Illustrator Matt Munday creates work that celebrates the beauty and joy of movement. And, as he tells Glorious, “If I can put a smile on a few faces, then it’s definitely worth doing.”
Illustration by Matt Munday
East London-based illustrator Matt Munday has used lockdown to develop his illustration techniques and explore his freelance career, and is now a much-sought-after artist with an extensive portfolio of bold, beautiful work. Whether personal projects or those undertaken with brands and charities such as Disco Disco London and Made In Hackney, Matt’s joyful pieces showcase a signature style bursting with vibrancy and energy. In this interview with Glorious, Matt discusses his inspirations, the power of imagery to elevate women’s sport, and how he channels his passions for music, movement and colour to create art that is lighthearted, inspirational and fun.
Glorious (G): What was your path to becoming an illustrator? Matt Munday (MM): Long and winding, to say the least. I think although I always knew I was going to do something creative, it has taken 10 years in a multitude of jobs to learn where I want to go and what I want to do. The pandemic and being forced to work from home allowed me the extra time to really think about where I wanted to take my career, and focus on my freelance and personal projects.
G: Who are the illustrators who influence your work? MM: I think from a young age I was hugely influenced by Keith Haring. His use of colour and assured mark-making are so simple yet powerful – if I could have a fraction of his talent, I’d be happy! I am also a huge fan of Edward Burra and Ernest Watson – I definitely feel you can see their influence on my work when you look at their fluid character illustrations. Finally, I am slightly obsessed with Hattie Stewart. Her work is always fun, colourful and powerful – she is amazingly talented!
G: What difference do you find between producing work for clients and developing personal projects? MM: I think self-initiated projects are super important. They obviously come with a lot more creative freedom, as they’re my opportunity to solely express myself. I think the structure you get from a client is transferable when coming up with self-initiated projects. I usually set myself a brief on a topic I want to explore, and it always helps to give myself a deadline so I don’t lose focus. Dealing with clients is obviously a completely different ballpark to personal projects, and it’s always varied! Sometimes you are completely on the same wavelength, they trust your vision and it’s smooth sailing. Other times it’s a longer journey. I think as a designer you should vocalise your opinion, as they have come to you for a reason – your creativity. However, at the end of the day the client pays the bills and you want them to be happy, so it’s a balancing act. People seem to resonate the most with work that comes from passion. It is the personal projects that have been picked up by brands or art directors who want to collaborate with me that bring me the most joy. If, ultimately, you can create work they love and you are proud of, you are winning.
G: You have a passion for music and sport – how did that begin, and how does it influence your work? MM: I think music and sport are the perfect combination – you only have to look at how the nation has embraced Sweet Caroline as the unofficial song for the Euros. Watching the England squad celebrating after the semi finals, singing and dancing with the fans, was a moment of pure magic. Music is everything to me and plays a huge part of my life, from what album I am listening to when working on certain projects, to having the right selection for a long 20k run. Some of the best moments, people and places I have experienced are based around music, dance and sport, so without them I don’t know where I’d be.
G: How do you think art can elevate women’s sport? MM: With anything, it’s hard to believe what you can’t see, so representation is everything! Positive imagery of strong females in sport roles can only help to break down barriers and hopefully bring more opportunities. If someone sees an image that inspires them to consider playing a sport they never thought was an option, that’s amazing. You only have to look at Kelly Anna’s recent collaboration with Chelsea Women to show how important her work is in empowering women within sport. I find her imagery really inspiring.
G: The fluid movement and element of fun within your work is a continual theme. Is this something that was a conscious decision, and how do you see it developing? MM: I find the movement of the human form fascinating – everyone moves so differently. Life-drawing exercises, where I had 30 seconds to capture the model in large gestural marks, really helped free up my drawing, allowing me not to overthink everything. I get so much joy from movement and capturing it within my work. I’m constantly inspired by shapes, from a swim stroke at the lido to a runner’s stride or someone just dancing their heart out. I used to ride the District Line from Mile End to Parsons Green and sketch people on the back of the Metro paper. Everyone has their own unique energy, and it is really funny to see and try and capture that on paper. I try to portray that sense of humour in my characters, for sure, and I think it will always be something that inspires me.
