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13 March 2014, writed by Yar

category: tshirt

Dann Matthews: T-Shirt Designer - Graphic Designer - Illustrator Interview

Superior, WI -- Dann Matthews described himself stating, "I'm a graphic designer by day and a graphic design hobbyist by night. I'm a father, husband, musician and artist; and I need improvement in all fields."

Here's what Dann had to say when we interviewed him on his personal life and design styles...

When did you start creating art?

In my late teens and early 20's, I was in a metal band, and I would cut and paste and make copies of little booklets that I would hand out at each show. A coworker who was getting his degree in Graphic Design noticed them and suggested I get a degree and get out of the retail job we were sharing.

Was there a point when you began to take art more seriously?

After I started earning my degree, I started creating designs for Threadless' ongoing contest. I also put together a small line of tee designs with the aforementioned coworker and presented them to a national retailer who has headquarters here in town. Nothing fantastic came of it, but it was a great learning process getting the designs screened, doing photo shoots and getting a portfolio together for presentation.

How would you best describe your style?

I go the Kevin Smith route, my style is a noticeable lack of style. So much of my work ends up aping the look of an existing character or type of art, so I spend a lot of time learning different styles. I have been working on an animation project with another friend that has forced me to nail down a decent cartoon style, and that has shined in some recent Breaking Bad and Mario pieces I have been making. I've been happy with the line work and color choices on my recent projects, so if I ever build my own "house-style" I think this might be where it lives.

Who or what are your artistic influences?

There are a couple Minnesotan's I dig, Brock Davis, Phil Jones, Justin Peterson. And of course some non-Minnesotans, Olly Moss, Evan Ferstenfeld, Crystal Bam Fontan, Jimiyo, the entire RedBubble Crew. I'm missing hundreds. I find a lot of inspiration just scrolling through my Tumblr dashboard.

When did you start designing t-shirts?

My very first was a colored pencil drawing I had done for the grand opening of the first Super K (KMart) in Anchorage, AK when I was around 12. After I learned screen printing in high school, and spent some time making a couple shirts for my punk band, I went home and did some design work in MSPaint and had those made into shirts as well, wearing my own (awful) custom designs. I'm glad I was a punk rock kid, so horrible DIY shirts just lent themselves to the stereotype.

Do you look at this type of art as business or just a hobby?

Very often, it's a business for me. I'll come up with a design idea, and I'll work on it and start thinking about the color counts and which shirt-a-day or which contest site this idea might best suit. And I often try to wrench myself away from the business end by giving myself a project. I've done a small line of Monster League Baseball cards that I had printed in poster and playing card forms. I did a collection of distorted Mickey Mouse movie mashups that made their way all over the internet. I did some movie poster remixes that I'm actually working on some more as I try to get a local art show off the ground.

Have you ever been ripped off? If so, was it subtle or obvious?

Earlier on as a designer, I used to get bent out of shape if I saw someone working with the same idea as I had. I remained tactful and never finger pointed or tried to get an angry mob on my side, mainly because I've seen that done FAR too often, and I would usually disagree with the offended artist. I'll still fall back into my support groups and pout when my idea has been used by someone else. But I've been fortunate enough to have all of these instances be coincidental. I don't know of or think anyone has purposefully ripped off my idea or art.

Is there any particular design you are most proud of?

Usually I'm the most proud of whatever design I just finished. Then I give it a few hours and I hate it. This is why I like the art projects I give myself. I'll always like the project as a whole, even if I find faults in the individual pieces.

Is there a design that you didn't like, but received high acclaim?

When I had first built my artists facebook page ( ) I had some shirt-a-day money still sitting in my PayPal account, so I took out a small Facebook ad campaign that worked really well. Someone found a design of mine that has PeeWee Herman riding his Playhouse scooter alongside the Easy Rider's (for lack of a better term). It was brought to Paul Rueben's attention and he tweeted it and I scrambled to get the design available on shirts for everyone. The design isn't terrible, but it's a 3-4 year old design, and there's a lot I would do different with it had I designed it today.

What motivates you in life?

