In Depth with the Artist: Ty Mattson

junkyardarts January 31, 2011 Comments Off on In Depth with the Artist: Ty Mattson
In Depth with the Artist: Ty Mattson

ty-mattson-dexter-season-5Continuing our year of amazing artists, we are so very excited to bring you our interview with designer and visionary Ty Mattson!

The man behind (and contributing) the magic of Mattel, Maroon5, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, Discovery Channel, the brilliant LOST and Dexter prints, and so much more is here to answer questions about getting started in the design world, his influences and inspirations and so much more.

So jump on in!  We’ve got the exclusive interview, video and a great SHOP opportunity!

Junkyard Arts: Ok! Let’s just jump right into it, shall we?  Did you go to school specifically for graphic design?

Ty Mattson: I went to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and was in the school of Architecture and Design.

JYA: Interesting. Can you tell me a little about your creative process as it relates to creating an identity for a product/business you’ve been hired to work on?

TM: The first thing is really listening to a client and understanding what the product/business is about. Sometimes I get a creative brief that is very specific and clear. Other times I need to collaborate with the client in an initial Positioning engagement where we work together to define a verbal articulation of the desired perception. The more we can dial this down to the essential qualities of the brand, the better. From there I do a lot of sketching. Quick, rough ideas …sometimes more refined studies. I will usually start, and leave it and come back to it  later having been thinking about it in the background for a few days. During that time, most everything I see goes through the filter of “how does this pertain to my project”. Most things don’t. But somethings things do. Unexpected connections that can inspire or influence the design or spark an idea. This is something I do intuitively. I’ve never really thought about it, but it is a very important part of the process. Then I will go back to sketching. Again, these are really rough. More visual notes to myself than finished ideas. Once I have enough concepts that I feel have potential, I will go to the computer and execute and explore various iterations.

JYA: Do you think brand development is a natural extension of graphic design? or was it a deliberate decision on your part to bring the two together?

TM: I think the two are intrinsically connected. Brand Development is the big picture. Any touchpoint that someone has with an entity is an interaction that reflects on company and has the potential to communicate the values of the brand. Graphic design plays a role in Brand Design as far as it typically relates to the spectrum of visual expressions of the brand. So I would say that graphic design is one part of overall brand design.

JYA: Have you had a difficult time working with certain clients, in that, the client has a specific vision but you have a very different one?

TM: I hear this a lot, the tension between a Designer and the Client.

JYA: Ha, yes. It seems to be the biggest issue I hear from graphic designers – having very specific wants from a client, but the reality of that would mean either poor communication of the product or simply bad design…

TM: I think it usually a result of a lack of communication and/or talent. Or when the client is not actually a decision maker. Luckily at this point I really have some great clients that I love working with. Like any relationship, it builds over time. There is trust, good communication and mutual respect. And it’s a good match. There is chemistry. Which is important. I really appreciate my clients and they appreciate me. And they really value Design.

ty-mattson-lost-05

JYA: Have you ever had a brilliant idea that you brought to a client – and they absolutely hated it?

TM: Of course!

JYA: Well that’s refreshing!  I was beginning to worry you were some sort of design machine or something.  How do you handle or remedy that?
TM: Well, I don’t take it personally. Ultimately the client should know their brand best. And there are always dozens of variables…political or otherwise…that they may be evaluating that I as a designer might not be factoring in. Again, it comes back to the mutual respect thing. I trust that my clients know what they’re doing. This is not fine art. I am paid to solve problems visually and with creativity, which is subjective. There are a few ways to deal with the rejection of an idea. I feel like I have been doing this enough that if a great idea is not chosen, it’s okay…because I have had lots of great ideas in the past, and I will have a great idea tomorrow. Early in your career you may feel like you might not have that many, because you havent had that many.
The reality is, that every project requires a great idea…and as a designer you get more comfortable and confident in producing them. So for me I don’t hang my hat on that one single idea.  That being said, there are lots of logos etc. that I really liked that were never picked by the client. That doesnt mean that I can’t show them in my portfolio or be pleased with them myself. It is nice when the client selects the best design, but the work still has personal value and can receive professional validation.
JYA: Excellent advise – just because the client doesn’t pick it doesn’t mean that the work isn’t great.  I think that is a valuable thing to remember for a designer.  Moving on, you’ve done some pretty recognizable work, and not including your insanely inspired LOST and Dexter prints, I know people are going to want to know: How the hell did you get here?  Aside from sheer talent – how have you been able to build your business from a kid in college playing on illustrator to successful business owner?
TM: The short answer is 3 things: talent, initiative and inspiration. Talent is cultivated over time. Ive been a professional designer for 10 years now, so if you do the math, I have spent a lot of time doing this. And that is without counting college or the thousands of hours drawing, painting or making things…since I was a kid. The other part of the answer is taking the initiative. Some of my favorite projects were self-initiated. I did the Lost and Dexter prints because I was a fan of the show.
And the first time I ever heard a band called Kara’s Flowers….and a friend told me he knew the guys in the band, I stayed late and designed a bunch of tee-shirts for them. Without them asking. I gave them to my friend and said, show these to the band. They loved them. Then they changed their name to Maroon 5. And I designed their logo and all of their tour merchandise ever since. And through that connection I was able to work with Sara Bareilles, Lenny Kravitz, Dashboard Confessional, Counting Crows, Jakob Dylan, Chris Cornell etc. And none of it would ever have happened if I had not taken the initiative to design those first shirts.
The last part is inspiration. You just have to stay inspired. If the work you’re doing is uninspired, it will show. And if you’re not inspired, then the work won’t be either. So you have to do whatever it takes to cultivate that inspiration in your life and work. It’s essential.
Here is a brilliant video of Mattson creating one of his ridiculously popular Dexter prints – quirky music and crazy time-lapse designing await!

