Sports Illustrator, Matthew Shipley, On Establishing His Own Style & Selling Prints Online
Illustrator and self-confessed football fanatic, Matthew Shipley, is best known for his figurative and portrait work, where he loves to stretch proportions and use expressive colour palettes. Matt explains how he spent the majority of his formative years dreaming of turning his love of sketching into a full-time career. Now with selected clients including ESPN, The Atlantic, Bleacher Report and many more, as well as selling prints of his favourite sporting stars, it seems he's done just that! We caught up with Matt to discuss his recent illustration projects, what keeps him motivated, and what prompted him to set up his own online shop.
So Matt, can you tell us a bit about yourself, what you do, and how your career in illustration came to fruition?
My name is Matthew Shipley. I was born and raised in New Jersey, USA. I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember and knew pretty early on that I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. I went to university to study illustration. After school I moved, with my wife, to North Carolina and found a job as a Graphic Designer. But I soon realised that the job wouldn’t give me the opportunities that I wanted and so I left in order to focus solely on freelance work and I’ve been doing that for a couple of years now. I do alot of sports related work, but I enjoy other subjects as well. I like to stretch proportions and draw small heads. When I'm not illustrating I like to watch and play football (soccer) and spend time with my wife and son.
"I think, at one point or another, everyone should do a project where they have to draw one thing a day, everyday for at least a month. It really helps you in decision making."
Why, in particular, do you enjoy creating illustrations around sports?
I think you should draw what you love and for me that's sports. If I don’t know what to draw I draw sports. It helps that the poses are dynamic and the players and storylines are usually interesting. I like drawing other stuff too, but I always come back to sports.
Tell us about a few particular sports illustrations of yours and how they caught the attention of clients like ESPN, Major League Soccer, Lzaz Sports, and many more?
I'd say it all started with my #50daysoffootballers project where I drew fifty different footballers over the course of fifty days. That project, in particular, helped me figure out how I like to work and helped me make some connections that led to other projects and opportunities. It just snowballed from there really. I think, at one point or another, everyone should do a project where they have to draw one thing a day, everyday for at least a month. It really helps you in decision making and you might just find the style that suits you best.
What’s been a stand-out project of the last twelve months for you?
Too many to name them all! I finished up illustrations for another children’s book that comes out in May of this year. It’s called G is for Golazo and is a football ABC book, and like B is for Baller you don’t have to be a child in order to enjoy it. I also got a chance to work with Chelsea FC on a couple of match-day images. The day before they contacted me I was actually talking with someone about how much I wanted to work with a Premier League club and then got an email from Chelsea the next morning. Fingers crossed that despite them losing both games they’ll let me do more in the future ha!
"Freelance can be tough. Sometimes you’re really busy and other times you have nothing to do so it’s good to have multiple revenue streams in order to make sure you can pay the bills and take care of your family."
What stage of the creative process do you enjoy most? What aspect/s do you find most challenging?
Hard to say - I really enjoy alot of the process. I love finding a creative solution to a problem. I love finding and sketching a dynamic pose. And I love colouring the final sketch. As far as challenges go, sometimes I struggle with backgrounds and sometimes it’s tough to find that perfect solution.
You’ve also opened your own online shop where you sell your sports prints. What prompted this move and how have you found trading online?
Freelance can be tough. Sometimes you’re really busy and other times you have nothing to do so it’s good to have multiple revenue streams in order to make sure you can pay the bills and take care of your family. Some people had mentioned to me that they would be interested in prints if they were available. So opening an online shop was a no brainer. I've had a lot of success selling prints from B is for Baller and so I'm hoping to sell more prints in the future. I still focus my time on client work but when I'm not working on freelance work, I'll work on personal projects and new prints.
For any creative wanting to set up their own online shop to sell prints, what advice would you give?
Get used to people saying “I’d love a print of that” and then never actually buying the print! But just do your research. I have a lot of unsold prints laying around because I didn’t plan well enough and maybe set my expectations a little too high in the beginning. But people hanging your art on their walls, or reading a book you illustrated to their kids, is one of the coolest things and you can’t take it for granted!
Finally, as our name suggests, here at Mantra we’re curious about what keeps our favourite creatives driven and pushing forward. What’s your personal mantra, Matt?
If you work hard, things will work out!
Check out more of Matthew's work here.