While some find it difficult to decide on a career path, others (mostly at a younger age) find ways to streamline their hobbies, interests and passions into a professional endeavor. The latter happens to be the case for Matthew, who has always wanted to be an artist. “I’ve always had an affinity for drawing things”, he says. “But at the same time, it’s what I’ve always done without thinking, it’s what I always do when I’m sad or happy, when I’m hungry or full, on the train, at lectures…no matter what, I’ve always had a pen or pencil, book, paints, watercolor expressions with me. I’ve always been creating.”
Growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he spent his time admiring comic book illustrations of all sorts, which served to fuel his creativity and passion for the craft. It wasn’t until high school, when Matthew’s art teacher introduced him to watercolor, that he discovered his true calling. He remembers spending that entire summer break pouring over the materials at his disposal, attempting to understand the intricacies of this new-found medium. It wasn’t long before he became fluent in expressing himself through watercolor. After graduation, he naturally went on to attend art school (Kendall College of Art and Design) hoping to further hone in on his skills and pursue his passion on a professional level. Much to his chagrin, the experience was far from what he expected and far from what he knew he needed to elevate his craft. He couldn’t reconcile investing his time and energy (and especially his money) into something that wasn’t doing well to really educate him as he saw fit. And after a year and a half of learning foundations of technique and structure, he left to pursue his education in a way that many have come to appreciate: self-directed learning through exposure. Drawing inspiration from renowned artists and constantly exploring form and construction, he steadily improved. In the process, he discovered some notable predecessors: J.C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, David Downton, and Egon Schiele.
After four years of creative immersion, Matthew launched ‘Sunflowerman’ in 2012, a design agency that focuses on men’s fashion illustration. The grassroots of the brand and agency trail back to Matthew’s introduction to menswear and fashion, something he had no knowledge of or much of a vested interest in. But, with time, he became more intrigued and involved. He soon found himself spending portions of his workday painting–using primarily drawing ink and brush–portraits of menswear fashion icons with the sole purpose of perfecting the details of men’s clothing. “I really wanted to understand the form of a jacket on a body, how a person moves when they’re walking, how the shirt folds at the collar, when a [tie] knot is tied as opposed to when the collar is open, etc.,” he explains. “So I started painting these 2 to 5 minute paintings.” One day, while running through his sketch routine, he ran out of paper. Ever resourceful, he took a tattered book and used its pages as a canvas. The outcome was one that even he hadn’t anticipated: a striking balance between an image and the text. This marked the beginning of his trademark book page illustrations. Since then, he has extracted from various works. The most significant being an old Sherlocke Holmes novel which, when paired with the images, evokes an essence of “knowledge, sophistication, and creativity,” as he likes to put it. This stroke of genius led to Sunflowerman’s most recent collaboration with The Fab Event, which features 20 book-page illustrations (two of which are shown below) of five fashion leaders including the likes of Alexander Nash.
While Sunflowerman is still at the beginning of its journey, Matthew has great expectations for his work. His ultimate goal is to bridge the gap between fashion and fine art. When asked about his aspirations and what he hopes to accomplish in the next few years, he responds with vigor and enthuse: “I see myself working for big companies. I see my fashion illustrations being featured on product packaging…I’d love to have a show in a men’s and women’s boutique, to share [through teaching] what I do–fashion illustration–just as another way to bring it back to the world; because it did die out, and there are only a few of us coming back to it. But I think it can grow.”