then for some releases on the label we were on. Through necessity really, I had to learn how to use Adobe Creative Suite, and online tutorials became invaluable if ever I didn’t know how to do anything (which was all the time). I then started offering logo design on Ebay for £25 a pop, just to build a portfolio, and it grew from there. It’s probably tougher now if you’re starting out, due to the proliferation of sites offering ready-made logo and website templates, but my advice would be to just get out there and try and make as many contacts as possible, as you never know where it could lead. My illustration stuff came later, as this sort of work I have found to be much tougher to get. My advice here would be to focus on developing your own style, and build a consistent portfolio in that style - I quickly learned that art directors and agents want to know for sure what they’re getting when they hire you. I would also say securing representation from a good agent is an absolute must.
We know that you’re very passionate about music, what are you currently listening to whilst working? Do you think it has an impact on the work you produce?
It’s weird - I rarely listen to music when I’m working, as I find it distracting! If I dig something I’m listening too, I need to give it my full attention, otherwise it becomes background noise, and I like to think decent music deserves better than that. I would say that I’m influenced by music in some of the work I do though, and a lot of my most rewarding work has been for record sleeves or gig posters, as it’s fun to interpret the band’s sound into an appropriate visual aesthetic. I’m enjoying Sleaford Mods and Girls Names at the moment, and a friend of mine recently gave me Jonathan Richman’s back catalogue, which is really special.
How would you describe your band, The Diamond Age?
We’ve been described as dream-pop, but I’d say we’re more of a post-punk band.
In previous bands, we’ve always jammed out ideas in a live setting, then interpreted these songs for the studio. With The Diamond Age, we’re doing things the other way around – writing and recording songs to be reimagined for live shows. We have a little studio set-up at Billy’s to do this, and it has informed and influenced our music massively.
Your family life seems full of character, what does life with character mean to you?
Thanks! It’s a cliché, but it is so important to pursue the things in life that make you happy – especially where work and careers are concerned. I think a happy society only functions well when the people in it are happy, and that has to be nurtured on an individual level – that’s what living with character means to me.
Are there any other role models, creatively that you think embody the "life with character" philosophy?
I think every artist has to lead a life full of character by default – and that extends to people across the board – great teachers, scientists, philosophers etc... Individuals who think of the world in a different way, or have the drive to change the world for the better, often exist (to varying degrees) on the edges of society. My favorite graphic artist is Chris Ware, who creates these immaculate comic strips and graphic novels, where every single pen stroke and page layout is perfect to the point of obsession. He has to be a character to achieve that level of patience and attention to detail!
Can you tell us what you’re most proud of as an artist and dad?
Becoming a dad for the first time was a very proud (and scary) time. Seeing the girls grow into wonderful little people with their own personalities and sense of humour is an amazing thing to watch. As an artist, When I got my first agent, and started working on a commission for a leading UK supermarket, I did feel a sense of having ‘arrived’ as a professional illustrator.
How do you style your J SHOES?
My shoes are never reserved for a special occasion – I’ll wear them to the beach, run in them, camp in a muddy field, whatever – I like fine shoes that get beaten up, and for them to bear the scars of my adventures.
Aside from the children’s book and graphic novels, what projects are on the horizon for you?
To get those things published would be good! That’s my next mission. I would like to have a few more high profile album sleeves and book covers under my belt, and to have a bit more upward thrust with the band. I feel I have quite a few irons in the fire, and they’re kinda getting warm, but I want them to be hotter!
QUICK TEN WITH J :
Being True to yourself
DRINK OF CHOICE
A BBC Breakfast mug from the 80’s
FAVOURITE FICTIONAL CHARACTER
Daniel Plainview – There Will Be Blood
MOST USED EMOJI
My favourite is the hand doing the OK symbol, but a smilie usually does the job
Every Christmas lunch
LATEST MUSICAL MUSINGS
Mac Demarco 2
MOST PRIZED POSSESSION
My family (not possessions, but you know what I mean! :)
SHOP MATT'S LOOK HERE IN UK
SHOP MATT'S LOOK HERE IN US