MAX100: The interview.
Everyday I have a new idea that I think I have to see it come to life. But often times something is in the way of letting that happen. Whether it be time, chores or pure laziness there is always an obstacle that keeps some ideas from happening so I tuck the thought away on a post-it or in my sketchbook to store for later when the moment is right.
Over the past few months I have been enamored with the collection of illustrations that Matt Stevens created for his book MAX100. What started out as an ambitious thought of doing an illustration a day of his favorite sneaker of all-time, the Nike Air Max 1, turned into a journey of finding unique and original ways of demonstrating what a shoe is and can be. The final outcome of the pieces of art is top notch, but what is most inspiring to me is how different they all appear from one another. Often times when an artist creates a series or collection of pieces they tend to all blend together but Matt did an outstanding job of making each piece have its own personalities.
The best part of this book is that it is actually a book. Everybody has ideas; executing the idea is the real challenge. Matt was kind enough to answer many questions of mine about the form, function and philosophy of his designs.
Take time and read it,
How many years have you been designing?
I have around 18 years of real world experience as a designer. I think I was doing things before that at a young age, but had no idea what to call it at the time. I used to spend hours drawing up the promo poster before the big paper football game with a neighbor kid. I was probably 8 years old. I was always the Cowboys and the posters usually involved crushing the Steelers. Most of the time we’d run out of time to play the game.
What is your career history?
Had a few short term jobs right out of school. A small shop that did a bit of everything, even did some 3D animation for TV and some editing along with print design. Worked at a small ad agency. Most of my career has been spent in a multi-disciplinary brand design firm, first as a senior designer and now as a creative director.
What motivated you to create this project?
I think it was mostly the desire to do something that was completely my own. Without restraint and that allowed me to just have some creative play. To me that’s what’s cool about it, I didn’t have a big plan to start out with, the plan kind of revealed itself along the way.
What was your creative process for the project? How much was created by hand versus digital?
I just about always start with a sketch. I really don’t work my sketches a lot. Once I feel like I have enough to have the idea in front of me and have the proportions pretty right, I dive in on the computer. Most of these were over 90% digital.
How much time did you average on each piece?
I’ve thought about that and it’s hard to say. Some went really quickly, something like the connect the dots shoe or the cheater shoe where I drew it in the palm of my hand. Some took a very long time. I went into this thinking I’d spend an hour on each as a rule, but that was a joke and quickly forgotten. If I had to come up with an average, I’d say 4-6 hours for each, but that’s just a stab.
What design piece was the most successful in your eyes or gave you the most satisfaction?
One that I really like and that a lot of other people seem to like (based on how many people ordered it as a print) is the Comic shoe “tempted.” I grew up reading comics and I loved the corny ads in the back of the comic book as much as the comics themselves. Sea Monkeys, X-Ray specs and all that stuff. I loved trying to capture that style and the ridiculousness of it.
The other two that I really like are the airline safety card one and the steak shoe. I really had to keep coming back to those to get the style right and I think the style is accurate and they really create a whole new idea. I love it when things that seem to have no connection actually have something new to say because of the way you combine them.
What design piece was the most challenging?
Cutting a swoosh out of butter and sticking it on a pancake was not easy. Then add the pressure of my wife and kids coming onto the scene while I do this and wondering if I’d lost my mind. That one was tough. I never liked my first version and the final version is actually the swoosh from the original, a new shot of the pancake shoe (manipulated in Photoshop) and the skillet and stovetop, all on 3 separate layers.
Did the book feature every piece you created or are there some that were left out? If there were some left out will we ever see them?
There are definitely some rejects. Some that I took to a near complete stage and just wasn’t happy with them, and many many half-baked concept sketches. Probably 50 unused ideas and sketches. I’ve often thought about putting some process stuff up on my work blog or show some ideas that didn’t make it, but I wrestle with that. How much behind the scenes stuff do people like to see vs. just having the tight finished product out there, and leave some mystery to it. Maybe your readers can weigh in and let me know.
To me the most unique part was how original every piece looked; it didn’t feel like I was viewing the same illustration over and over again. How challenging was it to maintain the different graphic/aesthetic styles?
For me that was one of the most fun aspects of the project. It’s like trying on different costumes. What do I want to be today? What style communicates this idea the best? Sometimes the stylistic approach was obvious, based on the concept, other times it was a struggle.
How did the project evolve from beginning to end?
It was completely “for fun” and kind of caught fire on the web. I stopped at 50 and was pretty burned out, but several months passed and I kept getting this feeling like there was more to do with it. Like I hadn’t exhausted all the possibilities. That’s when the idea to do it as a Kickstarter project and it was game on.
Did you hit any roadblocks?
The biggest roadblock by far was once the project launched on Kickstarter. My idea was to set the project up in a way that people were backing while I was finishing the book. Kind of a “go team” kind of thing. I had about 60 done so people could see what it was all about, and I’d finish the final 40 while the project ran. I did so much work prepping the project to launch that once it launched I realized I wasn’t ready to do 40 more entries. It took a few weeks of procrastination and sketching to get back in the groove. I think designers need that pressure anyway, it just took a while for me to feel it again.
What was the total time of the project?
Wow. Hard to say. I’m terrible at math. Let’s just say the first 50 happened over maybe 6-8 months. Took a 2-4 month break. Started doing new ones again, then 3-4 months to prep my kickstarter project. That ran for 2 months and then it took 2-3 months for the book to be produced and first shipments to start going out.
What did you learn from the project?
Shipping is a pain.
People love passion. I get these amazing comments and emails from people that have backed the project or bought a book and they are just so generous with their support. I get them sometime and will pick up the book and think “are they talking about THIS?” I think they respond to the passion and dedication it took to do it. The idea of taking an idea, dedicating yourself to it and following through.
Sneakerheads have passion. I have always considered myself a sneaker guy, but I’ve been exposed to a new world of people who have so much love for the culture. It’s been cool.
Kickstarter in general is a unique way to get something accomplished, do you care to share any thoughts on the overall process of that?
I’m sold on KS as a medium. It allows things to see the light of day that otherwise would not have. Your only investment is your time. You’re not going to go broke seeing if people care about or would buy your idea. You will know, and it didn’t cost you anything but your own effort. The community aspect of it was very surprising as well. People are as invested in you and your idea as they are in the tangible thing.
It’s been interesting to even feel the different vibe between the people that backed the kickstarter project vs. those that just purchased from my site. Two really different audiences, because the people who are just buying it, don’t know the whole story and have that sense of history and partnership.
Is there anything you would change about the project?
There are some things, process and production-wise that I would. I won’t bore you with the details on that, but let’s just say I got a crash course in shipping and fulfillment, getting 600+ books out in a week to over 20 countries.
As far as the finished book, yeah. There are some that I go back to and would refine or change, but that comes with the territory of being an artist. Never satisfied I suppose.
What is next for you?
Great question. I would love to do a sneaker related project again, but would want it to be the right thing. I don’t want to repeat myself, so I’d need a really new take on something that got me excited.
I have a lot of people asking me to do a book just like this for Dunks. That’s cool, but the idea and inspiration for this came from my love for the Air Max 1 and hearing Tinker‘s inspiration for it. That planted the seed. I was trying to reverse what he did. He was inspired by something else to make the shoe. I wanted to use the shoe as inspiration to let it lead me places. If I found something that got me that inspired, I would go after it.
I think the project has been great exposure and has given me the courage to try more things and take more risks. I’ll keep you posted.
Brett Golliff is a Lead Designer at General Motors and former Designer at New Balance.