Designing Elements — Meet Matt Grima Connell

We met up with designer Matt Grima Connell who was responsible for creating the artwork for Strummin’ the Elements. Surely it was no easy feat trying to combine the elements together with such a musical concert, but Matt’s hard work paid off. Creating amiable characters, Matt managed to breathe a new life into Strummin’s aesthetic. We speak to him about his work ethic and what inspires him to produce such wonderful work.

How long have you been producing artworks?

When I was a child I used to like drawing, but I used to consider it a hobby. I liked it so much that it influenced my choice of subjects at school.  I chose Biology partly because I knew it involved a lot of drawing. Later on in life, I started experimenting with digital art. I think I was 20. I started off producing personal works, then moved on to commissioned works, which I still do to this day.

Your art has a very recognisable feel to it – when I look at one of your artworks, I know it’s you — is it something you do consciously or does it come across effortlessly in your work?

I would call that ‘style’. It usually all boils down to which emotions the person wants to transmit. I like to give my works a mysterious feel using different materials, which in turn evoke the observer’s curiosity and leave a lot to interpretation. Nowadays, I manage to achieve this effortlessly through my work. I still do like to try out different things, but I do admit to having a signature style. I don’t want to limit myself… in the future I might produce something completely different —I would have to go through a phase of exploration and experimentation with new techniques and materials. I do have a plan to try out new things. I believe that a creative needs to be ambitious and curious to produce interesting work.

Artwork for a book cover — It-Tielet Qamar

Artwork for a book cover — It-Tielet Qamar

Can you talk me through the process of creating a digital artwork?

It always starts from a pencil and paper sketch and ends up in desktop applications. That is the only standard thing about my works. The process for each piece of work varies. Different sources of inspiration, moods, and materials all come into play and affect the duration of the project.

What inspires you?

Music, nature, other artists, stuff I encounter in everyday life, emotions and dreams. I tend to have very strange dreams, so I find myself jotting things down or sketching in the middle of the night. I can’t explain how I have these dreams, but I find them as good food for imagination and to translate into cool subjects in my work.

Is this your first experience with Strummin’? Talk to us about this year’s poster.

It’s my first experience with Strummin’. When I was told that the theme was ‘The Elements’, I immediately thought of working with characters, which by the way is my preferred subject for illustrations. This was a carte blanche for some fizzy imagination. As I knew that the poster was for a concert, I sketched each element associating it with one with different sounds present in Strummin’ concerts and gradually refined all of them to produce what you see today.

All the cast wore t-shirts bearing Matt's artwork of the element creatures.

All the cast wore t-shirts bearing Matt’s artwork of the element creatures. Photo by Malcolm Borg

Is there always a back-story to your characters?

I tend to build a story and context for my characters. I like narrative images… ones which show a sequence of events and are bursting with detail. I prefer to produce images which can be interpreted in different ways, and which leave the story open-ended for the observer to finish off. I also like to introduce hidden details in my work, which require the observer to look intently at a piece for them to be discovered. It’s a little game between the image and the observer.

You’ve been featured in exhibitions before. Will we be seeing your work in an exhibition anytime soon?

I never put up exhibitions to make money, therefore they usually are a financial burden. I do however consider them as an investment. At the moment, I have other priorities so it might be a while until I put up another exhibition.

You produce animation to your art too. How long does a small animation take to produce normally?

It’s very hard to tell. I never produced animations for commercial purposes. I usually work for my own personal satisfaction. For that reason, I invest a lot of time and energy to produce work. I don’t stop working until I am completely satisfied. That usually means limiting myself to 3 hours of sleep a day. I get carried away, sometimes even forgetting to eat. I put all my energies and emotions into my works. It’s very hard to do that with a full-time job, which has nothing to do with my artworks.

Do you have a favourite art piece?

Henry Selick’s Nightmare before Christmas, Chris Hopewell’s video for Radiohead’s ‘There, there’, Egon Schiele’s paintings and drawings and H.R. Giger’s works amongst many others…


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