Artist Matt Craven draws, sculpts and prints. He grew up in Great Grimsby (a Northern ex-fishing town) and worked a stint as a circus entertainer before finally pursuing illustration.
What appeals to you, or attracts you to, working in pencil?
Pencil is nostalgic, for me the smell of them is one of my earliest memories. Pencil is a universal medium, not an exclusive, specialist tool for professionals – everyone knows how to use a pencil… I love the fact I can pick up a 60-year-old pencil and use it in the exact same way as one bought today. Pencils are lovely, simple things with a universal appeal.
We understand you have quite a collection of pencils. Could you give us a debrief? How long has this habit been going on? Which pencil sparked it and which one is your current favourite?
I’ve collected pencils for years, in school it started, buying novelty ones in souvenir shops, then I stopped. The first pencil I was really fond of was a Berol 6B with a hard white brittle plastic end. A few years ago, I got hold of an original Blackwing 602 and loved it. Think it was from the 50s or 60s this particular one – barely used too. After discovering it is regarded as one of the best pencils ever manufactured (if not the best) I started pestering people to keep an eye out at car boots and jumble sales. A year later, my mum brings me a wad of about 25 mint condition unsharpened Blackwings and loads of other out-of-production pencil by Eberhard Faber. She got them free too! I’ve got just over 100 vintage American pencils now and few oddball ones, like from the The Ingalls Shipbuilding Corporation. I regularly use Blackwings and I suppose eventually will get through quite a few of them – although I do like my mechanical pencils for sketchbooking.
Could you tell us a bit about your creative process, from the initial image or idea to the finished piece? What’s the relationship between your drawing practice and your printmaking/sculpture work? How do you conceptualize/construct a piece? Do you think of it as a story, snapshot, or abstraction?
When working on an image, I quickly brainstorm the obvious, then avoid it. I sometimes look through my old photograph, book and newspaper collection until I find an image that has a particular feel. Using that image’s tone, I then draw in pencil. From there my mind wonders off for a bit visualising the image three-dimensionally. Sometimes the image will remain in pencil or I’ll use pen. But occasionally, I’ll have to sculpt to realise the image. Mono-printing has quite a different approach: it isn’t an organic decision, it’s something planned from the start. When using pencils and biro in monoprint to create the image, the “drawing” is purely focussed on light and shadows and isn’t focused on lines anymore – which I like. Another monoprint process is just making a mess using fingers and random tools, then making several prints from the same plate and let them dry. I then work out which ones have the best beginnings of an image and work on them more; a bit like staring at clouds and making out things, people, animals etc. It can be pretty laborious, out of 50 prints there may only be one that’s workable.
Tell us about your Summertime project … and why is it a summertime project? Are you particularly drawn to that season?
I made it in summer – the tourist season – best time of year: all the Yorkshire dwellers decent on Cleethorpes. Best time to go out sketching and gathering ideas, if anything just for research and reference (I collect old newspapers and images from the area too). I’m also really interested in the seaside, living there all my life I got used to it but part of leaving the town, was to go back and try look at it objectively through drawing.
What size do you tend to work at and why?
I like working at 6×8 inches in pencil or pen, same goes for printing: not too big that I feel lost but not too restrictive either. For sculptures, I can’t go any larger than the size of a domestic oven…
People, places, or things… what’s your preference in terms of subject matter? Can you tell us a specific favourite within that preference?
People and location. More specifically, people living on the coast. It’s a combination of the unique individuals, loners and the humdrum, all awhile being a place of fun – a holiday destination. I have no urge to travel to find inspiration, I’d much rather sit in a tearoom down Cleethorpes prom.
Can you tell us about a favourite piece of yours, or a favourite creative experience?
For me, it’s my series A welcome return to Grimsthorpe. At the time I was feeling a bit disillusioned, by university education, job prospects and the work I kept seeing: it was either far too pleasant, easy on the eye or said nothing to me – it seemed like decoration. I made most of that work in a week of frustration and distaste of much of the illustration I was seeing around me. The end result was something that felt personal, void of colour (I’m part colourblind anyway) and blackly comic. It wasn’t angsty, just in case you were wondering ha! I really enjoyed that work.
The character and style of your drawings seem very malleable, shifting perhaps with the content or project. Is this flexibility intentional?
Like I said earlier, utilising one ‘style’ or medium just isn’t me. I enjoy the flexibility and potential a mixture brings.
Is the beast/unnatural thing in your Tiny Pencil piece caged, or is the shopping cart its natural environment?
I like supermarkets, always have. I always went to supermarket openings for freebies or meeting one of the Gladiators off TV. There were loads of supermarkets where I lived and it wasn’t unusual to see people pushing trolleys all the way back home on the estate. They would get re-used, sometimes as makeshift skips. Kids would always nick them as use them either as goals, dens or smash them up. An elderly couple, whose dog I used to walk, had loads of trolleys in there front garden, covered in tarpaulin, boards, brick and filled with household junk. Their house was even worse: filled to the brim with junk, full bin bags, dog muck and reeked. The drawing is of the man who lived there in one of his trolleys. Forgot his name now… but remember their dog was called Moss. Last time I went back to Grimsby, his house was vacant. No idea what happened to them. So yes, as strange as they were, him and his wife were quite at home with their shopping trollies.
Do you have any early memories of drawing or, what’s your first memory of an image?
My very first memory was drawing with a pencil on a very glossy piece of A4 on my granddad’s carpet and my cousin telling me to “lean on something”. I had no idea what she meant and just kept scribbling, regularly piercing through the paper with my pencil on to the carpet…
Do you keep a sketchbook?
A few yes.
What directions are you interested in exploring in the future?
I am interested in producing a series of chalkware ornaments one day…
What are you working on now? What can we look forward to from you next?
I’m working on small book of drawings and sculpts.
Where can people get a hold of your work, or find out more about your previous projects?
Are you right or left-handed?
Right-handed. Remember training my left hand some years ago – difficult.
What was the last film you saw in the cinema?
What are the books on your bedside table?
Passenger Trains of the World by Geoffrey Wilson.
Coffee, nicotine, or booze?
Yes all of those, home-brewed beer though.
Favourite city in the world?
I really like Paris.
Favourite city to draw/sketch/illustrate/create in?
Grimsby and Cleethorpes – not cities, but my favourites.
Matt’s work appears in Issue 3 of Tiny Pencil: The Beast Issue… Monsters, Machines and Unnatural Things! Available to buy here. This interview was brought to you by The Tiny Pencil – fine purveyors of the pencil arts. Follow us on twitter @TheTinyPencil, Facebook, tumblr, and instagram for the latest news on all of our new anthology artzines.