The Q&A: Matt Rota

By Peggy Roalf   Monday November 21, 2016

Q: Originally from Upstate New York what are some of your favorite things about living and working in Brooklyn?

A: Originally from a small town called Sterling, North of Syracuse, the town overlooks eastern Lake Ontario, I live now and work in Bushwick, Brooklyn. There is a great community of artists in my neighborhood and a lot of stuff to do in the few blocks around my house: a theater, bars, restaurants, coffee shops, so i don't have to travel far for anything. It's an energetic place to be living and working as an artist.

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between art you create on paper [or other analog medium] versus in the computer?

A: I do keep several sketchbooks, some are a mess, they have project sketches, figure drawings, doodles, notes, all very unorganized, and then I have a couple that are specifically themed, like one for a series of personal work revolving around landscapes, another dedicated to a series of drawings inspired by the town I grew up in. All of my work starts on paper as pencil, ink gouache or watercolor. For my illustration work, it is all composed and colored on the computer, but there a are few to no elements that come completely from the computer, like little or no digital painting or drawing. I only use the computer for color, which is pretty much all digital (by colorizing ink fills and washes).



Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: My crowquill pen

Q: How do you know when the art is finished?

A: When the deadline arrives, I will leave a file open and keep returning to it to look at it, revise it, look at alternate versions of it, and get other peoples opinion on it right up until it's due. If I'm working on multiple projects at once I'll leave several of them open and switch back and forth to get a fresh view, work on one for awhile, and switch back to another after taking a break from it to see if I see it any different or have a different take on it.

Q: What elements of daily life exert the most influence on your work practice?

A: Because I work at home, and that means the computer is always on, so i am looking at whatever I'm working on at all hours, my days are pretty fluid. I can have a very productive day, and relax at night, or not be able to get any work done while it's light out so I'll stay up all night working. It gives me the opportunity to have a very organic schedule which I enjoy.

Q: What was your favorite book as a child?

A: Probably something by Roald Dahl, he is the first author I remember getting multiple books by, maybe James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,or The BFG. I also really liked Beverly Cleary books around the same time.

Q: What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: The last great book was Rick Bass's The Watch, a collection of short stories; before that was the complete Flannery O'connor, both of those collections really blew me away.

Q: If you had to choose one medium to work in for an entire year, eliminating all others, what medium would you choose?

A: Pen and ink, specifically crowquill. 

Q: If you could spend an entire day away from work and deadlines, what would you do and where?

A: At home reading books and watching movies, or at a museum, a whole day at the Met would be nice, or possibly going on an all day bike ride (if the weather was nice)

Q: What was the [Thunderbolt] painting or drawing or film or otherwise that most affected your approach to art?

A: It was Henrik Drescher's Turbulance, Moebius's Sixty Days in the Desert, and George Grosz's Ecce Homo I returned to more than anything when I was in college; I studied those when I was learning drawing with pen to study line. They had the largest impact on my style, a close runner up would be Cages by Dave McKean, but it was too big to carry around with me all the time; the others were much more portable.

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: Ideally, a really good spaghetti, but in all likelihood it will be a peanut butter sandwich.



Matt Rota is an illustrator living and working in Brooklyn New York, and is an instructor at the School of Visual Arts. His clients include The New York Times, The New Yorker, The LA Times, Fast Company, McSweeny's, Foreign Policy Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Chronicle Books, Medium, Pro Publica, The Center For Investigative Research, Columbia Journalism Review, GQ Italy, Vice, and more. He's received awards and recognition from the Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts, 3x3 Magazine, Spectrum, American Illustration, and Luerzer's Archive. His drawings have been displayed at galleries in New York, Paris and Los Angeles.


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