After a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Barcelona for a comic art summer camp, Matt has some handy tips for artists, and some funny stories too!
Matt got the opportunity through Kendal College and Lakes International Comic Art Festival after applying for a place on the trip. They almost didn’t apply at all, but after the encouragement of supportive friends, they sent in their portfolio. Matt joked that “Unfortunately, like most artists, I am my own worst critic!”
The thing that struck Matt the most was how nice it was to be surrounded by a group of creatives who had a similar style & worked in the same genre – something they were not used to in their rural Cumbrian town!
What was so lovely about talking to Matt was knowing how much they got from the trip. They were so animated when they spoke about it.
They described the journey there as “a little bit terrifying” as they had never been to an airport before, never mind during a pandemic. Having never travelled on a plane before, only by car or train to Europe, they didn’t know what to do in the strange limbo that is air travel and matters were further complicated by a change at Schiphol airport. “It made it more confusing as we only had about half an hour between flights and Schiphol airport is huge. And we were just sweating in all our layers! We’d gone from cold British weather to Netherlands weather, then to warm Barcelona weather, so we went in shorts and hoodies, and just shed layers as we got closer and closer to our destination!”
Matt went on this trip with one of their classmates, “Both of us are quite short, around 5”3”, Matt explains, “Which I like to say is average” they laugh. We then laugh together as l interject a fun fact, that I once read on the internet that said this is the height that men find women most attractive- so they might just be in luck! (A little queer joke!) So the two of them had a slight concern that they would not only be the youngest on the trip, but also the shortest! At this point, Matt had only just met the other on the trip via Discord, as this trip was open to multiple countries.
“When we arrived, we all went out to a restaurant to get to know each other and each other’s cultures,” says Matt. “I was asking the others ‘At Christmas, what sort of food do you have?’ I’m vegetarian, so I don’t have your ‘traditional’ British roast dinner- I’m more or less potatoes in every possible form! But it was really interesting because I was talking to someone who was from Italy, so I asked him jokingly did he have pizza for Christmas dinner to which he replied: ‘No absolutely not! We have pasta.’ So it was just nice to chat to people from other places and cultures.”
The talks and workshops they attended were based in a comic art school called Escola Joso. Around five artists came to work with the group, including one who had worked for Marvel and DC. Others included two who were self-published and one who worked for Disney- so some real heavyweights of the industry! They talked about how they entered into the industry, how they gained a following, and how they got to where they are now. The teachers from the school also talked about payment and how to get a fair price for your artwork. Matt explains that “it was really interesting getting that insight into this side of the industry even before I’ve entered university, and now knowing things that others probably don’t. It pushed me a little further ahead of the game I think.”
Matt spoke to editors who discussed book covers and what process goes into designing. Matt described this talk as “Really interesting and insightful” as they had never thought of someone else designing the cover of a comic or novel of theirs, as “Coming from a rural area in North England, apart from LICAF, there’s not much comic art going on, so I’d always imagined that I would make the cover of my comic myself. But now I know that I could collaborate with other artists and to help the design, like in a more ‘fine art’ style”.
“It was also very interesting to hear about how the industry is changing”, says Matt, “Mostly when you think of comic art you think of Marvel and DC, so North American artists, and the occasional Japanese Manga artist. But the summer camp aimed to push European artists forwards and to create a platform for them.” Matt is hopeful for the future of European comic artists: “The summer camp proved that this is not just an industry for Japan or North America, but that there are people in Italy, Norway, Chile and even the smallest islands possible off Indonesia. There are people everywhere who have this shared goal. There’s a future in it”.
Another workshop that stood out to them was one where they had to pitch their work, describing their idea for a book in three minutes. This was their favourite part of the summer camp, “Hearing all these ideas from people who were in the middle of their degree. The ideas were so diverse and advanced. It was really helpful for me to develop my piece when I pitched my idea for a comic book. I got some really helpful feedback, and since then, I’ve then been able to go back to the drafts of my comic to edit it and develop it further”. For Matt, having older and more experienced creatives evaluate their work was an invaluable moment at this point in their creative career.
When asked ‘What is the one memory that will stick with you?’, Matt smiled and said “I don’t know about your family, but when we go out for pizza in a restaurant we eat it with a knife and fork- especially in a classier place like Pizza Express! So it’s a habit for me, and when we went to a restaurant we had pizza, and I’m sitting across from this guy Noah from Italy, and I’m eating with a knife and fork, and he just stares at me. I look up and he just shakes his head and sighs ‘Continue!’. And I was so embarrassed! So when I talk about this trip I will always mention this memory and the fact that I insulted Noah and the whole of Italy by eating pizza with a knife and fork.”
“Another memory that sticks out was an afternoon when we had a few hours to spare, and a bunch of us were going to the beach, but there was just one thing; I hate sand. I love the ocean… but I hate sand. So I go and I bring a towel for me to sit on while the others go swimming. I’m chatting to Anthony who was from France, and I tell him that ‘I hate sand, it’s rough and coarse and irritating and it gets everywhere!’ Unfortunately, he didn’t get the Star Wars reference… It just went right over his head… So, yeah, that was also quite embarrassing. I’d quoted this cult movie and he just didn’t get it. So the two memories that will stick with me, are when I made an absolute fool of myself!”
When asked if the trip has influenced their work in any way, they thought it had a positive effect. After drawing some quick 30 second sketches of the characters in their comic, a teacher pointed out that they all looked very similar- they were suffering from what is known as ‘Same Face Syndrome’… Matt hadn’t quite realised it before, but since it was pointed out, they have been practising drawing faces a lot more, especially when drawing live. Now, this is a real tip for the top here: one of the best places to do this is in cafes and restaurants where you can sit and get the face shapes down and the individual look people have.
Another major influence for them was seeing the other students practice live drawings. Matt says: “We’d be on the train for just two minutes and every one of them would pull out their sketchbook. That was something that I’d been told to do before through college, but it would always be like ‘Oh I don’t want to – that’s too awkward, that’s too embarrassing- what if they see me?!’ But seeing comic artists do it, and seeing how it benefited them, pushed me to do it as well. So a couple of weeks ago, I went out for my first live drawing session to a pub and I just started drawing people. Just as they worked or drank beer, and now it’s probably one of my favourite pieces in my sketchbook. It just shows the individuality I had wanted to invoke. One guy who I was talking to wanted me to draw him, he had quite a strong jawline and I couldn’t quite translate it to the page because I wasn’t used to drawing that kind of feature. I tried to explain this to him but it just sounded like I was flirting with him… I was so complimentary of his face as I drew him!”
Matt went on to describe what they look for in a person drawing-wise. “I admire features which society labels as ‘flaws’. I see people with acne scars or freckles, or a facial scar and I just think that’s really cool and that it would make for such an interesting character! But society has led them to believe that it’s something embarrassing or something they need to hide”.
What the summer camp has taught them mostly is confidence, Matt declares. “Seeing other artists do these things, I now think I can do it too. It’s really changed my artwork. Anyone who sees this interview should get a piece of paper and a pencil and start drawing people because even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, just give yourself that confidence in part of the fun! I promise that you won’t look as crazy think you will! And it doesn’t matter if most of the things in your sketchbook are absolute garbage, because there might be one piece in there that’s absolutely stunning, and then it’s all worth it.”
So I’m off now to get my pad and pencils… who’s joining?!
Matt Carrick / @matildacarrick