Confession time: I’ve always irrationally loved logos. I stare at and analyze them, wondering why certain geometric decisions were made, debating how much thought and effort and money went into the design. My inner wizard knows that there is latent power in an energetic swoosh, or a colored jumble of Catull letters, or a piece of fruit with a bite taken out of it. A logo is a microcosm; all the people, all the knowledge, the entire identity of a company or brand squished and squeezed and condensed down into its most simply recognizable form.
I first ran into Matt(hew) LaFleur on Twitter, one lazy Thursday evening during #beerchat. His handle, @DoodleMatt, caught my eye first, but his unique drawings quickly pulled my gaze another direction. I’m a decidedly terrible illustrator despite years of mid-meeting practice, and I’m always enamored by the skill of people who can create beautiful things with little more than paper, pens, pencils, and patience.
I followed Matt’s doodle blog for a while, not-so-secretly admiring his work. After seeing Matt’s unique takes on classic movie monsters, the clever whimsy of his Western-inspired sea creatures, and discovering that he designs and draws labels for his homebrew, I knew he was the right person to ask to design a new logo for Literature and Libation.
Slight issue: I have no idea how to design a logo. When Matt asked me what I was looking for, all I could say was, “I like antiques” which is about as helpful as saying “I like turtles.” I knew I wanted something but had no specifics about the some and only vague ideas as to the thing.
Fortunately Matt is wildly more professional that I am, and after a few emails back and forth he suggested I send him some photographs of the elements I had in mind.
This is what I sent:
Apparently (amazingly) this was enough to give Matt some ideas, and he quickly came back to me with a sketch of his design concept:
When I saw this for the first time, hanging out mid-conversation in my Gmail, I was convinced that Matt had somehow reached into the squishiest parts of my brain and pulled out exactly what I had been unable to find in my own mind. His superpowers affirmed, I signed off on the final, and here it is now in all its glory, making my corner of the internet look oh so much better.
I didn’t want our exchange to end there, so I decided to get to know Matt a little better using my preferred method: asking silly questions.
1. I’ve already quasi-introduced you, but can you tell us a little bit about your artistic background?
I cannot remember a time that I wasn’t drawing. I was a child of the eighties, so I drew many, many pictures of Pac-Man and ghost war zones. I thought Garfield was hilarious (hey, I was young and stupid) and I used to trace and then draw the namesake, and Odie, all of the time. It wasn’t until a kid moved into the house across the street and introduced me to comic books that I saw what illustration really was. But most of my art was funny, character-driven stuff. I went to Syracuse University and received a BFA in Illustration. Their illustration program, as well as their basketball team, are incredible.
2. When someone commissions a piece from you, how you go about conceptualizing/capturing what the client wants?
It depends on the type and delivery method of the finished illustration. Sometimes I’m told pretty much exactly what to draw. Other times I’m let loose. It takes a boatload of research, first of all. Lots of sketching. Adding a bunch of stuff to the art, then stripping a bunch of stuff away. In the end, it’s a gut thing, with a healthy does of letting the pencil go where it wants to go. How’s that for ambiguous?
3. What design software do you love to hate, or hate to love?
I love to hate Adobe Illustrator. I know, ironic, right? I just can’t stand coloring by shapes, gradients. For me, there’s no spontaneity. I’ve seen amazing work in AI, but I can’t swing it. Someone says “Can you provide an AI or EPS file?” and I break out in hives.
4. You draw label art for your homebrew, and designed a label for Middle Brow Beer; any plans to design for other breweries?
Soon, Arcade Brewery here in Chicago will release their first public brew, a scotch ale. They had a naming contest on Facebook, and the winner came up with “William Wallace Wrestle Fest.” Part two was a contest to design the label art. At the 11th hour I had an idea, submitted it, and was named a finalist. I won, up against 3 other sweet submissions. I’ve gotten to know the Arcade guys pretty well, and I’m anxious to see these beers on the shelves. There are a couple other things in the works. One is still up for grabs, so I’m waiting if I get the call. It will involve a huge museum, a big illinois brewery, and a giant among Chicago chefs. Fingers crossed.
Not a label, but another was a tshirt design for a collaboration of Burgers and Beers from Chicago mainstays Kuma’s Corner (burgers), DryHop Brewers (beers), and the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. They wanted artwork that incorporated the logos of all three. We came with the idea of a giant bear rampaging through downtown Chicago… hard to pass that up.
5. If you could redesign the label of any commercial beer out there, what would you pick?
I have illustrated many labels for my homebrew, as well as a couple commercial ones. I know how hard it is to come up a label design, but I haven’t had to think too much about the face of a long line of bottles at a store. While there have been more than a few that I personally didn’t like, you have to admit that they sometimes really stand out on a shelf. Like the beer inside, the art outside is a subjective thing. Not everybody is going to dig it. But the brewery loves it.
6. Are there any surprising limitations (other than size) when designing bottle labels?
The curvature of the bottle was something I didn’t account for when designing and illustrating labels. The art has to be visible without someone having to rotate the bottle.
7. Who is your favorite Disney Princess, and why?
Ooh, you go right for the jugular, Oliver. Can I say Jessica Rabbit? I really like the recent heroines: Merida from Brave, Anna & Elsa from Frozen, even Rapunzel. Tough and flawed. Old school princess fave would have to be Belle. Smart, unselfish, and ready to fight wolves. Goes toe to toe with giant, angry beast thing. Brunette.
8. If I came over to your house on an average Saturday afternoon, what would you be doing?
Well, I probably wouldn’t be there. I’d be at my eldest daughter’s cello group class. Truth. Juggling a 9 to 5, freelance illustration, and family is something I’m still trying to figure out. If I wasn’t at the class, I might be at the drafting table, with my two daughters in the room doing crafts, drawing, or coloring one of my black and white illustrations in Photoshop.
9. If your life – as it is right now – was turned into a LEGO set, what would it look like?
It would probably be the lamest LEGO set ever.
10. If you developed a weird, selective allergy and were only allowed to drink one style of beer for the rest of your life, what style would you pick?
As trite as it may sound, I’d have to go with IPA. Session, imperial, double, black, rye, Belgo, I’ll take ’em all. November rolls around and I’m ready for stouts and heavier stuff, but then the February sun comes up and I’m enjoying IPAs. Once you get hooked on them, everything else pales (see what I did there?)
11. Mac or PC or Linux or something else I’m not aware of?
Mac. Since 1992.
12. How do you feel about No.2 Pencils?
Dark enough to make a good mark, hard enough to keep a decent point for a good 5-7 minutes. Good for testing. I prefer a softer, darker lead, though.
13. What’s the oddest thing anyone has ever asked you to draw?
“What I’m looking to do, is have [an old timey] bike being towed with a rope by a boy with a deer skull head.” I really liked how this piece turned out, but I was really clueless about how it was going to look.
14. What is the answer to life the universe and everything?
Did I win?
Seriously, do something that truly makes you happy, and do it forever. If you love what you do, then you’ll never have to work a day in your life. Money is great. Happiness can’t be bought.
15. Where can everyone find you and your work?
Thank you so much for this opportunity to talk about something I love to talk about. Myself! No, I mean making art for a living. You can find me all over the iPlace. If there’s a social media, I’m there. Instagram. Twitter. Facebook. Pinterest (great for research and inspiration). My website is lafleurillustration.com. I also have an infrequently updated doodle blog.