Home Dive Industry Profile Personally Illustrated: The Journey of an Illustrator

Personally Illustrated: The Journey of an Illustrator

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scuba llama judges illustration

By Selene Muldowney

Our environment is defined by the totality of our circumstances and the experiences surrounding our lives. These experiences influence the growth of an individual through cultural and social conditions. Some may say our lives are more aptly defined by how we express these experiences. Expression can be summarized in many forms – art a primary tool. 

But what is art? Art is a noun. Art is an expression of our thoughts, intuitions, emotions, and what we desire. Art is personal: it is how we experience the world as an individual, not just the physical world that surrounds us but the whole world. Sometimes words alone are simply not enough to portray our intent so we communicate our intimate experiences with art. The medium used is not the art – the message is – art is beyond language. We feel a sense of wonder, cynicism, hope and despair, love or hatred. Art can render visible our inner selves. 

Ultimately art is ineffable: imaginations in motion, transforming life and experience into something tangible yet what it evokes is still intangible. 

Matt Sharman-Hayles is an artist, not just any artist, an artist with an incredible gift to portray life as we experience it, life as we want it, and life as we believe it to be. Sharman-Hayles is an architect, at least in theory, as he is still in school refining his skill. Architecture helped him realize his potential, his patience grew as he practiced his discipline. In 2013, while still in school, battling insomnia, and needing a creative outlet, Sharman-Hayles took his pen to paper. At first he created line art eventually delving into more detailed images. He began to draw images of people, his godson was his first notable illustration, further driving his ambition to create more. 

Personally Illustrated was born, now celebrating its fifth year and growing strong. 

So who is this guy and how did I meet him? He lives across the world … ah the internet is a beautiful thing. 

While perusing the world wide web for something ridiculous and unlikely to exist, an illustration of two of my favorite subjects, llamas and scuba, my enthusiasm for Personally Illustrated was peaked. There it was – a scuba diving llama – who knew?! I had to get to know this artist and I had to have this piece of art. Incidentally, this one-of-a-kind scuba llama is hanging proudly on my office wall. My llama was a bit impressed as well. 

Q: Tell me a little about yourself – what are you into and where do you live? 

A: I was born and bred in Surrey (just south of London). I am a kid at heart – I love dinosaurs and I admit I am a bit of a nerd. I like shows like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, plus I like to read which usually means I have at least one … or …. three books on the go. 

Q: What are you reading right now?

A: I am currently engrossed in David Attenborough’s biography. He really is a good boy and does so much for this world! Oh – the last episode of Blue Planet II was unbelievably moving. 

Q: Please tell us more.

A: I love travelling and scuba diving (obviously), cycling and swimming. I prefer open water swimming – I did the Great North Swim and plan to do it again this year. My family is hugely important to me. Our family is very competitive – we have this annual gingerbread house building competition which shamefully this year I lost my two-year winning streak.

Q: How are you preparing for next year?

A: I am mentally preparing myself to regain my crown – there is literally a crown involved with this!

Q: What do you do besides work on your art?

A: I am in school studying to be an architect, nearly finished with my six year stint at the University. Currently I am on a job hunt and illustrating more fulltime as I find my architectural dream job. I have really enjoyed the weird and wonderful things people come up with for bespoke commissions. For my masters I focused on resilient design around water concentrating my studies on Rotterdam and Venice. The project in Venice looked at linking Biochemistry with materials to help deal with water and salt erosion around the historic city. It was a great project as it involved working with self-healing and living materials in the architecture of a wet environment.

Q: Let’s talk about scuba!

A: I learnt how to dive in 2011 in Koh Tao (doing the travelling South East Asia thing) at Davey Jones Locker dive school. I fell in love with it. Since, I spent two summers out in the Dahab exploring the reefs – absolutely stunning! I completed my advanced dive certifications out there, spending time with my favourite fish on eth reef, the lionfish. I know … they are problematic for the ecosystem but I think they are beautiful. Oh incidentally I had a very interesting encounter with a barracuda there. 

Q: Any other interesting scuba experiences? 

