Matt Leunig (US)

Matt Leunig (US)

I am always really surprised and happy to see that it sometimes takes less than one day between the moment I contact an artist and the moment he answered all my questions. It is once again the case with the brilliant Matt Leunig. Can it be explained by the fact that, as any genuine traveller, he likes to have things done quickly in order to fully enjoy the trip ? I have absolutly no idea, but I am definitly pretty proud to have him on the site :)

Hello, of course as every Crewk interview, first question: what are we listening to when we come to visit you?

Todays mix I got the new James Blake album, the 2nd Black Mountain album and Tinariwen's new album on. Last night I had some old prog rock stuff cranked... Hawkwind, Zappa, Gentle Giant, etc. I try and mix it up. Usually when I work, when I'm in the drawing phase I'll throw on some instrumental music or talk radio stuff... NPR, Howard Stern, Radio Lab. Short songs tend to break my concentration. Mindless chatter helps me zone out and draw, just like in my notebooks in school.

Can you tell us more about yourself, who are you, where are you from, what do you do?

My name is Matt Leunig and I run Scraped Knee Studios, which is just me... so its really easy to run. I am an illustrator and have been in the gigposters game for 7 or 8 years now. I'm from Long Beach, NY but spent my whole life traveling and living abroad. 11 years in Saudi Arabia & 5 years in Greece. I spent the last 10 years living and loving San Francisco and really got my career off and running there but deceided to take a break and took off to live 6 months in India and 7 months in Atlanta with my girlfriend. I recently moved to Washington DC and will continue to do what I do.

When did you start drawing?

As a little kid I was pretty much always drawing & doodling and since I moved around alot so it was something you could do by yourself. My parents would throw parties with their neighbors or I'd be stuck in lame social situations as a kid and drawing was a socially excepted way to ignore everyone and be in your own world. "Oh look.. don't bother Matt, he is drawing".

Did you follow any course or did you improve by drawing in the margins of your schoolbooks?

I never liked art class in school. Teachers essentially taught you to draw the way they wanted you too which is horrible. If it didnt look a certain way you were reprimanded. How is that art? I was mainly self-taught just by looking and copying comic books or other art I came across. As I got older I tried brief stints, a semester each at SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design) and the Academy of Art in San Francisco, but always found teaching myself was the best way to go.

Today are you living from your art, or do you do something else for a living?

Today I am living just soley from creating art. When I lived in San Francisco I was always doing the posters and illustration work as a side job. I worked in the video game industry for years as a Producer and the past year and a half decided to try doing freelance art full time. So far so good, but ask me that question in a year or 2.

Are you collaborating with magazines/fanzines, regularly?

I do the occasional illustration work for a magazine but nothing as of late. I did a comic for Colt 45/Vice mag a while back which was interesting and a book cover for 826 Valencia. Hopefully more stuff like that will come about.

Where does your influence come from? Is there any artists/graphists you particularly like, what are your influences?

I grew up reading comics,.. alot of comics and watching alot of cartoons. Old Looney Tunes, He-Man, G.I.Joe, etc... As far as comics the Hulk was my dude but I read them all. In high school I got a lot more into the indie comic scene and had a steady flow of R. Crumb, Peter Bagge & Daniel Clowes style comics running through my head. At the same time I got really into old 60's psychedelic art and old Fillmore posters. My all time favorite is Wes Wilson and Bonnie MacLean. Those guys created a a truly unique style that still is everywhere in the gigposter scene today. I would create fake posters in my school notebooks w/ that old school trippy lettering. They looked really horrible... I think one had a pot leaf with the wrong number of leaves. I'd never seen one before.

I've always been drawn to more of the illustrative side of the poster scene. I totally dig alot of the clean vector looking "graphic design"-style stuff out there, but the hand drawn stuff always gets me, especially if it has a cartoony vibe to it. Ward Sutton's old Pearl Jam & Mudhoney stuff is awesome. I'm still into the mini-comic/indie comix scene and really like alot of the work coming out now.

What are the principal steps in your work?

If I am not familiar with the music of the band I am working on, I will usually dive into it and try and listen to as much I can to get a feeling for myself of who they are. From there I will start penciling little thumbnail concepts and usually will send 3 or 4 to the band to get their feedback. From there I start working on the final...

Do you do everything by hand or on computer?

Bit of both. I do everything by hand first. I used to have most of my original ink drawings in a big sketchbook but it recently got torched in a house fire this summer. Recently I have been drawing everything actual size on 18' x 24' paper. From there I scan it, clean up the line work in Photoshop and then color and create layer seperations.

