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Q&A with Mat Roff

Freelance illustrator from Oxford, UK

My name is Mat Roff, and I’m a freelance illustrator.

How did you get started in freelance illustration, what is your background?

I never really wanted to be an illustrator to start with, I had my heart set on working for Disney Animation Studios as a 2D animator while I was growing up. But I found the job was too hard to access and I couldn’t afford/nor did I have the chance to move to America and study there, so I looked for something I could do from the comfort of my own home. Illustration became a way for me to do what I love - which is to draw - on a regular basis, but having the security of earn a bit of money from it at the same time.

Where did you study? Looking back, could you recommend your path for beginners in design/illustration?

I studied at Banbury and Bicester College - but the degree course was under De Montfort University at the time. They worked together by offering degree courses or foundation degrees etc. to local people who couldn’t afford or wished to study a course, but closer to home. It suited my lifestyle and the college was only 5 minutes away from where I live which was handy! Over all I enjoyed that way of studying. There was more one-to-one time with the tutors and no social pressures to go out and party. You could just study, and that’s what I wanted to do.

The big misconception is that all successful people go to the best universities or come from the best backgrounds, but they don’t. It’s not really about how good your coursework was or what grade you got at the end, it’s pure determination and discipline … otherwise you won’t be successful. So when people ask ‘Shall I go to university?’ I say it’s totally down to you, but don’t think uni will get you a job because it won’t …

What is a turning point in your professional career?

When I discovered colour. Sounds silly, but I forever worked in black and white until about 2013.

Getting a graphics tablet was when I became a professional illustrator and not a copy-cat artist. I found my style and a process of working that meant I could achieve the same standard of work time and time again. It’s like someone switching on a light in your head, you just get a ‘Oh now I see!’ moment, and you get excited.

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© Illustrations by Mat Roff

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© Mat Roff Illustration

What is your ideal work environment? Do you prefer to work in your studio all day long or prefer to mix a few activities? 

Most of time I am at home. So I work either in the lounge so I can be social haha, or at night I retire to my bedroom/studio to work on my sketchbook or commissions if I’m not too tired. But I defiantly always try to go for an hour walk once a day in the morning. It helps get me ready to settle down and work. I hate getting up in the morning and going straight to the desk to work. I feel a bit sluggish. That’s my routine now.

But I prefer to work alone. I get distracted when I’m around other people.

Where are your favorite places in your city or outside?

I live not too far from Oxford so I love to go to the Ashmolean Museum. It’s my favourite place to visit locally. It’s full of artefacts, art, statues, weapons … everything. I often go there if I’m researching a topic, an era or just for general inspiration. It’s a great place for artists, so if you’ve never been I’d recommend it.

I used to rely on my surroundings for inspiration when I first started out, but now a lot of it is intuition or as a result from watching films, TV or looking at other artwork.

Who are the designers and illustrators you admire most?

I admire too many to mention!

I’d say my top inspirations are Jim & Jimbo Phillips, Kim Jung Gi, Joe Sacco, Gustav Dore, Ian McQue, or anyone who creates artwork for film and video games. Those books are my obsession; I recently purchased The Art Of Mad Max: Fury Road a few weeks ago and some of Brendan McCarthy’s artwork for that is incredible.