This former street artist tells Ed Ricketts how multi-skilling helped him to become one of the industry's most sought-after freelancers.
"Range is conducive to growth," declares Matt Moore of MWM Graphics, reiterating his widely quoted ethos. "Cross-pollination of ideas, aesthetics, and processes allows me to keep things moving and growing. For example, my canvas paintings are very graphic, almost digital looking - they don't really look painterly, like you'd expect a traditional canvas would. They're created with spraypaint. Most people would assume they'd be graffiti-style since they're created with aerosol, but they're not," he explains. "I'm always striving to challenge myself and the supplies I work with, to create something that's new and unexpected."
This desire to push himself in every area, combined with an incredible work rate, has helped Moore to transform from a street artist into a globally recognised freelance name in just a few short years. He tackles vector illustration, branding, apparel, typography, art direction, packaging and web design with equal verve, and isn't shy about his desire to move onwards and upwards.
Summer 2010, for instance, saw him collaborating with a number of street-level fashion brands for their various lines, which involved Moore designing textile patterns, painting murals and canvasses. He's also recently worked with Nike 6.0, Gravis, Wired magazine and Google, and twice flew to France from his home in Portland, Maine, USA.
"The first time was in January for my Crystals & Lasers Exhibition and residency in Paris, which involved me painting a series of canvasses and murals; then again in June for a month-long tour of France for the Dulux Let's Colour Project, Walls Are Dancing," he recalls. "This will launch any day now. It will be an awesome music video with me painting the three murals in stop-motion animation. I also returned to Brazil for ROJO NOVA last month and painted a mega mural in the Museum of Image and Sound - that was fun."
Of course, as with most 'overnight' freelance success stories, Moore wasn't always a globe-hopping design superstar, with the freedom to pick and choose projects to take on at will. For years, he admits, he was "side-hustling" design and gallery shows, as well as working as an art director at the VIA Group, and later as a designer for Burton Snowboards. It was only when he felt confident enough, and had enough capital put aside to support himself fully, that he made the move to becoming a full-time independent under the banner brand of MWM Graphics.
"I feel I'm at my strongest when I'm working on projects that challenge me to look at things from a new angle, and solve different problems," Moore says of maintaining a workload balancing act. "The ideal month for me would be one week of hyper-focused work doing vector illustrations, the next week working on logos and fashion, the next one painting murals and canvases, and the final week working a traditional graphic design information architecture project."
Important as it is not to be bored, he adds, it's equally important not to bite off more than you can chew - and this is something on which he keeps a strict eye when considering new projects. "I've never been late or missed a deadline. On any given day I have between five and 15 'live' projects that aren't wrapped up yet, so I'm careful when plotting my calendar. When things simmer down I shift my focus towards my own projects, and when things bubble up I work double-shifts and weekends. That's just the way it is as a freelancer."
His love for what Moore calls "scrambled abstraction, geometry, vibrant colour and overall design sensibilities" first developed during his earlier years as a street artist, and while the media and scale of projects may have changed since then, those same design principles still drive him. "When I look back at my sketchbooks from 15 years ago I see the same twists and tweaks that are in my work from yesterday," he says. "Things tend to get more refined and evolved, but the raw energy is the same - just filtered through an evolved lens."
Two recent projects showcase his distinctive style, albeit at very different scales. Earlier this year, the team that handles Ray Ban's creative contacted Moore with a brief that he says "knocked my socks off". The proposal was to design three different limited-edition Wayfarer sunglasses, a 'Never Hide' print ad, billboards to feature in New York City and San Francisco, and a live painting event in NYC to kick off the launch of the promotion. Moore gladly accepted, but it was a huge project: "The design process for all components of the project, from start to finish, was about nine months," he recalls.
His three designs for Aspiral, a London-based clock manufacturing company, came about more modestly. The Aspiral clock is an ingenious self-spinning timepiece, the movement of which drives a ball along a spiral ledge. The idea, he explains, is that you tell the time simply by looking at the position of the ball.
"I was blown away by the brilliant idea and functionality of the clocks, and Will [Aspinall] at Aspiral was already a fan of my graphics," explains Moore. "So we exchanged a few emails about collaborating and eventually decided to go for it. The project was a natural collaboration and the series of clocks turned out great, as well as being an opportunity for both of our brands to be exposed to new markets."
With both projects, Moore's previous work was successful in attracting new clients, and he says this is the case for virtually all of his commissioned pieces. "Sometimes it's my fine art and mural stuff that inspires a commercial endeavour. Other times it's an ad campaign or product design that validates my perceived professionalism and gets me the all-important green light on a public mural," he explains.
As a freelancer, Moore is acutely aware that promoting his work is just as important as creating it in the first place. He uses his blog, which is linked from his main website, as the main hub for updates on recent projects, and syndicates postings to both Twitter and Facebook every day. He also ensures that his Flickr and Behance profiles are updated each quarter.
Ironically, it's Moore's main website portfolio that tends to be updated the least: "I've been so busy over the past few years, and most projects I work with in fashion and products have a 12-24 month lead, so I've slept on updating my webfolio for two years," he explains. "When I finally update it, it will have loads of unseen work that shows my growth since 2008."
Another outlet for his work, and thus another potential source of publicity, is Glyph Cue - the clothing design company he co-founded with old friend Kristofer Wilfert. This he treats in the same way as any other client project he takes on. With a new line due every spring and autumn, Moore spends a few weeks in winter and summer creating new graphics, setting up photoshoots, updating the company's website and sending out press packs. "My partner Kris handles the rest of the business - fulfilling orders, acquiring new accounts, and growing the footprint of our brand," he explains.
A recent move has allowed Moore to revamp his two studios (he has one for art and one for design), bringing not only more essential working space but also the luxury to design a personal working environment from scratch. "I'm always playing music in both of my studios," he says of creating the ideal environment for stimulating creativity. "Our puppy Picasso keeps me company - he's the official 'co-ordinator of my work/life balance' here at the MWM Graphics office. He forces me to take a break every few hours and go for a walk around the block, which is great," he laughs.
Natural light and indoor plants, particularly during winter, are also vital for Moore's sanity, and there's a massive collection of magazines, books and knick-knacks to ponder if inspiration should ever falter. "My studio is kind of like a museum of all the little things that have made me who I am," he explains. "My walls are covered with skateboards, snowboards, bicycles, and posters I've designed. I love being in my studio. It feels like my brain exploded all over the walls."
Ultimately, while Moore happily acknowledges that he has a very enviable job these days - "Being in the position of making a living doing what I want to do is a dream come true" - he also knows that it's his unstoppable drive and ambition that have helped him to achieve this, rather than just a lucky break or two. "You need to be a good business person to be a successful artist or designer these days," he says. "I'm constantly plotting my next move, and the one after that. I have a one-year plan, a three-year plan, a five-year plan and a lifelong plan. I will never run out of ideas. I have lists and lists of dreams, but it's hard enough to make time to actualise even 10 per cent of them."
"For me, it's all about taking small steps towards new areas such as architecture, furniture, sculpture, fashion, product design, animation - things I've always dreamed of doing," Moore continues. "This way, I'm always excited for what's coming next. The rush of excitement one gets from that first phase of the learning curve in a new discipline is addictive," he explains. "I'm a lifelong student, and I want to be remembered for a lot more than creating 2D graphics, fine art canvasses and huge murals."