Dexter Poster Time-Lapse from Mattson Creative on Vimeo.

JYA: Particularly with the LOST and Dexter prints, there is such a sharpness to the images, it reminds me a bit of Russian propaganda posters – El Lissitzky and the Russian avant garde.  Am I totally projecting my personal tastes or has this style of design influenced your work?
TM: I studied Russian posters. I am not sure how much they inspire my work consciously. I am very inspired by Saul Bass and the graphic designers and illustrators from the mid-century mark and the 60s. What I love about Bass is that we was very much an illustrator as well as a corporate identity designer. And his work had a certain playful/iconic quality that I have always admired. There are plenty of others: Mark Kistler. Paul Rand. Walt Disney. Tim Burton. Terry Gilliam. Charles and Ray Eames. Herbert Matter. Jim Hensen. Dr. Seuss. Norton Juster. Jules Feiffer. DC Comics. George Lucas. Peter Gabriel. U2. Edward Gorey. Charles Spencer Anderson. Paul Howalt. Jason Schulte. Allan Peters.

JYA: That’s quite the eclectic list.  Adding on to that, much of your work has a familiar feel – it manages to work with your clients but also seems to carry a familiar ‘Ty Mattson’ feel – how have you managed to balance ensuring that your work has this common thread – your own brand – while also giving the client a product design that is uniquely their own?

TM: Well, to be fair, you havent seen everything I’ve designed…or maybe you have and you haven’t noticed!

JYA: Well, give me some credit here.  I did some research on you!  I suppose specifically with the LOST and Dexter prints, Mythbusters, Coca-Cola – sharp lines with a bit of whimsy, a bit of a 60’s Mod feel to much of the work, lots of silhouettes…

TM: Ha, I do have a certain sensibilities that find their way into my work. But I think that it is important to be fluent in multiple visual languages…so that you are developing and delivering unique visual solutions to clients.

JYA: You said that you have done a lot of work just out of personal initiative.  Are you always creating something in the hopes of catching the eye of the right person?  Do you see this as a viable option for other designers?

TM: We could talk about this for a long time. But I will be brief. The reality is, technology has changed the playing field. Now everyone can see anything by anyone. Before this digital age, you had a very little chance of getting your work seen by the right people. There was hierarchy and structure. Now you can put your work out there and it can be seen and shared by a countless audience. So it comes back to initiative. What would you make if you knew that it would be seen by who you wanted it to?

JYA: Brilliant.  Ok, so finally, what is some of the best advice you ever received that you can pass on to our readers?

TM:  Ha. Well…its a good question…but I don’t have a good answer for it! The reality is, I haven’t had a lot of professional mentors….so if I’m thinking back…Ive learned so much from a lot of different people…but there is not that one stand out, framed quote that some one gave to me personally.
I do however, have a favorite quote (although it was not given to me directly) “Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality overcomes everything.”George Lois
JYA: I can live by that.

The Same (sorta) Questions We Always Ask!
Favorite place to travel?
Hands down NYC, but I love Napa and N. California as well.

Favorite music you listen to while creating?
All kinds.  <– that’s kind of cheating, but I will let it slide

Favorite work of art from another artist?
Too many to specify.  <– definitely cheating

Materials you most often use?
pen, sketchbook, apple macbook pro, adobe illustrator, photoshop, indesign

Ty Mattson /

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