A: Recently I went diving in Sri Lanka which was an interesting experience, managed to get stung by a jellyfish after being given the wrong type of wetsuit. Other than that I saw some shipwrecks and also the efforts to help rebuild the reefs along the south following the tsunami. The concrete bell reefs really appealed to my inner architect, (I really like the work of Wolf Hilbertz who helped develop bio-rock as a way of synthesising calcium carbonate skeletons for reef reconstruction).  Last summer I did a few dives in Corfu which was nice, but didn’t get out to see some of the shipwrecks the island has. I was meant to dive in Cuba last September but unfortunately got stuck in Hurricane Irma so diving was off the cards on that trip. Very sad, I hear it’s very good for sharks and I LOVE SHARKS (yet to dive with one) next on the hit list is Okinawa, Japan, Iceland, and Borneo at some point. Also yet to dive in the UK but heard I’ve missed out on some good spots on the Northumberland Coast involving seal pups at certain times of the year. 

Q: How can folks acquire your artwork and do you create made to order art?

A: I normally take commissions through Instagram, @personally_illustrated, facebook, and predominantly my website www.personallyillustrated.co.uk. On my website people can buy prints of various drawings I’ve done for over the years – or they can see a brief sample of some of my commissioned pieces. Hopefully my website can give them a better idea my style(s) and inspire them to think about art they may want to get if they have any of those difficult to buy for people in their lives (which we all do) and what they may appreciate. Pieces vary hugely, from pet portraits to wedding venues but the weirder the commission requests the better. 

Few odd examples include a couple’s spirit animals doing yoga whilst drinking green tea, a royal portrait of a Rabbit and a frog hugging a blueberry. Love the obscure ones!  So yeah, the majority of my work is made to order and I like to think I can accommodate any request and each job is priced independently as they vary so much in size/style etc. Time scales also vary but I normally get excited by new commissions and can turn them around between a few days and a week max if they’re straight forward. 

Getting the pencil bit right is what takes the time, making sure it’s perfect for the client before things get inked in. I started doing family heraldry work a while ago and those take AGES but look awesome when they’re finished. I also do a lot of theatre poster artwork for my local theatre where I used to do Youth Theatre when I was a kid. I’ve also done some artwork for a show that rhymes with Branger Bings. 

I recently took on a job illustrating a nautical map of the Arctic Circle for a present for someone who had recently done a boat tour around the ice caps and added on the animals they saw along the way. That was cool. I like being a part of the creation process of meaningful things. I’m quite sentimental like that I guess. 

Q: Can you share your creative process with us? 

A: I normally tend to work from photo’s sent over to me on commissioned pieces and then fill in details with my imagination. Photo’s make great reference points to base a piece of.  I normally take a long time to get the proportions and perspective right in pencil before I send it over to the client for approval before I ink everything in. When I’m drawing for myself, I normally tend to draw from photos I’ve taken or things I’ve seen that inspire me. I have almost commit to memory drawing a T-Rex!

 ‘Urban sketching’ or ‘wild sketching’ really make you take in every detail you can about a place and you really remember those moments as especially with cameras we tend to live through a lens a lot of the time. Because I am a diver I also have underwater cameras I take down with me to get snaps of what I encounter. 

Q: How did you come up with the name of the business?

A: Not really sure, It kind of happened. The aim of the business is to create very personal gifts and drawings and they’re illustrated, so wanted a name that kind of summed up what I was aiming to do in one. So personally Illustrated was born because it’s personally illustrated for you, whether that’s to give as a gift or to keep for yourself 

Q: Do you have pets? 

A: Besides fierce gingerbread competitions?  I have two tortoises, Rosie and Eric, a cat named Mooley (who borders on Royalty) and a dog called Jessie. That covers the pets! 

Q: If you could have a superpower – what would it be?

A: If I could have any super-power it would be to breath underwater… cruel we are limited to just a tankful of air. Or I would want to have telekinesis because that would be badass (am I allowed to say that?)

Matt: Pottermore says I’m a Hufflepuff.

Selene: Apparently I am eccentric because Pottermore believes I am a Ravenclaw – I suppose a scuba llama is not far from the truth. 

Thanks Matt for your creative genius!