Meet Matt Rockefeller, an illustrator, animator, and student, living and working in Baltimore, MD. Matt has created work for several Light Grey Exhibitions such as Station Zero, Rolemodels, and the upcoming show 6 Degrees, and it has been an honor getting to know him! In this interview, we were able to ask about his style, sources of inspiration, real-life heroes, and creation. His work is wonderfully captivating and continues to instill a sense of wonder in us all!
Can you tell me a little about yourself? Your background, where you are from and what you currently do?
I was born in Tucson, AZ and grew up in the unique landscape of the Sonoran Desert. I lived there until I moved to Baltimore, where I currently attend the Maryland Institute College of Art as an Illustration Major with a concentration in Animation. This past year, I completed an internship at Zenimax Online Studios working as a UI Artist on their upcoming game The Elder Scrolls Online. Earlier this year, my friends (Leonard Peng and Xanthe Bouma) and I conceptualized an idea for a gallery show at MICA called “Small Creatures Such as We” which recently had its opening on campus featuring over 700 3x3 illustrations by 15 MICA illustrators.
Can you talk a little about the character you created for the Rolemodels Exhibition?
This character is actually a part of a story I’ve had brewing that involves a boy and his dog finding a portal that takes them to space and eventually other worlds. I thought it was a good fit for my fantasy alter ego (since the characters were initially based on my dog and I), and I developed him into a sort of mythical explorer who travels eternally through these different environments. I love exploring, seeing new people and places and stopping to see the small details, so I thought that a character who is in a constantly shifting environment would be perfect!
Matthew the Curious: Explorer of Worlds
What was your process like creating a character modeled after yourself? Did you give it off of real life attributes or enhance feautures? What do you think this says about your personality?
It was really interesting! I based my general appearance off of myself and focused more on the clothing and armor to define the character. I definitely heightened my physical coordination and build a bit though; I guess I wish I were more physically active, since I tend to sometimes forget to go outside instead of drawing. I also typically wear ordinary clothing from day to day, so the choice to draw such a complex outfit might reveal something about where my true confidence lies.
What are some of your favorite character types to draw? stories to create?
My stories usually involve extraordinary things happening to ordinary people. I find that I can relate to these types of stories, and they feed my inner thirst for adventure. I love to draw mysterious, isolated characters who slowly, over the course of the story, reveal their complex history and warmth of heart. At the center of all of my stories, though, are the places my characters travel to or live in, since the setting can often be just as rich in personality as the characters themselves.
You are also a great draftsman of spaces. Are there types of spaces you are attracted to? moods you are trying to set?
Growing up in Arizona, I was constantly shifting between different landscapes – the vast plains of dead grass, the quiet, pine covered mountains, and the unbelievable cactus ‘forests’. Everything was so vast and inviting, and I try to recreate that feeling in my work. There is so much about the world that is beautiful and mysterious, so I am constantly considering light, time of day, history, and a place’s unique biology when drawing the setting for a story. I want to draw attention to the place- that there is something more to it than what is seen.
How important is collaboration in the things that you do? Do you work as a team? Share ideas? Work on projects together?
Having recently put together a gallery show with 14 other illustrators, I have a reinvigorated appreciation for collaboration. We were able to create a staggering amount of work, and I was continually inspired by the variety of ideas and personalities. Working on projects with others allows something entirely new to come to the surface. There’s nothing like having a group of artists whose tastes and opinions you can rely on when you feel unmotivated or stagnant. I’ve learned so much from my peers, and I hope to continue working with them after graduation!
Who are your real life role models?
My freshman year at MICA, I had Kali Ciesemier as my first illustration professor. She’s definitely been a rolemodel and mentor for me as an artist. She is very dedicated and hard working, and also takes the time to answer questions and share information about her process. She’s very genuine and open, which I try to emulate. Daniel Krall, another one of my professors at MICA, has also been an incredible mentor. He’s hilarious, friendly, and honest, and his ability to generate ideas and talk through problems is unbelievable.
I also have endless respect for what Hayao Miyazaki has done with his vision for animated films. I strive to some day have a fraction of his imagination and storytelling ability.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Never give up! Trust your instincts!” –Peppy Hare from Starfox 64. This one’s stuck with me for a while.
In all seriousness, the suggestion to always remain curious sticks out to me as being particularly relevant, to art and life in general. There are so many interesting people, creatures, places, and ideas to be uncovered; it would be a shame to lose that sense of wonder that makes life so exciting.
What are some of your favorite resources for inspiration?
I find most of my inspiration from books/comics, animation/film, and videogames- anything that can immerse me in a different world altogether. I find that I am drawn to visual storytelling due to its expressiveness and flexibility. I also have a book featuring woodblock prints by the Japanese artist Kawase Hasui, and I constantly reference these when I’m searching how to convey a mood in my environments.
In addition, being outside, hiking, camping, breathing, all of these things can pull me out of a rut and bring my motivation back.
Can you tell us about any projects that you have in the works or things we can look forward to seeing?
I am currently finishing the first half of my senior thesis, which involves narrative illustrations featuring folklore from around the world. Next semester I will be developing my own folktale/ legend of sorts that is inspired by these stories and draws from my own experiences. Perhaps I will develop this or another story into a book or graphic novel in the future, so you can look forward to that!
You can check our more of Matt's work on his website here or purchase his piece for the Rolemodels Exhibition here.
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