Artist Interview | Matt Schumacher on Portland, People, and Plants
Artwork: “Driveway” by Matt Schumacher.
Portland, Oregon has a vibe. If you’ve ever visited, you know what we mean: a little bit hipster, a little bit outdoorsy. Add some weirdness and nonconformity. Throw in granola and grunge and you’ve almost got it. Matt Schumacher, an artist raised and based in Stumptown, captures all these aspects of his hometown in his comic book-inspired illustrations. We spoke with the young University of Oregon graduate about his simple, straightforward style and his most memorable commissions.
Crave: How did you initially get into art?
Matt Schumacher: I’m not really totally sure how I got into art but I’ve always been into drawing. I used to draw with my mom a lot. We would draw the pictures in books. My mom would trace things for me. My uncle is really into art. He paints and draws, so I would draw with him a lot. He gave me a bunch of comic books and I got into comic books and would draw a lot of comic book stuff.
How did studying art in college shape your style?
It started me using the computer more, for coloring. It got me thinking about the presentation of the final product of my drawings. Before, I would just draw and that was it.
How did you break into the commission work that you do?
I knew I wanted to do some illustrations, so I went to the school newspaper and school magazines asked them if I could illustrate for them. I started doing a lot of stuff for campus magazines and I started doing page layout for the U of O’s school newspaper. I was also doing illustration while I was there. I used that stuff as portfolio pieces and reached out to other publications.
Tell me about the process when you’re doing a commission like a magazine cover. Do you read the story? Speak to the editor? How much creative freedom do you have?
For something like that, what happened usually was they would come to me and they would have the story mostly done and they would tell me what they had in mind for the cover, basically what they wanted it to be of, and I would draw that. In editorials, there’s a little less creative freedom because they want to make sure you’re not misportraying the story in any way, so they usually have pretty specific ideas for the cover. I’ll do an initial sketch to make sure I’ve got something that fits what they had in mind. If that gets the go-ahead, I’ll do a final version.
How do you find other ways to make a living through your art?
I’m still figuring that out. [Laughs.] I currently freelance in graphic design. I’m not doing just one thing. I want to have a little variety. Going forward, I’d like to keep doing that: illustration and design. Maybe something else interesting.
What are the central themes of your artwork?
I like drawing people a lot. I like drawing plants a lot.
What is it about Portland that you find inspiring?
I like that there are trees and plants everywhere. There’s a look to a lot of the houses here that I really like – that you obviously will see elsewhere, it’s not like the style of houses are unique here – but I like walking around the neighborhood and taking pictures of houses I think look cool and drawing those. I like drawing all the plants around here. I like drawing when a house has a ton of trees and bushes around it.
You mentioned taking photographs of houses. Do you do that with people, too? Or do you draw them from memory? Make them up?
The people thing – they usually are just a doodle, most of the faces I draw. I’ll start with the face and if I like the face, I’ll give it a body, and have it doing something. A lot of times people think I’m drawing a real person. I guess that’s what you’d assume, but most of the time they’re made up.
You tend to use one or two colors in a lot of your art. Is that from the comic book influence?
Yeah, a lot of that is from the comic book influence. I feel like I can be more creative when I don’t have as many options. I like to limit myself in the color palette. That’s also something I just like, in general, in the art I like. I’m more interested in what people do with a couple colors. I think it looks cool.
Tell me about one or two of the drawings you’ve done that are really meaningful to you.
Earlier this year, I did the cover of the Willamette Week, the local newspaper here in Portland. That was really fun. I was really happy to be able to do that. I’d been doing a lot of stuff for the magazine, so I was glad that they liked what I was doing for them enough to use me for the cover. It was back during the primaries, so it was a drawing of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. It’s nice to see something you drew all over the place. There’s newsstands everywhere for that paper, so it was nice in that way, for people I know to see it out in the world.
There was another thing I did, a personal project that ended up getting me some work. It was a drawing of guy with a butterfly net in a forest (left). It was when I was first really starting to use a process I’m using right now, where I would draw in ink, then scan it and color it in on the computer. So I did this whole drawing in ink, scanned it, colored it, then printed it out as a poster. Then there was this contest to do a poster for J. Cole that Adobe was putting on. He was doing a poster for each stop on his tour. So I entered that. They picked mine, so that was really cool. I ended up doing the poster for that concert. Since then, the poster of the guy in the forest – that wasn’t even the concert poster – people seem to like that a lot.