Matthew Filipkowski is a freelance illustrator born and based in Delaware. With a BFA from Ringling College of Art and Design he tends to gravitate towards imagery that dips into the strange and fanciful. His obsession with all avenues of the visual arts is only surpassed by his obsession with petting dogs.
Matthew provided art for this week's story, "Le lundi de la matraque (Nightstick Monday)" by Claire Humphrey.
This interview was conducted by email in April 2017.
Tory Hoke: As an illustrator, how did you get where you are today?
Matthew Filipkowski: In large part due to my friends, family, and teachers dragging me into it. I was always a creative kid growing up but never had the discipline to stick to it in any serious way. It wasn’t until my family and teachers steered me towards Ringling College of Art and Design that I fully embraced it. Once there I met a bunch of amazing artists who all had an intense drive to master their craft. Their enthusiasm must have been contagious because I caught the bug as well.
Tory Hoke: Your work often merges soft, supple volumes with upsetting images. How have you cultivated your style?
Matthew Filipkowski: A lot of it comes from the imagery I am just naturally attracted to and find interesting. I am a huge fan of Dutch artist Jan Van Rymsdyk and his anatomical engravings. The content is disturbing, but the elegant use of line to build up form is incredibly beautiful. Unfortunately I can’t seem to find much information about the artist, which is a shame because his work is truly masterful. Other than that, I have always loved fantasy and science fiction, so I tend to be drawn to imagery and ideas which don’t play by the rules of our predictable world.
Tory Hoke: Your careful study of human anatomy is apparent in your sketches as well as your finished work. What do you do to keep your skills fresh?
Matthew Filipkowski: Constantly drawing and practicing every day is incredibly important to staying sharp. I not only draw as much as possible but also try to avoid drawing passively. Passive doodling is fine for cementing things I already know, but in order to push into new territories I have to do the hard work of actually having a specific goal in mind when I begin drawing. An eye-opening moment for me was when I first saw J.C. Leyendecker’s process work. He would paint a dozen different hands for a single image, all in intentionally different poses or with different features. Then he would pick the best one and use it for the final piece. This really made me understand that an illustrator does not just sit down and produce a final piece, rather a final piece is carefully constructed by Frankenstein-ing your best sketches together. If my anatomy turns out successful it is usually because I drew it twenty times and didn’t show anybody the attempts that turned out horrendous.
Tory Hoke: What inspires your creations? What effect do you hope to have on your viewer?
Matthew Filipkowski: My inspirations definitely come from a variety of sources. As I browse the Internet, watch a movie, or look at art, I’m constantly taking screenshots of imagery that jumps out at me for some reason or another. If I see a really dynamic hand or large interesting ears or an interesting head shape, they immediately get filed away to use as inspiration for a future project. While I am working on a project, if a happy accident occurs which looks interesting but does not work for the current project, I will save a separate version of the file so I can go back and study what made it so intriguing. I have the same type of approach for ideas as well. Interesting thoughts, words, stories, or observations will get written down in my notebook for later use. As I begin a new project, I will pull from all my sources and attempt to create an image which pulls the audience in and hopefully makes them want to explore that world.
Tory Hoke: What is the art community like where you are?
Matthew Filipkowski: Delaware has an incredibly rich history when it comes to illustration, so I don’t have to go far when looking for inspiration. Howard Pyle, the founder of the Brandywine School, lived and taught in Wilmington, DE, so his work is only a short drive away at the Delaware Art Museum. He was an incredible painter, and his school produced amazing golden age illustrators like Frank Schoonover, Jessie Willcox Smith, Harvey Dunn, and the mind-blowing N. C. Wyeth. The Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA, has an entire room filled with Wyeth’s work. Stepping into that room was a life-changing experience for me, so I definitely recommend it to anyone even slightly interested in illustration or painting. The funny thing is that I had no idea I had grown up surrounded by so much art history. It was only when I took a "History of Illustration" class in Florida that I realized I needed to get back and explore my home turf.
Tory Hoke: What other artists inspire or interest you?
Matthew Filipkowski: I go through phases of being obsessed with different artists. Lately I’ve had my eyes glued to the works of Das Pastoras, Mœbius, Philippe Druillet, Paul Bonner, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Ivan Bilibin, and I will be forever drooling over the work of Eduard Thöny.
Tory Hoke: What would you like to see more of in contemporary F/SF art?
Matthew Filipkowski: I absolutely love fantasy in all its forms, but I think we do have to admit that the Tolkienesque type of world dominates the market. While I will always love that western inspired fantasy, I wouldn’t mind seeing other cultures and aesthetics take over and inject something new into the genre. I also think it would be interesting to break down the borders a little between fantasy and science fiction. Video game studio Bungie did this when it came to the art design for Destiny. It’s not the greatest game around, but the way the characters look like futuristic knights is very interesting.
Tory Hoke: What's your dream project?
Matthew Filipkowski: That’s a tough one! At some point I would love to focus on my personal work and perhaps transition more to the fine arts world. I have an interest in book design as well, so perhaps a collection of my work or sketchbooks would be interesting. I also have a fascination with movies, practical effects, sculptures, miniatures, and video games, though I’m not quite sure how I would lend my abilities to those areas.
Tory Hoke: What's next for you?
Matthew Filipkowski: In the meantime, I would like to focus on illustration and building my own unique voice in the realm of the visual arts. From there I’m hoping to find a way to take that visual language and weasel it into my other areas of interest. I see many pencil stubs, spent Wacom nibs, and an alarming amount of coffee in my future.
Tory Hoke: Thank you for your time, Matthew. It's been a pleasure.