How long does it take you to do a poster?

Way too long. I spend more time than I need to and and constantly nit-picking things and get absorbed in doing too much detail. I need to learn to let go a bit more. Art will take anywhere from 2 - 5 days and colors 1 day or 2. You could be stuck trying to come up with a worthy concept for weeks though. Well maybe not weeks... but you get the idea.

You have a very distinctive style, are you doing only what you feel like or if tomorrow somebody asks you an oil painting with horses running out of water with a sunset backdrop, is it a problem or are you up for it?

I have tried to mess with different styles in the past but tend to keep coming back to the one I am most comfortable with. Sometimes a promoter or band will want a certain look or style which is different then yours which isn't a bad thing as it takes you out of your comfort zone and keeps things fresh. The problem comes into play if you are truly not comfortable doing this and are stuck creating art in a style you dont like or feel you are not good at. In the end everything suffers, the art usually looks bad or has no energy and no one wins. But to answer the question, I don't mind trying different styles but I dont think i could make a career out of just creating the way others tell or want me to. Plus, I suck at painting and could probably never paint a horse running out of water in my life.

For which band have you already worked for?

A bunch over the years.... The Flaming Lips, Ween, Widespread Panic, Norah Jones, The Black Keys, Primus, etc.. The list is getting pretty big which is amazing. I would have never believed it. I have a relationship with some bands and do continous poster work for them but over time I would love to work more directly with certain bands on larger poster runs or other album or promotional artwork.

For which band would you love to work?

I kind of have a wish list... or a "bucket list" of bands I would love to do something for. Queens of the Stone Age & Pearl Jam are great gigs as would be Soundgarden. Radiohead or Beck would be huge too. Those bands all have classic runs of posters which I'd love to add to. At the same time, I'd be happy to continue with bands I really dig like Ween, Black Keys or Black Mountain.

Do you choose the artists yourself?

At first I did. I would either approach bands or promoters if there was a band I really liked in town. Over time you start to get bands approaching you to do work. Sometimes you like them, sometimes you dont either way its good. Working for a band you aren't familiar with takes you out of your comfort zone and keeps you from creating the same old crappy imagery over and over. That being said, when you do a print for a band you like... it usually turns out better.

What is the most difficult part in designing a poster?

Coming up with a good concept that people other than yourself might get a reaction from. I can doodle and draw what I want all day but it might not match the vibe of the band or mesh well with the fans of the band. On the flip side, sometimes you have to work with an "art director" or someone on the band/promoter side that has a look they want to convey. You have to make sure not to compromise too much that you are not getting anything out of it, and it feels more like you are creating an "advertisement" than a gigposter.

Actually you know what.. I changed my mind. Dealing w/ people in the music industry is also pretty difficult at times, ha. Either bands that are scatterbrained and not really on top of their shit or promoters and labels that dont really understand you have to pay for artwork. It can be unreliable at times.

Do you think you are part of a "Graphic Scene", if so who else ?

I guess the "screenprinted scene" is more of an appropriate term for what is going on right now. It's gone beyond gigposters, and encompasses art prints, movie posters and stuff like that. I think screenprinting has made a big comeback and people like the "art piece" angle of it rather than just a band poster you can buy at the mall. Gigposters are kind of "hot" right now but its all cyclical. Unless people are innovative and new styles are contiously introduced into the scene people will eventually get bored of it. I'm not worried about the scene though. As long as the people doing it enjoy it and some of us can make a living doing so, it's all good.

A bit of self-promotion, take advantage of it, it's free, where can we see your work , on the web or in real life?

Most of my stuff is up on my website ( and I did a comics anthology a year ago teaming up 13 artists from the Bay Area with 13 artists from Portland, OR to work on stories together called "The Bridge Project" which is available in some bookshops and online. What else... I did an ad campaign in India which will probably never see the light of day and some art for a new KRS-One video hopfully coming out soon. I just moved to Washington DC like 2 weeks ago so will try and get some gallery stuff moving here there as well.

The best praise you received lately?

Hmmm... my work is going to be in the new Gigposters vol.2 book, as well as in a calender in Germany along with some really top artists so that recognition feels pretty good to be up there with them. Occasionally you will get a nod or a pat on the back from one of the bands which is always cool. I met Ben Harper and he said the poster I did for him was in his kids room. Hard to beat that.

What can we wish you for the future?

More posters, some new shirts &; art prints coming soon. Hopefully some more comic work and an occasional kids book here and there... and maybe you will see me at the beach. I'm the pasty Irish looking guy w/ SPF 75 on.

Thanks for answering my questions and see you soon on the website !!

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