Matt Rota's Sketchbooks

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday July 26, 2017

The 2017 Summer Invitational: Pimp Your Sketchbook, in which artists show their personal work and open a window onto their creative process, continues with Matt Rota, who lives and works in Brooklyn, and enjoys drawing in the city parks.

I usually have a number of sketchbooks I’m working in at any given moment. I have one or two that are for anything, working out thumbnails, figure drawing, or final art. With these there’s no particular order to them, I don’t complete them forward to back like a journal, I just flip to empty pages or work on old pages that still have room and fill them up with notes or thumbnails. These can be a bit chaotic which I think is interesting in it’s own way.

I also have a couple of sketchbooks that are set aside for more specific personal projects. I’ve been keeping one sketchbook for a couple years now dedicated to images from memories that take place in the town where I spent most of my childhood. These are all pretty thought out complete sketches that I use to create finished pieces from (which I will eventually print a collection of in book format).


Burning hay,from the sketchbook of childhood memories; Evening, small town, from the sketchbook of childhood memories; Tree and the field, from the sketchbook of childhood memories


I have another sketchbook dedicated solely to imaginary landscapes, all the drawings are from a Google earth type view, so all the space is flat. I use these landscape sketches to create much larger pen and ink drawings that I mostly use for gallery shows.

More recently I’ve set aside a sketchbook for just location drawing around the city. These drawings, if I like them, I’ll scan and color digitally. I like having sketchbooks dedicated to single ideas so I can flip back through them and see how that one idea evolved over time, it helps me have a bunch of ideas going at once but keep each clear and isolated from my other ways of working.

Each one of the specific sketchbooks I keep has a very particular and slightly different approach to drawing; my location drawings book is a very spontaneous way of thinking, just reacting to my surroundings, the drawings of childhood memories are all composed and planned out, where I get to explore very cinematic compositions (a lot of the ideas I play with in this sketch book carries over to my editorial work) and the landscapes deal with more complex, abstract sprawling compositions. They allow me a certain freedom and improvisation that’s a bit different than what I get to do when I’m working for print.  

Right now most of the drawing I do is just in black and white, with either pencil or graphite, and most of the color I deal with is digital, so one of the next sketch books I’ll start is going to be only color drawing, just colored ink, watercolor, colored pencil, whatever. Some of that will probably work its way into my illustration eventually. 




Matt Rota is an illustrator living and working in Brooklyn New York, and is an instructor at the School of Visual Arts and the Maryland Institute College of Art. His clients include The New York Times, The New Yorker, The LA Times, The Criterion Collection, The New Republic, VH1, 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 has 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. He is also the author of two books, The Art of Ballpoint, and Pencil Art Workshop, both from Rockport Press.

matt.rota- instagram



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