Matt LeBarre is a professional illustrator, native to Royal Oak, Michigan. A graduate of Detroit's prestigious College for Creative Studies, Matt has enjoyed a successful career as a commercial artist for over 20 years, as well as returning to his alma mater to help guide the next generation of illustrators. He is happiest illustrating the things he loves including nature, vintage cars, and Mid-Century Modern designs.
A true "friend of Peninsulas," Matt has lent his talent and creativity to our product line from the very beginning. His unique illustration style can be seen on many of our Michigan and Detroit themed holiday cards.
Most recently, Matt designed a vintage-inspired poster and t-shirt for the Peninsulas Michigan State Parks Collection. Featuring a camper, canoe, and the names of all 103 Michigan state parks, each poster and shirt is hand screen printed with grey and mustard yellow ink.
I met with Matt in his home studio to chat about his work and hear his story:
When did you know you wanted to become an illustrator?
If I go way back, I remember in elementary school, we had to do book reports. I thought I could pick out a book I had interest in and do drawings of these things. That got a good response from teachers and my family. And I loved to draw, so this is what I focused on.
Really, you knew you at such a young age?
Yeah. My earliest memory is looking at the illustrations on my underoos. They sold kids underwear and pajamas with the Incredible Hulk and Superman on them. I understood, ‘Oh an artist drew these. And it’s something I can wear.’
For me, there has never been a backup plan. I was to become an artist. It was all or nothing really.
Did anyone give you any words of advice?
I had a really good art teacher in high school who told me, “You need to go to CCS.” So I took my first class at the College of Creative Studies the summer of my senior year. I really connected with it. That’s also where I met my wife Erika. I am so thankful for her. We understand each other and support one another everyday.
How did you like college?
I quickly learned that it’s hard being an artist! (laughter) I spent my entire four years experimenting - I would do a different style for each assignment, just searching for my own style.
After graduation, I went and worked for Colorforms, which I think was one of the coolest art studios in Detroit at that time. I worked there for seven years. Then in ‘97, I went into business for myself and have been freelancing ever since.
What is your preferred medium?
For me, it all still starts traditionally with sketching. I use gouache paint, pastels, acrylic, and ink. Over the years, I’ve started doing more and more vector work in Adobe Illustrator, which is what I enjoy the most. That’s what really gives me joy - sitting in front of a screen, clicking away, oddly enough.
What’s something that you can’t do without as you work?
I recently got on this coffee kick, I definitely need to have a mug of it at my desk!
Also, got to have music on! Sherri Jameson actually influenced a lot of my music tastes. It depends on my mood - sometimes I’ll put on ambient trip hop or funk. A lot of times it’s all the 80s stuff I grew up with - Depeche Mode, The Cure, Bauhaus…
You just get in the zone?
Are you an early riser or a night owl?
Oh, I’m in my studio before 9:00 in the morning every day. I’ve never been tempted to lay in bed just because I can. I want to be in my studio. I always want to be creating something.
Thanks for giving us a little peek behind the curtain, Matt. We can't wait to see what you come up with next.