Designer Spotlight: Matt Mignanelli

Matt Mignanelli is best known for his brightly colored abstract paintings, but he also works commercially creating editorial illustrations for various publications around the world. He was born in 1983 in Providence, Rhode Island, and after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design, Matt relocated to New York City. His paintings have been shown in galleries throughout the U.S. from San Francisco to New York and internationally from Glasgow to Berlin to Sydney. His editorial illustrations have appeared in GQ Magazine (U.K.), Sports Illustrated for Kids, Rangefinder Magazine, Financial World Magazine (U.K.), and many, many more. He even worked on and appeared in the Björk video “Declare Independence,” directed by Michel Gondry, and he has collaborated with the clothing brand Akademiks. In his recent paintings, Matt has been exploring energy, pattern, light, and emotion through geometric shapes and organic forms. His editorial illustrations come alive with a unique style that conveys strong emotion through distinctive characters and vibrant colors.

Layers: At the Rhode Island School of Design, did you focus on traditional art, digital art, or both?

Mignanelli: I focused on traditional drawing and painting. As graduation approached, I forced myself to utilize the computer as I saw it as a tool that would enable me to create commercial work faster, making it feasible to be a full-time artist. I was very lucky because my work is painted extremely flat using a bright panel; this allowed me to color the work digitally and maintain a very similar aesthetic.

I think it’s important to utilize the computer—it’s a very valuable tool for artists. Being so hands-on, I could never create digital work exclusively, but it has great value in the advancement of ideas and decision-making.

Layers: Do most of your editorial illustrations start out as ink on paper? What happens to your images once they’re digitized?

Mignanelli: All of the commercial work begins as a pencil drawing. After client approval, I ink the drawing with a brush and India ink. Erasing the pencil, I’ll then scan the drawing into Photoshop at high resolution. Adjusting the levels to leave just a crisp line, a new multiply layer is added, which allows the line work to show through the color. I begin to fill color into the largest areas with the Paint Bucket tool, working back in with the Brush tool to refine and add shades. The final file is then sent to the client as a high-resolution JPEG.

Layers: How do your personal projects differ from your commercial work, and how do you divide your time between the two?

Mignanelli: My personal projects have grown very abstract, exploring thematic ideas and conveying emotion. My commercial work is based in creating a visual concept for another person’s idea. The freedom that is present in personal work is unrivaled, but commercial projects force me to explore new directions—I find myself taking chances that I normally wouldn’t while painting. Developing commercial concepts also forces me to problem-solve and is a great exercise in expanding my visual vocabulary.

The relationship between both aspects of work has only developed stronger over time, with elements constantly crossing over and continually informing my decision-making. Time spent on each varies greatly. Working commercially you’re always at the mercy of assignments and deadlines. I’m continually painting, but it’s always a tedious balance, counteracted by not sleeping very much.

Layers: How did your unique style for the characters in your editorial illustrations evolve? How do you think your style contributes to the strong emotions apparent in each of your illustrations?

Mignanelli: The style of the characters is one that I’ve been developing for years. They have evolved, but remained similar over the years. Growing up I loved Garfield. Jim Davis’s technique and the feel his world has is great; I’ve always felt he influenced me stylistically. My parents also exposed me to museums and many great paintings at a young age, which was very influential in my development.

My bold style helps to convey the strong emotions I present in the work. I’ve always loved as a viewer when I come away feeling invigorated, enlivened, and excited by a piece. In both my commercial and personal work, I strive to recreate that feeling every time.

Layers: Has living in New York City helped you become a better artist and has it influenced your style?

Mignanelli: My love affair with New York began years ago. I always knew that I wanted to live here because there is an energy present in everyday life that I just can’t find anywhere else. After graduating from college, I moved and never looked back; I knew what the city had to offer and needed to be a part of it.

I think that as creatives, we are all very influenced by our environments. The city is full of inspiration that really drives my work. It has influenced my style to some degree, but more so my subject matter. The energy and competitive nature of the city has driven me to create work at a pace that would not have been possible outside of this environment.

CONTACT Matt Mignanelli