G: Is your work a reflection of your personality? MM: 100%. The reason I make art is to bring some enjoyment to the people who see it. I try not to take life too seriously – it should be fun and lived to the fullest, with a lot of love thrown in. This all started during the pandemic because I wanted to spread a bit of joy during the tough times. If I can put a smile on a few faces, then it’s definitely worth doing.
G: Can you tell us about your “Gains Train” personal project? MM: It started after I read an article about how fitness influencers were Photoshopping their images in the gym and then posting them to their thousands or millions of fans. It is sad because I think social media has so many positives, but so many of us, me included, see these unattainable bodies online and make ourselves feel shit for eating a slice of pizza. I just wanted to point out that no matter what body shape, if you are doing something for yourself and putting in the effort, that’s enough! It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
G: What is the process from beginning to end to create an illustration – do you work on paper/canvas or digitally? Which materials/techniques do you work with? MM: I always start with pencil and sketchbook. I try to keep my sketchbook with me and note down ideas all the time, even if it’s just a few words. I sketch out the ideas in really rough form, then once I am happy with where it is at, I start on the digital version. I use Procreate and Photoshop for the majority, but sometimes Illustrator for large-scale pieces.
G: We have seen a real progression in your work – it is now really bold, colourful and fun. How did you develop your style? MM: I think it’s an amalgamation of the artistic influences in my life and the journey I’ve been on. I guess a lot of illustrators go through trying to find their handwriting. I feel now I’ve got to a stage where I’m creating work I really enjoy and care about. I like to keep my old Instagram posts and try not to delete older work, even if I have veered away from that style or subject, as it acts as a journal to see the evolution of my characters. I think you should always be learning and growing and if you make work that makes you – and hopefully others – happy, that’s the most important thing.
G: You are an illustrator but have also explored animation and screen printing. Where do you think your work is going? MM: I think animation is a great way to help elevate and enhance movement within my characters, plus I just find it really fun! So I try to incorporate it when I can. I would love to improve my screen printing – it’s definitely on my list when I get some time. I really enjoy painting and need to do more of it. I think my work lends itself to a larger scale, so murals are something that really excite me and hopefully an option I can explore in the future.
G: Can you tell us more about charity project The Outrunners and how you became involved? MM: They are doing amazing work! Shout-out to Tyler Williams-Green, he is doing some incredible stuff inspiring young kids in Hackney. It is a running club that I joined at the beginning of the year and the runners get involved in a variety of work, from one-on-one mentoring to career events and kids’ running clubs. I’m only a small part of it – I offer my illustration work and time volunteering when I can. It’s full of truly amazing people, a perfect example of when sport and creativity combine to create something that can really help make a change. For anyone in Hackney who wants to join a running club, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
G: If you could host a dinner with five famous people, dead or alive, who would you invite? MM: This is tough. I’d definitely have Keith Haring, just to absorb as much advice as he could give. Grace Jones for the energy and her fashion sense. Paolo Di Canio was my idol as a kid, so he has to be there (I’m sadly a West Ham fan). Andrew Weatherall – his musical knowledge would be insane, and there’d surely be some great stories. Lastly, George Michael, because who wouldn’t want him at their party?
G: What’s next for Matt Munday? MM: On the work front, I have some really exciting collaborations in the pipeline, which will be dropping soon. I am also heading to Gilles Peterson’s festival to host my first-ever pop-up shop, so getting ready for that. On top of that, I am currently training for an Ironman in October over in Portugal (fingers crossed it goes ahead), on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Society and The Outrunners, so lots to keep me busy!
G: Where can we find you? MM: You can find me on Instagram @matt_munday_illustrator, or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to collaborate or just fancy a chat :).