Spirits of the Imagination

NeonMob interview Mat Miller, master of animal illustration

Yesterday Mat Miller released his gorgeous collection of animal illustrations entitled Bestial Spirits. Mat is a 28-year-old artist from Bristol, UK. We spoke to him about how growing up in the English countryside influenced him as an artist, how he works through self-criticism, and how the future greats of the art world will be embracing digital art.

NeonMob: Hey Mat, thanks for interviewing with us! Let’s start with your upbringing. How did growing up in the countryside of England impact your upbringing and perspective as an artist?

MM: Growing up in the countryside in a time when parents were not fearful of letting their children go out and play and when computer games were only just arriving has had a big impact on me and my perspective as an artist. You are able to explore, let your surroundings influence your imagination and vice-versa. You get familiar with animals, plants, trees and all manner of living things and see first hand how they interact with each other.

NeonMob: Nature is a common theme in your artwork. What is your relationship with nature like day-to-day?

MM: My day to day my relationship with nature is quite a healthy one although I don’t get to enjoy it as much as I would like. If it ever stops raining here then this will hopefully change, as it’s good for creativity and for the soul.


NeonMob: Why did you create Bestial Spirits?

MM: I created Bestial Spirits because I wanted a challenge. I really wanted to straighten out in my head a clear aesthetic and feel to a large collection of work but also give me some room to tinker with it as the process progressed. A big part of it was the want and need to practice my drawing if I’m completely honest.

NeonMob: What does this collection mean to you?

MM: This collection means rather a lot to me as I’ve shown myself that I can complete a project of this size and still be as enthusiastic about the last piece as I was about the first.

NeonMob: The attention to detail around the collection is incredible. What made you think to add the flowers around the eyes of the cats?

MM: Thank you. Cats are generally quite elusive creatures. I wanted to reinforce this air of elusion by adding the flowers and organic forms to act as masks for the cats. These elements then worked their way across the remaining sets. I felt this worked quite well regardless of the type of animal.

One of the Bestial Spirits

NeonMob: You completed Bestial Spirits in late 2013. Did working on the project at all influence the direction your artwork has taken lately?

MM: Yes it really has. I’ve found myself continuing to work in a similar style as you can see in my latest personal piece “Midnight Meeting.” I think I will look back on my time working on the Bestial Spirits collection and see it as pivotal in the development of a style that hopefully one day I can call my own.

Midnight Meeting, a work-in-progress by Mat Miller

NeonMob: You’ve mentioned that the artists Salvador Dali and Yuko Shimizu are some of your biggest artistic inspirations. What about their artwork speaks to you, and how does it influence your style?

MM: Salvador Dali’s art is instantly engaging . You can revisit his work and discover little things that you didn’t notice first or even second time around. In my larger pieces I try to hide things and encourage the viewer to explore the piece a little. This is something I again want to develop even further.

Dali’s use of metamorphosis is something else that really appeals to me and reminds me to always question where I can meld objects and elements together.

Yuko Shimizu is an illustrator mixing traditional and modern media to great effect. Her line work is incredible and says so much with a few well chosen strokes of her brush. Her work influences my process more than my actual style I think. She appears to have a set way of working and she’s really mastered her art. I aim to be at this kind of level one day.

The Unstoppabull Force by Mat Miller

NeonMob: Kids have the wildest imaginations, but staying creative as an adult is hard. How do you make sure you don’t lose your imagination?

MM: It’s not so much of a problem for me as it pays to let my imagination run away with itself. I scribble down ideas in word or picture form and go back to them to add more. I like to be alone during the ideas stage of a project to really let my mind wander. Opening myself up to divulging in other types of creativity are also very important like music, writing and moving image.

NeonMob: What are your tricks for dealing with self-criticism?

MM: As most artists will tell you, they are their own worst critics. I am no different. In my opinion it’s key in becoming a better artist. I don’t so much deal with it or shrug it off as react to it and try harder. If a piece of work doesn’t turn out exactly as I would want it to, then I do get annoyed but mostly I try to figure out where it went wrong and remember that there is always next time.

NeonMob: As an up-and-coming artist who works in the digital medium, how has the Internet helped your career? Has the Internet solved the most pressing challenges artists face, or is there still a long way to go before technology and art can consider themselves good friends?

MM: In my own experience the internet and technology have proved immensely important to the production and distribution of my work. Portfolio websites like Behance are great to receive feedback and to see what other creatives are working on. The same could be said for Society6 with the added benefit of being able to sell your work on various products. Then we have all of the social media sites of which my favorite is Tumblr, where there is great support for artists wanting to put their work out there.

I understand where people come from when they place digital art at a lower level than fine art, but in my opinion it’s a little short sighted. I work in two stages where I’m putting pen to paper and then working on the computer afterwards. This allows me to experience the best of both worlds.

If I were a betting man, which I am, then I’d wager that many of the old masters, if alive today would embrace technological advances and new ways of creating even if just to experiment.

For me, art is just as much about progression in an ever changing world as it is the sole act of creating.

Terror from Above, by Mat Miller

Thanks Mat! If you like Mat’s work, you can go collect Bestial Spirits for free on NeonMob. If you liked this interview, please click the “recommend” button below so others can discover it — and check out our other artist interviews.

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