Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 21, 2021

Illustrator Saturday – Matt Schu

Matt is an illustrator from Portland, Oregon, USA. After studying art and design at the University of Oregon, he worked as a graphic designer and editorial illustrator before switching focus to book illustration and fine art. He also likes making zines, and runs a small zine press, Dark Hour Books. Due to growing up in the Pacific Northwest, he draws a lot of trees, houses, and cloudy skies, often using ink and gouache on paper. When he’s not drawing, he spends his time reading, watching YouTube videos, and shooting 35mm film.

Represented by Chad W. Beckerman ( at The CAT Agency for book illustration work.

Here is Matt Discussing His Process:

This illustration was drawn on an iPad using Procreate and an apple pencil. When I work digitally, this is pretty typical of my process. Basically, I work in black and gray first, then add color.

I started with a really loose sketch, to figure out the composition and main shapes.

Using that sketch as a guide, I made a cleaned up version of the line art.

Then I added gray tones with a splotchy brush.

And on top of that, I added white accents for the smoke and sparks and stuff.

I finished the drawing by adding color on top of the whole thing on separate “Overlay” layers, which recolors the gray tones. I also add some grainy texture to the image to give it a little more depth.

Interview with Matt Schu

How long have you been illustrating?

I did my first illustration work in college, for campus magazines and the school paper. That was about 7-8 years ago. After college I did editorial illustrations here and there. But I started really focusing on illustration and making it my priority in 2018.

What and when was the first piece of art you created for money?

I’m not sure! I think it might have been a drawing for the University of Oregon’s weekly paper The Emerald, about the ballot measures in the 2014 midterm elections. It was a guy sitting at a desk, holding a ballot and looking confused. Pretty exciting stuff!

Have you always lived in Portland, OR?

Yep, other than college I’ve always lived here.

What made you decide to study art and design at the University of Oregon?

I had decided that I wanted to work in graphic design and illustration when I graduated, and I thought that program combined those interests well. It was an art degree, but less fine art and more about media and culture, which seemed useful for design work and editorial illustration.

What type of artwork did you do when you started your career?

I’ve always been interested in comics, and specifically when I started illustrating I was very influenced by indie comics published by Koyama Press and Drawn & Quarterly. Although I wasn’t making comics necessarily, my stuff then was in that style, more graphic with flatter textures and louder colors. The comic book influence was even stronger then than it is now, since then a few other influences have seeped in.

How and when did you start exhibiting your art?

After college I started tabling at zine and small press conventions, and eventually had prints of my drawings hanging up in coffee shops and lobbies. Eventually I got the opportunity to participate in a group show at Nucleus Portland, and have shown work with them several times since then.

Do you feel exhibiting is a good marketing tool?

I think it must be, but I hadn’t thought of it that way. I see exhibiting my work as an end in itself rather than a means to get somewhere else. I like that it gives me an opportunity to do something very idiosyncratic that’s just for me. That’s nice since you don’t exactly get that with illustration work.

When did you start your micro press, Dark Hour Books? How did that come about?

I started it quite recently, at the beginning of this year. In fact I’m still in the process of starting it! I’m working with a few other artists right now to put together the first run of books.

I assume that is where you publish your self-published picture books. Did you have Dark Hour Books when you self-published A Hungry Bear Finds Its Way Into A Neighborhood in 2018?

Until this year I always just self-published my zines without any name attached other than my own. That was the case when I made that Hungry Bear book. Going forward I will be publishing my zines under the Dark Hour Books name.

Did you write and illustrate all the picture book stories you self-published?

Yes! Picture books are a medium I’ve been wanting to get into, so I made those books to get more familiar with the format.

How can someone buy one of your self-published books?

I sell my zines on my Etsy shop,

Do you plan to self-publish another picture book this year?

I was working on a couple stories, but now I’m actually working on illustrating a picture book written by someone else. So that’s taking all my attention at the moment! I’ll be making another zine soon though, just not a picture book per se, more a collection of drawings.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

A few years ago I realized that while I liked making narrative art, I wasn’t feeling very excited about editorial illustration. And while I love reading them, I didn’t find myself wanting to make comics. I got interested in picture books after becoming a fan of a few artists who make them, and it very quickly became something I wanted to do. I like that each illustration is a longer beat in a picture book than in something like a comic. And I love how much space the art gets as opposed to editorial illustration. So, illustrating picture books became a goal.

Have you taken any children’s illustrating courses?

No, I wish I had! I’ve tried to learn from studying picture books I like, and reading and listening to interviews with other illustrators and people in the industry.

What do you feel helped you develop your style?

I haven’t ever consciously developed a style, although sometimes I’ll draw something a certain way and like it enough to consciously do it again and again. I’ve always liked drawing, and people would tell me when I was a kid that I drew in a specific way. I think people do tend to have a recognizable style whether they like it or not, and it gets more pronounced as they keep drawing.

