Matthew Fiss has spent much of his life designing and creating – whether it be wacky (and cute) animal portraits or product design for a business, he is always stretching his creativity.
His most recent project? Illustrations for The Squeezor is Coming!
This nifty little book focuses on a large, friendly monster with extra-long hugs (perfect for giving hugs!).
But…there’s one (rather big) problem. The Squeezor looks unfriendly – from his sharp claws to his pointed horns – he’s one spooky dude. And the rest of the town won’t go near him (no matter what!).
The poor, lonely Squeezor gets really down in the dumps…until…he comes up with a brilliant idea.
I absolutely adored this book! It was so clever and creative! With just the right splash of creativity and sass.
The illustrations were bright, bold and full of hidden little gems (like the book titles!). In short – this book was perfect and I would highly recommend it for the little monster in your life!
I had the absolute pleasure of reading and reviewing his book! And was absolutely delighted when he agreed to be interviewed! Without further ado, here’s Seven Questions on a Saturday with Matt Fiss!
1) What does a typical day of illustrating look like for you?
I try to block out at least 3 or 4 hours of time without interruptions or distractions, more whenever possible (and less under only the most dire circumstances). Timeframes are probably the most typical part of my process, where everything else is subject to change. Some methods require more setup and takedown than others, and having a good amount of time to work is crucial to making that effort worthwhile. Otherwise, not much is typical. I work with different media, in different locations, at different times of day, all depending on my availability and the projects.
2) In your first book, The Squeezor Is Coming, the Squeezor, a friendly monstor wants to make friends with the citizens of Ghastly Gigapolis. Could you talk a little bit about what it is like to design a series of illustrations for a children’s book?
In this situation, the author had plans for illustrations in advance. She made notes on all the pages where she thought illustrations might be appropriate, and general ideas of what those illustrations would depict. I took some liberties, we had discussions, and while we adhered closely to her original ideas, I think there were some adjustments that excited us both. I wouldn’t even call them compromises; it was more like me augmenting her original plans. It was a pretty good experience from that perspective. I think she just loved seeing her characters come alive.
I knew it would be important to vizualise the content she was writing about (in some cases it’s very visually descriptive), but I also wanted to add visually exciting elements that were separate from the text and conceived of my own creativity, in order to both add my own touch to the book but also just provide extra visual stimulation. I also think we were both pleasantly surprised that the publisher really did give us full creative reign over the work.
3) What software did you use for your illustrations? Could you walk us through how you would create a a page?
I used a couple different pieces of software and hardware.
I started out with my iPad + Apple Pencil and creative software called Procreate, which I highly recommend, and am not endorsed to say so. It is, I think, a 1-time cost of $15 and worth every penny, even for someone on a hobbyist level just looking to try something out. I used this for all of the sketching and fine line work. The iPad is great for being able to hold in an ergonomic position, rotate as needed, zoom in and out quickly, and so on.
However, while I know plenty of artists have great success coloring in Procreate, this was my first project using it and I felt much more comfortable switching over to Photoshop for coloring. The main reason is that I have a lot of texture brushes in Photoshop that I already have set up, where I would have had to do a lot of configuring in Procreate to get them set up to my liking.
I’m sure that I will eventually do this and enjoy coloring in Procreate, but I have years of experience with Photoshop so it was just a more comfortable choice for me. There are a lot of shortcuts to change textures and colors that require a lot more clicks on an iPad (to the best of my knowledge), so this was a pragmatic decision too in some ways.
First, I did 1 or 2 sketching layers in Procreate. Then, I layered over that with more detailed line work, eventually deleting the sketch layers. I exported that to PSD (a Photoshop file format), and opened them on my PC, where I have an old Wacom Bamboo tablet for this sort of work.
Once in Photoshop, I start with flat color fields. Then I add basic light and shadow layers that mask over the flat colors. Photoshop’s blend modes can easily make a semi-transparent layer of white and black turn into rich tints and shades of any given color.
After that, I add texture. Again, these are generally just white or black texture brushes that, when paired with Photoshop’s blend modes, fluctuate the colors in a way that make them look like fur, or shiny scales, or gritty shingles, or whatever.
Finally, I add image adjustment layers that can help bring unity to my image. Gradient maps are among my favorite way to bring colors into closer harmony. It’s difficult to describe how they work exactly, but basically you pick a handful of colors (which you can sample directly from the illustration), and it maps those colors overtop of your existing colors based on their value and chroma. Turn the opacity on them down, and you have a gentle push towards color harmony. There are a few other tweaks like that I like to play around with; some land, some don’t, but it’s a nice way to add polish to an illustration.
4) What was you favorite scene to illustrate and why?
My favorite scene is Squeezor in his massive library, cuddled up in his chair with his feet on the ottoman and a good book in hand. I enjoy this image for a number of reasons, For one, there’s a lot going on visually. It’s a room absolutely full of books, with a chair, a desk, a fireplace, and endtable, a furry monster, books on the endtable, and so on. Second, the light from the lamps and the fireplace make for a very interesting color scheme. I had a lot of fun working with gradients to properly portray the light sources, and I also had fun configuring all the shapes and sizes of books on the shelf. There’s also something really satisfying about the sort of perspective allowed by being able to see a lot of a large room full of geometric shapes.
5) As a first time illustrator, do you have any advice for aspiring artists? Any pitfalls to avoid?
Only go to art school if you specifically enjoy the experience of being in art school. Don’t go because you think it will make you more employable or allow you to make more money. Don’t go because you think it’s the only way you can learn to improve.
Most of the fundamentals of art are taught from elementary to high school. There are no magical college-level art secrets you need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to unlock. Art school is mostly just practice and thoughtful critique.
If you want to learn to get better at art for free, you can find a massive amount of knowledge online, from Youtube tutorials to interactive tools, in all varieties of artistic disciplines. One other thing art school is good for is surrounding yourself with people that inspire you, which is another thing you can do for free with some effort.
6) One thing I absolutely loved was all the unique monsters you drew for this book. What were some unexpected challenges associated with character design? What did you enjoy the most?
I think the biggest challenge was composition. There has to be some level of harmony in a composition, and it’s very easy for an image packed full of colorful monsters to throw that harmony off.
One trick I used was color filters that “cheated” certain colors to be in a closer range to a specific scheme. It was totally worth it though, because adding in all those monsters was definitely my favorite part, and the part that allowed me to add elements that weren’t part of the original story as written.
7) When you aren’t illustrating books, what other projects do you enjoy creating?
I enjoy creating a wide variety of things. I write software, I brew beer, I make music (both digital and analog), develop video games, and much more. Hopefully I will continue to add to that list over time
Interested in connecting with Matt on social media? Check out his:
Interested in his book? Check it out!!