Matt Brooks is a mobile UI/UX Designer, Front-End Developer and nationally recognized watercolor artist. Since 2009, Matt has utilized a lifetime of artistic skills and experience to create a solid reputation within the creative community in Charleston, SC where he lives with his wife, son, and two dogs. Aside from his passion for design and art, Matt enjoys playing guitar,studying astronomy, all things Batman, keeping a list of hilariously embarrassing quotes, good beer, and proper zombie survival education. He is currently exploring his entrepreneurship side by developing a charity-based app and serving as the co-owner and creative director of House of Head Vodka.
Find interviews like this one on the Military Veterans in Creative Careers podcast.
Justin Sloan: Matt, congratulations on your success with the Red Sonja contest. Before we jump into that, please tell us about your time in the military. What did you do, and what did you learn about life? What were your takeaways?
Matt Brooks: Well, I served for 4 years and 2 deployments as an Intelligence Analyst for the Army. I initially joined to pay off my loans, but needless to say I got so much more out of my enlistment. The Army really drilled into me the things that are important in life, and how unimportant the things I was previously worried about were.
JS: Do you find that anything you learned in the military helps with your artist career?
MB: Actually, it had a reverse effect which indirectly affected my current style. For the longest time I felt that the Army robbed me of my creativity, but looking back it actually matured it; it forced me to step back and reevaluate my state of mind. In intelligence we spent a lot of time pouring through documents and reports, pulling out the key information, and connecting the dots. It takes a certain level of what I call “logical creativity” to be good at that.
JS: You say on your website that you were always an artist, but when did you really start pursuing art as a career? Did you work toward this goal while you were still in the military?
MB: I guess utilizing creativity as a career started when I chose Graphic Design as a major. However, I never wanted to see art as a full career. That implies deadlines and requirements. I’ve always tried to keep my artwork as a hobby and side project.
JS: When you were approaching the end of your military time, did you have any idea what you would do next?
MB: Ha….absolutely not. In fact, technology grew so much while I was in that my degree was all but worthless. I thought my resume was pretty impressive, but the job market was still recovering after the recession. I spent months doing research and sending out my resume, only to land a retail job at Apple. Everything related to design required experience with web design and programming. I took Graphic Design in the early 2000’s, so web design was not a focus whatsoever, at least not in my field. I have a great job in Mobile UI Design now, but it took a lot of retraining to get there.
JS: Tell us about your recent success with the Red Sonja contest. How did you hear about it and what do you think you did to set yourself apart?
MB: About 3 years ago I started looking for a new style; something a bit more abstract. By the way, forcing yourself to be abstract when you aren’t inclined to do so is a little harder than you might think #artistproblems. What I ended up with was an accident, but people liked it so I kept at it. I call it “splatter color”.
A few months ago my buddy Jason informed me of this contest. It was a long shot, but the recent success of my new style gave me the confidence to at least give it a try. I was up against some amazing art and was happy just to make it to the top 4. Seriously. There is some amazing talent out there. I challenge anyone reading this to go back and look at the entries on Instragram via @redsonjaofficial, @redsonja_comics, and @artofdrawingg.
I spent some time researching and evaluating covers from the past. I knew that there would be a lot of “Badass Red Sonja” poses and action shots in the contest, like many covers from the past. The key to getting noticed, like in any job market, is to stand out and be different; catch people’s attention. I decided to tell a story instead by creating a collage in her most recognizable feature: her hair. I wanted people to get sucked into it…keeping them on the piece by looking for every detail.
JS: How has this helped your career as an artist?
MB: It has really boosted my exposure. I’ve been humbled by the fans I’ve made… people really seem to respond to it. I even was able to build a relationship with and do a piece for my hero Stan Lee!
JS: I see from your pictures that you attend events to showcase your art. Is this a must for aspiring artists? When did you start doing this and what in your mind led you to do so? Is it for fun, or part of a strategy?
MB: It isn’t a must but I highly recommend it, even if you just break even. It’s about getting your name out there and making some great connections. If you want a career in art, keep in mind that clients and fans won’t just fall into your lap. You have to put your work out there. And if you get critiqued… that’s great too! There’s no such thing as a normal way to do it, but the lowest common denominator is that you need to put your work in front of people and give them a chance to love it.
JS: On that note, do you have a career plan in mind?
MB: I have really enjoyed doing cover art and shows, but I also love my current job as a UI Designer. It’s the perfect combination of Analyst and Artist. Analtist? Ok… that’s probably not the best title.
JS: What can an artist do to propel their career? What are some early steps, and what are some steps to get them to the next level once they have traction?
MB: If you aren’t quite ready for shows just yet, I suggest starting an Instagram account and a Deviant Art account and request critiques on your current work. Find some artists that inspire you and try recreating their style and/or work. Ethically you shouldn’t sell those, but it will absolutely help you find your artistic voice. Also, don’t forget about the fundamentals. Put in the boring work (perspective exercises, anatomy, shading, bowls of fruit, etc). Art is like jazz; the first thing you need to know is how to play.
JS: Do you see any way the veterans are helping each other to advance in this industry, or have any thoughts of how this could better work?
MB: In any field, we need to have each other’s backs. No one out there understands veterans better than veterans. The transition to civilian life is much harder on some than others, so it’s important to continue to look out for one another even after the combat is long over.
JS: Are you aware of any such veteran groups or organizations? In film there is the group Veterans in Film and Television, but is there anything like this for artists that you are aware of?
MB: None that I am aware of, but if there isn’t there should be.
JS: Maybe some reader out there can change that. What’s next for you, Matt? Do you have any appearances or upcoming projects you would like to share with us?
MB: My next appearance will be at HeroesCon in Charlotte, NC June 19-21, 2015 at the Charlotte Convention Center. I also plan on releasing some new pieces soon that deviate from my recent comic book trend. You can check these out by following me on Instagram at @happybrooks, Twitter: @mattbrooksart, or visiting www.mattbrooksart.com
JS: Thank you again for sharing your experience. Before we sign off, do you have any last bits of advice for our fellow veterans who are looking to pursue their passions in life?
MB: At the risk of being cliche’, don’t give up on your dreams. Find a field or career you want to be in and get into it, even if that means swallowing your pride and taking an internship. If you are new to your industry just remember that, like in bootcamp, you have to start at the bottom and earn your way to the top. Do your research, follow good examples, set your sights on the horizon and don’t get distracted. Believe it or not you already have a heads up on the competition.
These interviews will appear in an upcoming book on military members and veterans in the world of entertainment. As you wait, please read my book Creative Writing Career, on Amazon.
To follow Justin Sloan: http://eepurl.com/bbpNjv