“The Drawing Is the Most Important Part” – Interview with Matt K. Smith

4 Comments | January 26, 2011

"Geist" by Matt K. Smith

"Geist" by Matt K. Smith

In our ongoing series of artist interviews, I was able to catch up with Matt Smith, illustrator and artist in San Diego, California.  Matt has some great figure drawing work displayed on his sites that form the basis for his superb illustrations, often of the fantasy or horror genre.

Thanks to Matt for agreeing to participate.

What’s your name?

Matt Smith

Where did you grow up?

Endwell, NY

Where do you live now?

San Diego, CA

How old are you?


What is your educational background? What, if anything, did you study?

I got a degree in Illustration, but I am where I am today because of Watts Atelier, a traditional figure drawing and painting school in Encinitas, CA, and all the hard work I have put into it. I still take classes there, as good as my drawings are, I still have lots to learn.

"Untitled (Female Head)" by Matt K. Smith

"Untitled (Female Head)" by Matt K. Smith

How do you make a living?

I create fantasy and horror illustrations for different companies.

What does “art” mean to you?

This is kind of a hard question since the word art and artist now applies to so many things these days. I am not the deep “artsy” type of person exactly. For me I guess I use art to create things, but not “abstract”, bizarre stuff, but tangible and understandable. Anyone can look at my work and understand it, it’s a monster, a person, its a skull, etc, just trying to take these things and make an interesting story. As well as all the figure drawings and paintings that I have done, they are not in depth pieces of art, just practice and training so I can get good and keep getting better, nothing more or nothing less. I hope that answered the question.

How long have you been making art, and what role does that play in your life?

I have been drawing since I can remember. I used to draw all my favorite video game and cartoon characters, such as Super Mario, Godzilla, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mega Man, the list goes on.

"Godzilla Sketch" by Matt K. Smith

"Godzilla Sketch" by Matt K. Smith

What role does drawing play in your work? Is it a means to an end, or an end in and of itself?

Drawing and learning how to draw is very important in my work. When it comes to creating a finished piece, the drawing is the most important part. Flashy rendering and awesome paint strokes can never save a piece if the foundational drawing is lacking.

Are there any people that influenced you that stand out? What current artists do you follow?

Besides my teachers at Watts Atelier (Jeff Watts, Erik Gist, Meadow Gist, Lucas Graciano, Ben Young, and Stan Prokopenko) I have many artists that influence my work. Here is a short list of people whose work I enjoy looking at: Zhoaming Wu, Joseph Clement Coll, Frank Frazetta, Phil Hale, James Gurney, Steve Huston, John Asaro, Glen Orbik, Richard Schmid, and many many more.

What would you consider your “style” of art to be, if you have one?

I guess I would say that I have several “styles” (though I don’t really like that word) depending on the client I am working with, but mostly I consider myself a traditional illustrator and figurative artist.

"Untitled (Sitting Woman)" by Matt K. Smith

"Untitled (Sitting Woman)" by Matt K. Smith

What’s your weapon of choice? What medium and drawing tool do you prefer to use?

I mostly use pencils, pens, conte charcoal pencils, and oil paint. I am also a good digital painter, but I don’t use it so much now, I prefer getting a real painting as opposed to something that doesn’t really exist.

What approach do you take for your work? Do you plan it out or does it emerge spontaneously? How long do you usually work on a piece?

When I create an illustration for a client everything is planned out, starting with small thumbnail sketches, to a finished drawing and then to the painting. When I draw or paint from life, it is planned out as well, but much more spontaneous due to the fact I only have a few hours to create an image.

What are you currently working on?

Creating designer T Shirt illustrations for Remetee. I get to draw a lot of skulls which is fun! And also working on some personal projects.

"Grunt" by Matt K. Smith

"Grunt" by Matt K. Smith

What would you tell aspiring artists?

Do lots of research before you pick out a school to go to. If you want to do figurative types of work like I do, I would suggest not going to college and go to a traditional figure drawing school like Watts Atelier. Check out the Art Renewal Center for schools. Also try to always keep a positive attitude, a negative attitude only gets in the way. Anyone can get as good as me and better, you just got to find the right place to learn and work real hard.

Anything you would like share and let us know?

There is another Matt Smith artist out there. He is an awesome plein air painter, I wish I could paint half as good as he can. Just letting you know I am not that Matt Smith!

"Untitled (Asian Male Head)" by Matt K. Smith

"Untitled (Asian Male Head)" by Matt K. Smith

Matt K. Smith online:

Matt Smith

The Illustration Board (Gallery)

CGHUB (Gallery)

Matt's Art Blog (Blog)



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  • i like to be a artsist

  • I accidently found your page….and loved the art work. I was curious to know if you did work for others. If so I would love to talk to you about something I was wanting to get done! Please let me know. I look forward to hearing from you! Thanks!

  • Is it possible to craete media driven art that isn’t mass produced? I’m thinking like a print. Something that you could make more of, but decide not to.I’ve recently done some things at work, like the post below, that I think are really cool, but directors end up changing into something that I don’t like very much. That’s not to say it isn’t good, I just like what I did better. Could that stuff be made into a one-off print of media? Would you buy something like that to play on your dvd player at a party? Would you demand more time because you want more from a media?You’re right, mass produced media is just like books, cheap price, can be just as enlightening as a painting that there is only one of.Lots of sentences ending with prepositions.