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Interview with c86

C86 or Matt Lyon needs no introduction to the world of illustration. With a client list that boasts Microsoft, AOL, AT&T, Nike, Red Bull, Urban Outfitters and Wired to name a few, he is no stranger to the graphics industry. He has kindly agreed to speak to us about how he became a designer and presents to us the stages of his creative process.

Firstly, lets look at the recent documentation of a t shirt design he has created…


Hi Matt – many thanks again for agreeing to talk to us. Firstly, how did you enter into the world of graphic design – was it an early love of doodling or did you discover it later on in life?

I didn’t start creating graphic art or illustration until about 10 years ago. I’ve always been interested in art and have been doodling ever since I could hold a pencil, but my training and education was in painting and drawing. I studied Fine Art at university, and soon after I finished I started work in a college art department. Once qualified as an art tutor, I taught photography and graphic design, and it was during this time that I became interested in illustration

Did you find it a natural progression to start designing for T-shirts? What are the differences (if any) when designing for t shirts compared to other mediums?

I started designing t-shirts as a means to practice my illustration process, as well as learn how to use Adobe Illustrator. I joined Threadless in about 2004 when the designs were limited in both size and colour choices. I liked the voting and feedback process as a way to learn about the target market and what works as a successful design. I was also intrigued with the idea of t-shirts being a means of creating ‘wearable art’ and another platform for work to be displayed

How would you describe your design process – from concept to finished artwork and how then do you gain exposure?

My design process is similar to how I work for other outcomes. I commonly draw a series of designs or elements in pen and then retrace the linework in Illustrator before colouring. If a limited cover palette is being used (such as traditional silkscreening methods), I explore a variety of colour options of both design and t-shirt to arrive at the best outcome. More recently, printing methods have become more accommodating to multicoloured designs with high detail and textures, so if I have the luxury of developing work in this direction, I continue design editing from Illustrator to Photoshop

Which stores do you sell your work through and which do you find you have most success?

To be honest, I don’t do much t-shirt work anymore, though in the past I have designed for Nike and Urban Outfitters, had work available through New Standard and Society6, as well as Threadless, Design by Humans and other online sites. I guess that my most successful t-shirt designs have been through Threadless as this is where a lot of sales and t-shirt enquiries have stemmed from

Where do you buy your t-shirts and which t-shirt designers inspire you?

I’ve got a lot of Threadless credit that never seems to expire, so many of my t-shirts are bought from there. I also like a lot of vintage t-shirts, so second-hand stores and charity shops are great places to come across some exciting finds. I don’t favour the work of anyone that’s exclusively a t-shirt designer but rather I’m inspired by various illustrators and artists in the wider field

What do you think of the recent 1 day t-shirt sites that have sprung up of late? Teefury, Tilteed etc..

I think it was inevitable that 1-day sites would arise, often catering for designs that reflect a more immediate or disposable aspect of the market. Designs reflecting references to popular culture such as Star Wars, videogames, film, TV, memes, etc are ideal for generating quick interest and sales supported by exposure and sharing through a variety of social networks

Clean lines and bold colours seem to be a constant throughout your work. How do you pick your colour palettes?

The use of colour is one of my favourite aspects of the design process. I like to play around with unusual combinations, tones and saturations to see if I can get them working together. I’m often drawn towards a warm colour palette as opposed to a dominance of blue or green. My favourite colour palette includes orange, purple, pink and brown (with perhaps a complementary emerald / jade hue), though I’ve recently been trying to explore other possibilities

What’s the favourite t-shirt design you have created?

One of my favourite pieces is the Threadless T-shirt design Subterrain (Make a Wish) because it marks an early starting point of my work under the name of C86. There are many aspects to the design that have inspired many directions that I still follow today, including the folksy / retro style, flat composition and imagery of architectural elements

What are you working on currently, and what is your preferred medium?

This Spring I’m expecting to have my first designs printed by Blood is the New Black. I’ve already created work for all of this year’s seasons, so hopefully this will become an ongoing venture. Aside from that I’m continuing my personal work, regularly updated on my website C86 and my Tumblr http://mattlyon.tumblr.com, as well as a handful of professional commissions that I sadly can’t yet discuss. I continue to follow the creative process that I described earlier, though this year I’m planning to return to experiment with other methods of image making, including more painting and drawing. This will inspire new directions and ideas to hopefully keep things moving forward

You can view more C86 tshirts at Society 6

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