Q&A with Carlton Matthews

Following the hugely successful release of his debut zine Social Suicide we sit down with Carlton Matthews. The Birmingham based motion designer and graphic illustrator who takes his cues from skateboarding culture, Cartoon Network and how his upbringing in the West Midlands shapes his art. 

Illustration: Bottoms Up

We know skateboarding and the culture surrounding it is a big passion of yours. What is it about skateboarding culture and imagery that really grabbed you to begin with?

Skateboarding was my guide through adolescence. I've been skating since I was 13 so it came into my life when I was super impressionable anyway. I think the whole rebel 'don't give a fuck' attitude is really what pulled me in and the way that attitude is translated though the fashion, art, music and even styles of skateboarding has always intrigued me. When I bought my first board I picked it out completely based on the graphic and with a lot of skate products you get stickers to put on your board so I've always linked skateboarding to cool art. 

Illustration: Sensual Socials

Can you give us any insight in to your educational background and the pros and cons of it for your career so far?

So I left school with no English or Maths GCSE's and poor grades in everything else but I managed to get onto an access art and design course which let me get into college where I studied btec graphic design, I managed to fail English and Maths again but got double distinction, merit in graphic design. Because of this I got into university easily but I was lazy and didn't apply anywhere else apart from Birmingham City Uni, I don't regret this decision but I do wonder where my work could have taken me at the time. I feel like not having English and maths gcse made me feel like I would have struggled getting placements even though it had nothing to do with my course and my work said otherwise. I enjoyed uni because I could finally be judged based on my artistic ability and understanding. I feel like saw uni for what it was, which is a source of funding and support for my own artistic studies with pointers here and there. I think it worked for me because I'm an independent learner anyway and they allowed me to find my own path. I left there with a 2:1 and a calling to be a freelance designer so I focused all my attention on working with local brands and musicians. Through links at BCU I got the chance to work closely with Provide in the 201 studio meaning I was constantly around other freelancers, brand owners and creatives which really inspired me and eased the transition into the real world as well as teaching me a lot about freelance industry and work ethic. I've been working from home since November 2019 so I've had to learn a lot of self-discipline and to not depend on others for advice or direction which has been a massive learning curve for me. I feel like I've taken my armbands off so it's sink or swim aha. 

Illustration: Music Bop

We know Birmingham's quite a tight knit community and we've actually interviewed creatives from there before. What do you think facilitates this communal attitude?

I think Birmingham is the perfect size, it's big enough to house a variety of people but it's not big enough for you to completely ignore what's going on around you. Everyone seems to know each other or knows someone close and most people are really friendly and welcoming to outsiders. I feel like Birmingham's creative scene doesn't get a lot corporate funding so everyone involved has to struggle to be here and is genuinely passionate about what they do so you don't get people there just for the money or clout and forces people to engage with different sub cultures to connect with larger audiences. Seeing that genuine passion makes people want to help each other to build and I'm excited to see how our creative community develops due to these close bonds.

Illustration: PillyPage

Your own style feels reminiscent of video games as well as old-school cartoons. Would you say those are points of inspiration? Or if we're totally wrong what were your early visual influences?

You're correct! When I was too young to roam the streets, video games and cartoons were all I had really so naturally these influences find their way into my work subconsciously. My style started off by me learning after effects on a 4gb ram MacBook air meaning I had to keep things simple so I could learn to animate as well as not overload my laptop. This got me looking into flat design and 2.5D vectors which have a very clean, modern look but my goal is to juxtapose that to make things feel a bit rougher but it's a hard process when working with keyframe animations in after effects. Character design has played a big part looking at the way new characters like Gumball have been developed as well as older cartoons like samurai jack, and understanding that how you build a character dictates how you animate it so simple but effective design can save hours and be a lot more visually striking on screen then complex illustrations. 

Illustration: Tinny Clink

We love Social Suicide. Seeing simple images of what makes up most of our interactions is super poignant. What was your aim with this project?

So my aim was to highlight the way taboo things like drinks, drug, vandalism etc, are seen to be the things that are killing society but are actually the things that connect us and encourages socialising, being a common ground between most sub cultures. I started putting this concept together before Corona hit but as the world went into lock down. I think it became more relevant as I was releasing it as it felt like nostalgic reminder of how things used to be. I feel like this project was timed perfectly, because of everything that's been happening in the world people have been forced to re-think how social structures work and are judged. This was the response I wanted from with my zine anyway but was amplified by the pandemic.

Illustration: Mandem On a Wall

Do you take issue with how we socialise as young people or was the project more of an observation?

I think it was more of a celebration of how we socialise, I guess the title implies that we're killing ourselves or that its embarrassing behaviour but I feel like the characters juxtapose this idea by showing them having fun and socialising with each other which is the issue I'm trying to bring up. Why do we label these acts as 'bad' when they are some of the only things that bring young people together and why is it engrained in so many subcultures? I think it highlights how youth culture is labelled self-destructive but is actually very character building and socially connecting.

Illustration: Buzy Tower Block

Do you have any dream collaborators or projects for the future?

I don't have specific names but I definitely want to collaborate with more illustrators in the future, I guess my main goal is to carry on working brands and musicians to create cool and unique content. At the moment though I'm trying not to fixate on one thing too much and just let the journey lead me because every day new opportunities arise whist other fail, so keeping motivated and being financially afloat are my main goals right now.     

Keep Carlton's full portfolio via his website

Keep up with him via his Instagram

Follow his day to day via his Twitter

Buy Social Suicide here

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