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Dan Matutina on Shaping Stories and Finding Your Visual Voice

Always the wild card, Matutina shares the method behind the wildness 

By Nicai de Guzman

Dan Matutina, founding partner of Plus63 Design Co. and recipient of the Art Directors Club Young Guns Award, started his story as a designer in Tacloban, his hometown. His journey of finding his own style as an artist had been a long but meaningful one, he told the audience at the adobo Design Series 2018 held at The Mind Museum on March 22. 

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“Shaping stories is about finding your own visual voice as an illustrator,” he said. 

Matutina narrated how he found his inspiration and how he developed his style by showing his early works up to his most recent ones. 

From science to art 

Matutina is based in Manila now but while he was growing up in Tacloban, he was constantly seeing colorful and visually stimulating images such as the Pinatados and the patterns of woven fabrics. 

“Growing up, I’ve been exposed to these things but I never really knew I can apply it to work,” he said. 

In the province, they only had one channel and it showed foreign cartoons. When they got cable, he started watching more animations, including Samurai Jack. 

Being fascinated with these moving images equaled his interest in science as he was studying in a science in engineering high school in Leyte. 

“Even then I really liked reading old science encyclopedias. It influenced what I was about to do,” Matutina recalled. 

This is why it came as a surprise to his teachers and parents when he chose to study Fine Arts as opposed Engineering or Computer Science. Studying this discipline, however, exposed him further to more works of art, including those of HR Ocampo and Ang Kiukok. Looking at the obras of these artists encouraged him to find his own visual voice. 

“When you’re young, it’s best to exhaust all the different styles,” he said, while adding that when you find your own style, the drawback is not being able to explore other styles because you’re known for a certain look. 

The good thing about it is being recognizable. In fact, having your own voice can lead to representation, which happened in the case of Matutina. He is currently represented by Agent Pekka in Europe and Vision Track in Japan. 

When he travels, he even gets to meet other artists from around the world. “Creating a visual voice is a combination of bringing in influences and experiences, developing style and techniques and translating stories,” he said. 

“It‘s not only what you choose to say but choosing how you say it,” Matutina added. 

Process of work 

The rest was history and now, Matutina runs his own independent studio. Plus63 Design Co. creates branding, media, graphic design for local brands and consultation jobs for conference abroad. 

Matutina shared the process he uses with his team when they get a project or a brief from a client. It all starts with Research. This includes reading the brief and learning more about the topic online. Next comes Idea Generation, which includes brainstorming and sketching.

“Ideas is the soul of your work,” he said. 

The last one is Execution – the illustration of work in front of the computer. 

He showed sample creations, including personal projects like Versus Hearts, portraits of heroes and villains shown as different sides of a heart. The main idea is that heroes and villains are rivals who love each other because they wouldn’t be able to exist without each other.

Other work executions Matutina showed are illustrations for websites, moving images, and print. His illustrations for web include the Google Doodle for Independence Day and his different iterations for the search results for Philippines – a beach with a flag of the country standing proudly. 

For print, he showed his sketches for a smart home publication by Samsung, in which they tasked four different illustrators about four different topics. He also drew the images for Qualcomm, the partner of Formula One. “I’m always the wild card because I’m the least safe but I enjoy doing it,” he said of his creations. 

Despite his many successes, Matutina admitted that finding one’s visual voice can be challenging. First, one has to find their own style. Next is to evolve their own style slowly. After that, they have to be able to schedule work between different time zones for clients abroad. Finally, the consideration if being an illustrator is a viable career. 

“Eventually, if you have a really good portfolio, clients may find value in your work,” he said. 

The most important thing, however, is being able to tell a good story from your illustrations, Matutina added.

“While style makes your work distinct visually, you need to be able to tell good stories and ideas.”

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