Red Lemon Club Interviews Illustrator Dan Matutina

I first came across Philippines-based illustrator and designer Dan Matutina’s distinct work many years ago. His hard-edged, original and absorbing creations drew me in, and I featured his earlier stuff on my other site Ape on the Moon.

Since then, I’ve worked with Dan on several of my own projects, made good friends, and even chatted over coffee and Char Siu pork with him in Hong Kong.

I’m always surprised at how Dan continually strives at pushing the boundaries of his own creativity, whilst maintaining an infectiously positive attitude and a feel in his work that is distinctly his. In the first of this Red Lemon Club Premium Interviews series, which looks closely at craft, creativity and execution, we asked Dan some questions…

What was your training?

“I went to a Fine Arts university with a major in Visual Communication. We had a variety of training with materials, illustration, painting, graphic design photography and film. Most of us were jacks-of-all trades and we sort of specialized when we were in our senior year.

Apart from illustration, I was pretty much into film back then. I had my internship at a film institute where most of the Philippines’ independent film makers came from. At that time, film (even shorts) were expensive to produce so I dabbled in graphic design and illustration.

After college, I worked as an art director for an advertising agency for 3 years. I still involve myself in film projects when I can.”

How long have you been honing your skills

“Learning never stops, especially if you’re in the creative field. I think I have a lot to learn to push my craft further.”

Your illustration style is very unique. What is the most important thing to keep in mind when developing your personal style?

“I think it’s important to know what you like. From the time I was in school until today, I see a lot of work from Filipino artists; graphic designers from the 40s and 50s; artists in the 80s and 90s; up to my contemporaries, that I really like.

These are the things that can help you develop your personal style. Discipline is part of it too. If you develop a style, it can constrain you a bit, because you have to work with that style for every new project that you get. This is where the desire to push and evolve comes in.”

If you were on a ship that sank, and you landed on a desert island, what one thing could you not be without?

“Pencil and paper. I think I’d die if I couldn’t write things down or draw things I see. haha.”

What is the main thing that keeps you motivated?

“The excitement of making new work.

I’ve always been a workaholic. I get impatient when I’m not doing anything. I do illustrations, sculpt things, draw, paint, take photos, and write.

I do a lot of things just so I can make new work. It sounds like a curse, but I actually quite like it! I do take long breaks as well, I love travelling and talking to people.”

What proportion of your time is spent on your own projects, over hired ones?

“It’s about 30:70. My client work is a mix between illustration and design. As much as I love illustration, I also find joy in physically putting things together.

I do spend a lot of time doing personal works as well. I find it important to make personal stuff when you’re creative.

It’s the perfect time to try new things without the boundaries of a client or creative brief.”

Learning never stops

You recently featured some of your work in an exhibition: ‘Into Space’. How did you get hooked up for this?

“Pablo Gallery asked me to exhibit some of my works in their gallery a year ago. At first I was a bit nervous
because I’ve never done a solo show.

This was a first for me. I thought I’d try something new; things that I haven’t done yet. The works I made share some similarities with my current work but were executed in a different way. I made lamps, installations and prints. It was quite liberating to be honest.”

What changes do you think the illustration industry might see over the next decade?

“I think illustration in its current form will still remain. Illustration has been in existence for decades and it will continue to be a powerful medium for communication. What’s going to change is the medium in which it will appear.”

What do you think is the main thing stopping other people becoming more successful in their creative field?

“Everyone can be successful. I think what sets successful creatives apart from others is hard work. It’s kind of like Naruto (the manga character). He wasn’t a genius so he had to work hard to become a really good ninja!

Apart from hard work, it’s the ability to learn from mistakes and failures.”

If you could have one super-power, what would it be?

“I’d love to be able to teleport just so that I can go to different places, meet new friends, have a coffee and attend exhibits.”

From other interviews, it is clear that you like to start the day early. How do you discipline yourself to enable you to do this?

“Yes, I’m a morning person. I find it a joy to work quietly in the morning with freshly brewed coffee at my side. I think my body-clock has been programmed this way already. Even if I sleep late at night I still wake up at around 6 to 7 in the morning.”

I’m a morning person

What is your dream project or goal, and what are you doing to get there?

“My dream project has always been to work with the government. It’s one of the venues where in your work can reach a lot of people and make a difference.”

“It’s especially rare here in the Philippines to make good work for the government. It’s the reason why a lot of studios are doing their own projects to help them.”


  1. Dan’s work has always amazed me with its consistency. And his advocacy inspires me even more. Thanks for the interview!

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