Rodney Matthews is one of the world's top fantasy illustrators and graphic designers, who has worked in fantasy, science fiction and fairy tale genre for 30 years.
Rodney Matthews, born in 1945, grew up in the rural south west of England, in the British Isles. His father was very artistic, and his influence helped nurture Rodney's artistic talent. The walls in his living room were adorned with 30cm high copies of Walt Disney characters, drawn in crayon by his father. Matthews’ vision is greatly influenced by these figures, as well as the world of nature. Matthews' interest in nature led him to build up quite a menagerie of squirrels, magpies, snakes, frogs, toads, etc., something he now regrets as the animals were probably less enthusiastic about it than he; but his love of nature continues and shows in his work where he prefers drawing animals to people.
Shortly after graduating from school in 1959, Matthews applied for a place at the West of England College of Art, Bristol and was accepted on the strength of a small portfolio of bird drawings in pencil. The course included the study of graphic design, lettering, still life, nude and costume life and plant study. It was a commercial course designed for those intending to take up advertising.
It was during Matthews' time at art college that he became interested in music from the point of view of the performer. Some friends and he started to practice in earnest with a view to forming a band. The band itself went through many incarnations: 'The Cheetahs', 'The Rhythm Kats', 'Pentworth's People', 'Originn', and finally 'Squidd', with Matthews playing drums, buying the beer and writing most of the lyrics in the later stages. From 1963 until 1974 when they finally disbanded, the group had played many musical styles, but from 1969 onwards it was all original material. The band had played some legendary venues in the UK including the original Liverpool Cavern (made famous by the Beatles) and the Marquee in London's West End, with several TV appearances to their credit. They had also done supporting gigs with the likes of Cream, Eric Clapton's Derek & the Dominoes, Genesis, Yes, Manfred Mann and many others.
In 1974 Matthews terminated his involvement with progressive rock to concentrate on his art.
On leaving art college in 1962 he took a job at Ford's Creative; a well established advertising agency in Bristol, England. At Ford’s Creative Rodney has studied the procedures for visualising, illustration, creative lettering, card construction etc., and he learned about presentation and printing techniques.
In retrospect Matthews is grateful for the disciplines he acquired at the agency, but at the time he felt his real creativity was being stifled. In his lunch hours he worked on private commissions, usually birds or dinosaurs in gouache or acrylic. He also became famous at the agency for his uncomplimentary caricatures of the management and for hiding in the toilet when the supermarket window-bill jobs were being handed out!
Matthews had received some commissions during the late '60s from outside sources while still employed at Ford's, including the Thin Lizzy New Day E.P. cover. He did these jobs in the evenings and it became increasingly clear to him that if he was to pursue a more creative career, he would have to go.
In 1970 Matthews left the advertising world to form an art partnership with Terry Brace, who was an acquaintance from art college days and who had played in the same band (Barnaby Goode) for a while. The partnership was related to a graphics and music agency and the two businesses were given the name Plastic Dog. The name was a joke at first (family dog!) but seemed to eventually became official. Plastic Dog Graphics specialized in design for the music industry. Everything from press ads to button badges to record covers, and what started as a company working mainly for local folk artists on the Village Thing label progressed to encompass internationally known artists via companies like United Artist Records, MCA Records, Sonet Records (Sweden) and Transatlantic Records. Rodney's first full colour LP cover design was for the German band Amon Duul II (Live in London). It was to be the first of many.
During his time at Plastic Dog Graphics, Bristol, Matthews produced some rough colour sketches from J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings' which caught the eye of Peter Ledeboer, boss of very successful international poster publishers 'Big O'. Ledeboer commissioned four works from Matthews which were subsequently published as posters. Selling very well and lifting Matthews from obscurity at a stroke. The subjects were: 'The Last Armada', 'In Search of Forever', 'Warriors from the Sky' and 'Twelve Tower at Dawn'.
It was about this time (1974) that Matthews met the popular British sci-fi author Michael Moorcock who immediately took to Matthews' work and requested of all his publishers that they commission him on a regular basis. This resulted in a long standing working relationship which produced some classic work: many notable paperback and hardback covers, twelve poster designs used also as a calendar for 1978, an illustrated book 'Stormbringer' for Archival Press USA, and an illustrated book 'Elric at the End of Time' (Paper Tiger) which Moorcock wrote specifically for Matthews to illustrate and which included some Matthews ideas.
Plastic Dog Graphics later became Skyline Studios for a while with a change of premises but was eventually dissolved in 1976, allowing Matthews to concentrate on the increasing demand for posters from Big O and record cover designs. His first record commission under this new completely freelance arrangement was for the Nazareth album 'No Mean City' for Mountain Records. This was followed by a cover for Bo Hansson's record The Lord of the Rings, one which Rodney thoroughly enjoyed doing.
In 1977 Matthews met Karin Drescher, also a painter and illustrator. They were married not long after and their son Yendor was born in 1980. This was a tumultuous year for Matthews in that also his father died and he became a committed Christian. Soon after in 1983 we start to see Christian imagery appearing in his work with the poster design 'Be Watchful'.
1985 saw the opening of a three week one man show of Matthews originals at the Langton Gallery near Kings Road, London. This year also saw the Matthews family exodus to North Wales, and an area of great natural beauty just inside Snowdonia National Park. Some of his more tranquil pictures were painted here ('Stronghold', 'Rivendell' and 'The Walled Kingdom') reflecting something of the local landscape, more rugged and mountainous than his native Somerset.
The first designs for the Lavender Castle children's TV project were done in 1986 after Matthews made the acquaintance of Gerry Anderson at Bray Studios the previous year. Matthews and Anderson seemed to hit it off straight away and soon formulated plans for a stop-motion animation series. It was however another ten frustrating years before finance was found to make the show, by which time Matthews was almost at the point of giving up! At last in 1996 he commenced pre-production design and added several new characters to the cast. The series was finished by 1998 (costing about £2.5 million) and screened the following year on ITV.
Sometime in 1994 the British computer game development company Traveller's Tales asked Rodney to design them a logo. At the time of delivering the artwork to their premises he was introduced to a senior producer from the Liverpool based games publisher Psygnosis, who asked if he would be interested in designing a game for them. Matthews considered it over a pint in a nearby pub and agreed. The resulting game was 'Shadow Master', a shoot-em-up for the Sony PlayStation and PC CD-ROM. Rodney has also done conceptual design drawings for 989 Studios, a developer based in San Diego, California.
In 2010 Rodney designed the illustrations for Marco Palmer's book The Fantastic Intergalatic Adventures of Stanley and Livingston, a fantasy novel aimed for young teenagers, in a world where plumbing is the centre of society. Rodney and Marco have been friends for a number of years. Marco Palmer is most famous for his comedy duo act with Rodd Christensen, who starred in the children's TV programme "Balamory".
Currently Rodney Matthews has five or six projects being developed for presentation to prospective customers in his spare time, two of which are computer games and three are children's animation shows for TV series or features. He lives in Wales with his family.