Having designed for several artists such as Wilco, Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, and The Lone Bellow, Texas based artist Matt Shelton has a very impressive portfolio. You can catch some of Matt’s work on several tours all over the country. With a very bold aesthetic, Matt designs merch that stands out. His minimal and clean approach to merch design allows his work to become the center point of merch tables. I Am The Trend caught up with Matt to talk about music, inspiration, and band tees.
Q: Welcome to I Am The Trend! When did you first get into designing/creating?
A: About 6 or so. I was always into sketching or drawing the characters I saw on coloring books or Disney films. My birthdays were equal part Bmx, legos, and art supplies.
Q: How did you get into designing merch?
A: It happened pretty naturally, I got into music and skating (both of which are sneakily aesthetic) when I was in high school and started touring when I was 18. Everything was always DIY, so if you wanted to have merch, you had to do it yourself. It took a while for it to click with me, I didn’t really connect that it was another way to express myself. I always thought graphic design meant degrees and building websites. Neither of which I saw in my future. Once I realized I could actually say something through design, It opened up so much for me. I got super stoked on finding a new designer or seeing really good album packaging. Some good friends hooked me up with a macbook, loaded with Adobe Suite, I got in the back of our van and got to work. I started doing designs for other bands on tour, and that turned into management companies asking me to work with their artists, and then labels. Working with different artists really helped me understand the concept of branding and visual identity.
Q: Where do you typically find inspiration for your work?
A: I am always inspired when I see or hear a story told well. I also find a lot of inspiration in contrasts. In culture, there is always something that is oversaturated, something that is usually good in moderation, but completely destroyed by overuse. I really like looking for ways to put things into perspective, finding something gnarly to bring an idea back into view, or something simple to bring something gnarly into view. I find inspiration in simple design. No gimmicks, beautiful and practical. I like art that makes you imagine something could be better.
Q: Does management typically tell you exactly what they are looking for when hiring you out? Or do you get a lot of creative freedom when creating merch for artists?
A: It depends on the artist really. I’ve had management give me scribbles on a sheet of paper that were to be strictly followed, and I have had artists give me free reign to ruin their band.
Q: You’ve created merch for a large amount of great bands. Was there any particular band merch design that was the most fun/satisfying to work on?
A: I had the chance to design a tacky christmas sweater for Wilco and that was super fun. Anytime you actually get to work with a band you like, on a holiday you like, it’s a good day in the office. I also got to do a merch backdrop for Colbie Caillat that was a defining moment for me in showing a client that I could pull off a tough project. It was a day off, and I was walking down Main St in Magic Kingdom and they wanted a 24 hr turn around, little direction, and I wasn’t going to be at my computer all day. So I stayed up all night and sent it in about 6:30 am. I really wasn’t that into the design, I felt really limited on time and resources. But everything worked out, they had no revisions and I got to sleep. That project really gave me confidence as not just a designer, but as a creative director.
Q: Would you mind walking us through your creative process as a designer?
A: I follow a simple structure:
1. DISCOVER: who-what-why
2. EXPLORE: shape-color-action (my music and environment are key in this one)
3. DELIVER: surprise-party-sleep
Q: Aside from band merch/design, what are some other projects that you have been working on?
A: I just finished up a branding project for a neighborhood real estate company in San Francisco, it turned out to be a really unique challenge. I liked researching the neighborhood and demographic. With real estate everyone looks the same, I was given a ton of freedom so It was awesome trying to push the boundaries of that industry. I also recently did branding for an event series called The Bible and Beer Consortium. Beer related products and packaging are rad.
Q: How would you best describe your style of illustration/design?
A: Minimal, Bold, Classic, Modern, Contrast.
Q: Is there any particular artist that has strongly influenced your work?
A: Mary Blair, Massimo Vignelli, Paul Rand, Saul Bass, Don Clark, Will Gay, Shepard Fairey.
Q: As an artist, what do you look to accomplish through out your career?
A: I hope to accomplish good work. I genuinely want to put good design into our culture, regardless of recognition or accomplishment. But also, as an artist, if I can somehow paint a picture or tell a story that goes beyond itself and points to a greater story. I want to fight against the idea that somehow our art is our identity. No piece of art is the original. It all has a trail of influence, trace the influence, find the origin.