I noticed you have a number of cats in your illustrations. Do you try to include a cat as a signature type of thing?

I do love the cats. I just include them because I love cats! I like putting them in a scene because they give a sense of context and scale. Also they have a funny attitude to me that goes well with pretty much anything. I think it’s kind of silly to have a dramatic scene and a cat’s just standing there looking at you. They always look like you’ve intruded on them in some way. When you pass them out in the world they just stay still and keep an eye on you until you leave. Honestly I identify with that.

Have you illustrated other books? If so how many have you done?

So far I’ve only illustrated a few self-published books. However, that’s changing soon.

How did you connect with Chad W. Beckerman at The Cat Agency?

I was doing research for a bit on different agents/agencies and compiling a list of people I thought I might like to work with. Earlier this year I reached out to the CAT Agency. I love the work of the other artists Chad represents, and thought it’d be nice being in such good company. And of course, we decided to work together.

How did you get the job to do Chillhop Music album cover?

An art director over there, Ben, became aware of my work a few years ago and interviewed me for his blog. Later, when he started working with Chillhop, he asked me to make some art with them. I’ve made several illustrations with them since, they’ve been great to work with.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s Magazines or any other magazines? If so, who?

My editorial illustration career turned out to be very short lived! I’ve never worked with a children’s magazine, but have worked with a few Portland publications.

Do you work full time as an illustrator?

At the moment, yes! Although I have had other day jobs on occasion.

Do you have a studio in your house?

I rent a studio space near my apartment, which I share with fellow illustrator Brooke Glaser.

Do you try to devote a certain amount of time everyday to working on your art?

I don’t have a set time that I stick to, but I do try to draw something every day even if it’s some-thing very quick. Often all I draw in a day is sketches rather than anything finished. I always feel better on a day when I draw than when I don’t.

Is working with an author who wants to self-published a picture book something you would consider illustrating?

To be honest, not at the moment. After self-publishing my own picture books for a while I’m ready to focus on work that’s a bit different.

I know you will have many successes in your future, but what do you think is your biggest success so far?

That’s very kind of you to say. I’m happy I got to have a solo show of my ink drawings earlier this year, at Nucleus Portland Gallery. That was a specific goal I had, and it felt good to have it happen.

What is your favorite medium to use?

If I had to choose, it’d be ink with a little bit of paint. I use bottles of black and colored ink with brushes and metal nibs. I love how it looks. Although I do often draw on my iPad, I’m always trying to imitate the look of ink.

Has that changed over time?

No, I think I’ve always gravitated toward pens and black ink. I love dark black lines. Although I have changed how I use ink over time, and use more washes now.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

Yes, for a while I used a Wacom tablet. Now I use an iPad. I do still have the tablet though.

What other materials and/or tools do you use to create your work?

I pretty much exclusively use ink, acrylic paint, Photoshop, an iPad, and the app Procreate. Often I use them in combination with each other.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I don’t really stick to a specific time. I just try to make sure the amount I draw aligns with what I’m trying to get done. But I like drawing, and generally tend to do it without having to force myself. Of course, sometimes I do have to force myself when it’s a project I’m stuck on that I need to get done.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

I definitely do research, especially when I know a specific detail is needed to make the drawing work. And sometimes I’ll use photos I’ve taken as reference material, usually photos not necessarily related to the project. Photography is a hobby of mine, so I have a lot of photos to draw from if I need to.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Yes it has. It’s so helpful to have my work in a place where anyone can look at. I don’t know how much self-promotion I’d do without it. Probably not very much!

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

The main dream is to just keep drawing pictures for a living, but other than that I’d love to get a book published that I both wrote and illustrated.

What are you working on now?

I’m illustrating a picture book, creating work for a group exhibition in the Fall, and am working with a few other artists to put together some zines.

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

A really specific tip I have is that if you work with ink, don’t buy pen cleaner to clean your nibs. Window cleaner from the grocery store works just as well, and is way cheaper. I soak nibs and palettes that are caked with ink in that stuff, and it disintegrates dried ink. Also if you want to see if the contrast is working in a drawing, squint your eyes. If you can still make out the big shapes, that’s good.

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

I feel like I’m still new and looking for some wisdom myself! But a lesson I learned that made a big difference is that you’re allowed to take your work seriously. You make progress when you take your work seriously and commit, and respect yourself.

Matt, thank you for taking the time to answer the interview questions and showing us your process. Please let me know about your future books and successes so I can share them with everyone.

To see more of Matt’s work, you can visit him at:

Click here for house portrait commissions
Shop prints at, and on BuyOlympia

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I was immediately drawn in to see more. Good eye, Kathy, great work, Matt!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love his work! And the cats….


  3. This art work is so cute. I especially love the bunnies around the cauldron. It’s adorable. Thanks for such a fun post.


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