What motivates me more than anything is when I'm having a bad day, or something terrible interrupts my life, I get over it very quickly by just remembering that so many people lead far worse lives than I do. Even if I'm having trouble paying my mortgage, some people are being foreclosed on.
Are you single, married, or have a significant other?

I've been married for almost 10 years (coming up in August) I love that my wife has a different set of Geek eccentricities than I do, so I like to bounce the obscure design ideas I have off of her to see how relevant the design will be to the majority of the world, rather than just how perfectly it syncs up in my own weird head.

Do you have a preference for screen printing or DTG (Direct-To-Garment) printing?

DTG has improved vastly. I used to scoff with all the other tee designers until I ordered one of my own designs from a DTG print on demand site and saw how well that print has held up over the years. I still prefer screening though. There's more of an art form to getting it perfect. And as a designer who works in Illustrator most often, there's bliss to be found in the tedium.

Mac vs. PC?

My newer job has me working in Photoshop on a PC for the first time ever. I'm surprised I made the transition back to MS land (I've been solely on Apple since 2007) but I miss my Mac all day long. And I hate the adjustment I have to make every day remembering to use the Command key once I get home.

Favorite clothing brand?

Threadless used to be my all-time favorite, and it's not that they are no longer up there, I just stopped wearing t-shirts as often. Besides the shirt-a-day free artist shirts, I don't think I've bought a new shirt in years.

What languages do you speak?

I speak very little Spanish, and I've been thwarted by financial problems that have kept me from getting Rosetta Stone, as I intend to finish what I started in high school.

Do you play any instruments?

I play guitar (I have 2 acoustics and an electric) bass (I need to buy another one after I pawned mine in my early 20's) and drums (I own a ruined electric kit). I'm an obsessive hobbyist. When I was a teenage punk rocker, I would write 5 songs a week. Then I collected Transformers and that parlayed into designing as my hobby. So my musical hobby was pushed by the wayside ages ago as I tend to focus on one hobby at a time.

Who are your favorite music artists?

Weird Al got me into Nirvana and started my love affair with music. I used to listen to punk and grunge and scoff at metal music, then I became a metal head. Now, in my 30's, I listen to a really random assortment, from Aloe Blacc to Kill the Noise to Animals as Leaders to Quartetto Cetra.

Do you have any favorite TV shows?

Breaking Bad. Usually comedy is my only excuse to turn the TV on, but Breaking Bad really made me question why I was so lenient with inferior television before that came along.

What is your preferred method of transportation (motorcycles, bicycle, car, walk)?

My wife and I have been working off of one vehicle for a while now, and I have been daydreaming about getting a motorcycle so they don't have to chauffeur me to and from work every day. It's much less about looking cool on a motorcycle, it would just save gas and be easy to park.

Do you produce art in any other mediums?

I really liked oil painting for the short amount of time that I did it. I abandoned it for monetary reasons. (money has come up a lot in my answers, hasn't it) The computer is the best medium for my creation right now, if I hate a design, I can abandon it and only feel bad for the wasted time.

What movies do you enjoy most?

This is too broad a topic for me. I also went through a collecting phase of DVDs while I worked at Blockbuster in my late teens and early 20's. I'm very glad Netflix curbed that for me, as it was an expensive habit. Like TV, I watch more comedies than anything else, but my favorite movie is City of God. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor. Any movie that affects me as emotionally as that, where I just feel gutted after watching it, deserves my respect.

Do you have any favorite books, book series, or authors?

I wish I read books more often, but I have a problem finishing them. I have been reading a wider array of comics lately. I want to give props to James Roberts and John Barber, the writers of the 2 ongoing Transformers stories. I have been reading TF comics since Dreamwave picked them up years ago, and after reading these current stories, I feel like I was just going through the motions purchasing and reading them as a TF fan. Now that I've read what they're doing with the characters and storyline, I'm actually enthralled by the stories.

Do you prefer smart-phones or not-so-smart phones?

I need my iPhone. It's one of the many reasons I would hate to go back in time. Sure I could get a sweet hyper color tee, or buy stock in Apple, but I wouldn't know what to do without my precious shiny brick.

What is something that you hate or absolutely enrages you?

Westboro Baptist Church.

This interview took place on 14/11/2012.

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