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The Peninsulist meets Matt Blease

"I’m colourblind. I kept it hidden for years and years, especially when I was working as a graphic designer."

Liverpudlian illustrator and designer Matt Blease is well-known for his playful tongue-in cheek illustrations, and has created work for high profile brands including Nike, Coca-Cola, Waitrose, and also has a weekly spot on The Guardian.

Now he’s bringing his art form to his own neighbourhood, where he’s added an element of surprise to the Peninsula Way with the Big Dreamer: a striking, supersized mural of a recumbent man gazing up at the sky. The Peninsulist popped by to his apartment to chat about drawing, making plans and his genius solution for solving the world’s problems.

Photography: Carlos Jimenez

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Leaving my full-time job as the Senior Designer at Liberty [the London Department store] to launch my career as a freelance illustrator.

The moment I handed my notice in felt very brave — and terrifying. I suppose if being an illustrator hadn’t worked out it would have been the stupidest moment of my life, but I’ve been busy ever since so, yes, it’s definitely my bravest moment.

What was the last thing you found that truly delighted you?

Not a lot of people know this but my girlfriend and I have an Instagram account called ‘It’s a keeper’. Basically, we’re coin nerds. So whenever we get our hands on an interesting coin — and it has to be current currency — we’re like “Oh that’s a keeper; we can’t spend that one”. Then one day we started researching and photographing all these coins we’d accumulated and we’ve now created this separate Instagram account celebrating all this spare change we’ve ended up with.

Illustration: Matt Blease

What was the last thing you were given that delighted you?

When I was about 14 I was given a skateboard by a kid on the street. And that was a very  pivotal moment in my life, because it made me aware of new aesthetic and things like design, which ultimately steered me into the life I lead and the work I do.

What makes you laugh?

My dad. Even though I wouldn’t want him to know that he makes me laugh. He was all about the dad jokes when I was growing up and it used to make me cringe, but his humour has also shaped how I work. It’s all based on word play, The Two Ronnies, Spike Milligan, that sort of thing.

At what moment in your life did the idea of being an artist really take hold?

I always knew that I could draw. I never really excelled at anything else at school, but drawing always came quite naturally and I always felt confident about it. So from a very young age I knew what I wanted to do — I just wasn’t sure how to do it. I studied 3D multidisciplinary design at University then found my way into graphic design but I ended up doing illustration on the side while working as a graphic designer. And one day I realized that the stuff I was doing ‘on the side’ was things like illustrating posters for brands like Coca-Cola; I’d built up this really significant body of work without really realizing it and that’s when I knew I had to take the step and formally become an illustrator.

Illustration: Matt Blease

Tell us your cure for the blues.

Drum and Bass? No, seriously though. Cycling or going for a walk. Or just getting outdoors. I’m a very keen cyclist and I love it because it forces me to focus on just doing that, which helps to clear my head.

What’s the one thing about you that takes others by surprise?

I’m colourblind. I kept it hidden for years and years, especially when I was working as a graphic designer. I definitely made mistakes but mostly I was able to style it out and I never got found out. I think that’s why a lot of my work is in black and white, but I have developed my own colour palette. As a teenager, I used to scan in album covers that I really liked: Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, Frank Zappa Hot Rats and I’d use the colours from those covers that I already knew worked well together.So a lot of the colours that I use now are from those records — it’s a very tight palette.

In 50 years’ time, art will predominantly consist of…

For me, art has to be something that’s really fragile and exists in real life. As soon as you can save something digitally then it’s not real — and therefore it’s not art. So I don’t think that all this digital art, people drawing on iPads and so on, will take off.

Illustration: Matt Blease

Is life better with a plan, or left to chance?

I think you need a plan. I’d love to say leave it to chance, but I need a plan. Even today I have a plan. Without one I’d mess up. But I think you can have a broad plan and sort of see where you get to. But I work better with a plan — a list. I like lists.

If you could collaborate with any living person right now, doesn’t have to be an artist, who would it be?

Can I have the Royal Mint? I would love to do a real coin. Collaborating with the Royal Mint to create a little piece of art that goes into people’s pockets would be amazing.

Tell us about your latest good deed?

I’ve been receiving LOTS of emails from students recently (I think it’s dissertation time). I’ve been trying to get back to everyone and help out where I can. It can be stressful enough at college, the last thing they need is some idiot that doesn’t email them back.

Illustration: Matt Blease

Favourite meal to cook?

My Fish Finger Wrap is a work of culinary genius.

Favourite song to sing?

Anything from Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life.

Guilty pleasure?

Singing songs from Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life.

Illustration: Matt Blease

Currently working on?

My singing voice.

A movement you’d like to start:

99.9% of the world’s problems can be solved with a simple game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. I’d like to see this find its way into Parliament.

Too much of:

Saying No.

Too little of:

Saying Yes.

Illustration: Matt Blease

Late nights or lie-ins?

I’m terrible at lie-ins, but I’m always the first to nod off… so can’t really give an answer to this one!

If you could wake up anywhere where would you be?

In a bivvy bag in The Redwoods.