I discovered Dan Matutina while browsing for vintage-type illustrations, this being one of my favorite trends in modern design, in general. His strong, memorable style caught my eye and in no time I found myself clicking on each one of his published projects, exploring his work and jumping from one design platform to another (and yes, his amazing pieces are all over the web, I tell you). So I decided to find out how he does it. Telling stories through powerful images, combining old elements with modern ones, creating inspiring projects like Versus/Hearts, co-directing commercials, producing short films, making lamps AND co-founding and running a design studio in his home country, the Philippines, in the meantime. Which is brilliant, to me. So I interviewed him.
Do you have a design/illustration background (studies)? Is this something mandatory when following a career in design?
I took up bachelor’s degree in Visual Communication at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts. The course was a mix of things: photography, graphic design, illustration, film, editorial design, etc, that pertain to “commercial” visual arts. Hmmm… it’s not really mandatory. There are a lot of really good designers and illustrators who are self-taught.
How did you become a designer, what was the starting point and how did it happen?
I was already into the arts (and sciences) when I was in grade school and high school. I made illustrations and comic books when I was at a young age. You can say that I was interested in the creative field. I started becoming a “designer” when I was in the university. My first love was film, but at that time it was really hard (and expensive) to make films, so in my free time I did a lot of graphic design and illustration projects.
You have a very distinct and memorable style, how did you come up with it? What passions are there behind your pieces, what inspires you?
The style is a mix of things I really like. I love minimalist and geometric shapes, and I also like textures and “dirt” on my work. So I was just looking for a way to mix them together. I’m not really sure if it’s “distinct” because I’ve been influenced and inspired by old masters and my contemporaries in arriving to this particular look. I try to add new pieces in my style when I discover new things.
Let’s go a little behind the scenes and see what’s your typical working process when you create something. What are the steps you follow (from the initial concept, to execution?)
My process if fairly simple. I always start with pencil and paper. I sketch and write a lot. I want to do a lot of explorations before I work on the computer. I actually spend more time conceptualizing than the actual illustration work. Once I have a concept, I start working on the computer. I do the vectors first in Illustrator, once the vectors are done I transfer the work in Photoshop and start adding the textures, brush spatters, etc.
Do you draw your pictures on paper, or are they digital (or both)?
The final illustration is purely digital, but the things I add to it are from actual paper textures and brush strokes I scan.
The project that caught my eye when first seeing your work was Versus/Hearts. How did the idea come to you and how did the project evolve? (I see you also launched a book with the drawings)
It started when I was looking for a decal/sticker for my laptop. A heart would be nice I thought, I placed the pirate and ninja on each side of the heart. The idea for rivals came later when I realized it can be an interesting concept. For every great hero story, there’s always a villain. So even if they hate each other, they know they couldn’t have existed without one another. The postcard book was just a test run. hehe. I hope someone publishes it for me in the future.
You live and work in the Philippines. Do you feel like the industry is big enough, there, for designers like yourself? Do you ever feel like you would have more opportunities somewhere else?
The creative scene here in the Philippines is fairly young compared to western countries. Because it’s young, it’s very vibrant and dynamic. I’m lucky that I can be part of the creative scene’s growth. I get a lot of work opportunities abroad through commissions from different brands and companies, and also through my representation. So I do get a taste of how it’s like to work with companies outside the Philippines. Having said that, I’m not entirely close to the idea of working abroad.
I know you are currently involved in many many projects and, besides being a designer & illustrator, you are also an entrepreneur. How does this work, for you? What is the balance between the two?
Haha. I like working a lot so I always find myself involved in a lot of things. It’s what keeps me going. I love both design and illustration, so I’ll always be doing both. I also find it important to work on different personal projects to further push my craft. I do sculptural works, airbrush works just so I can try new things. Trying new things is always exciting.
What was your favorite project you ever did for a client and what was it?
Oh wow, this is hard as I quite enjoy working with my clients. The most recent one I liked was the one for Natural Resources Defense Council. It was the first time I saw my illustration animated! It was also great working with the guys of Giant Ant.
Haha. Yea. It’s just me with a Totoro (from Hayao Miyazaki’s “My Neighbor Totoro” animated film”) hat. I’m a big fan of Hayao Miyazaki, so I thought it would be cool to wear my friend’s Totoro hat and take a photo of it.
What is your advice for designers who want to go beyond freelancing and actually start a business? What should they keep in mind?
If you want to start a business or your own studio, it’s always important to treat it as a business. It doesn’t mean you’ll have less fun, it’s just that you should find ways of making it sustainable in the long run.
What are your future projects? Any idea you are currently thinking of developing?
Apart from client works I’m doing, I’ve been trying to finish a book. I really hope I get to finish it soon. I just have to finish writing the draft and the sketches.