Hi. I’m Matt, an independent graphic designer and printmaker in Lexington, Kentucky. Grids and typefaces are understandably boring for most people, but I nerd out over those kinds of things. I love creating logos and more for businesses, non-profits, and more in a range of styles.
When I’m not pushing pixels, I enjoy getting my hands dirty with linocut printmaking. You can often see my work around Lexington, and you can purchase prints here.
Where to Find Matt:
Links We Talked About:
Fun Quotes from Podcast:
I just have to keep telling myself, there’s no use comparing yourself to someone else. There’s always someone better but who cares? If you love it, just do it.
“It’s hard. Don’t expect to just start something and then magically, you’re a success at it.”
You’ve got to work. You’ve got to learn. You have to be able to take criticism, maybe if you’re doing something entrepreneurial. You’re working for a client. They’re not going to like everything you hand them. You’re going to have to do it over.
Transcript of Podcast:
The Sandi Savage Show
Sandi: Well hey everybody. How are you doing? Sandi Savage here and I am here with Matt Reno. He’s a fantastic artist and all-over, like, does lots of different things. I want you to get to know him too. We’re going to jump right in. Are you ready?
Matt: I’m ready. Let’s do it.
Sandi: All right, awesome. Tell me about yourself. Where are you located? What are you doing? Give us the low-down.
Matt: I live right here in Lexington. I originally grew up in Massachusetts, lived in Vermont for a while. Vermont’s awesome in the summer. I don’t visit in the winter. Yeah, a little too cold. I moved down to a warmer climate in 2000. My wife is from Lexington. We’ve been living here since and it’s great. This is a really cool city. So much fun stuff to do. When I was in Vermont, I was working as a radio DJ. I was on a classic rock station. That was so much fun. Free concert tickets, got to meet the Beastie Boys, all that stuff. When we moved, it was a little harder to get a radio job. Just depending on a different market so I had to start looking for something else, maybe something a little more grown-up. I eventually ended up working in marketing and now I have a full-time job at the Kentucky Blood Center in that marketing department which is great. Encouraging people to donate blood, save lives, it’s great. To get that creative outlet, again, I’ve got a couple things that I do on the side. I taught myself graphic design and more recently, printmaking. I’m a member of Bluegrass Printmakers. That’s where I found out about printmaking. My wife found a class online. They had an Introduction to Linocut. I didn’t even know what that was, so I took a class and learned, “Oh you put a little drawing or whatever on this block of linoleum” and then you just chip it away with this knife-like thing. I did it and was like, “Wow. This is really fun. I can make some cool stuff.” I really got into that and then I decided, after taking the class, I wanted to join so now I’m in Bluegrass Printmakers and it’s awesome.
Sandi: Can you explain for people who don’t know, exactly what that process is like? What is the beginning process and what is the end product that you have when you’re doing Linocut?
Matt: For me, it always starts with drawing something. And that will be just like, in a sketch or whatever. You need to transfer the drawing on to the block of linoleum. Now you can draw directly on to it, but if you’re going to do letters, words, something like that, it’s going to show it backwards. You’ve got to get it off of the block backwards so what I do is trace it with tracing paper. And then you go over it with ink and then you take a pencil again and your scribble over the whole thing. Just cover it in pencil and then you turn it over, and you press that on to the linoleum. Then you trace it again but you’re tracing the back of it and you’re pressing the pencil on to the linoleum. It’s a really weird process. You end up drawing something three times before you ever start carving. It’s totally worth it. It’s a lot better than putting backwards letters on directly. When you’re done with that, you get a cutter. I should have brought one with me so people could see. Just look it up. Type in speedball linoleum cutter. It’s this little thing, it’s got a round end so you can hold it easily and these removable blades on it that are kind of pointed like a V. You use it to slowly chip away pieces of linoleum.
Sandi: Does it gouge it out?
Matt: It does. Very slowly gouges it and they’re small ones, if you want some really fine details or if you need to pull out a huge chunk of it, you use a larger knife. When that is all done, you’re going to roll ink on top of it. The ink is going on whatever is left over so it’s basically like you’re carving away the negative space. That’s going to be the paper. You put the ink on it and then you put it on the paper. If you have a press, you can either roll it through the press. I have one at home, just crank it through. It makes you feel like old-timey like newspaper type of thing. Or you can take a spoon or some other tools and just roll it on top until you’ve got the whole thing covered. You peel it off and you’ve got a print.
Sandi: Like a beautiful print.
Matt: You’ve got a beautiful print and you can make multiples of them. That’s a really cool thing. You can make as many versions as you want. Later, you can wash it, you can change the colors. There are ways to put multiple colors on them, like there’s a process called reduction liner cut where you carve away some of it and then you put the color on. You print it a bunch of times and then you carve away the rest to get those details. Color another color and get the same pieces of paper. You put those on top. You’ve got to make sure you’re really lining up to get that registration.
Sandi: I can see myself trying to do that, everything would be wonky. For sure.
Matt: It is not easy. I’ve only done a reduction cut where it’s like, just two stages. I’ve seen people do four or five stages. These really detailed things with all kinds of colors. It’s amazing.
Sandi: It makes you want to do it. It makes you want to try it. I’m a generalist. I like to learn the in general. I like to learn. I’m going, “Hmmm. I may have to have you teach.”
Matt: It’s turns out at Bluegrass Printmakers we have classes. I’m working on a Linocut workshop right now. I think it’s going to be in July.
Sandi: There you go.
Matt: I’ll send you an invite.
Sandi: That’s great. Send me an invite, I’ll come and learn it.
Matt: You’ll love it. It’s a fun process.
Sandi: You know what’s really funny to me? I was a video DJ in Mexico City in 2000 to 2002. We both have that radio background. It was so fun. We actually webcasted and everything back then.
Matt: Really? Like a VJ, like Mtv?
Sandi: I was an English-speaking DJ on the radio. 98.5 in Mexico City. It was so fun. We’ve been on the radio. I want to ask you something. You are doing all this right now. When you were a kid, is this what you thought you’d do? How did you get to this point? Were you always creative? Were you always working on things in different kinds of ways being creative? Did you always have that streak in you?
Matt: Yeah, I did. I didn’t even know what printmaking or graphic design was back then. When I was a kid, I loved to draw. I would always draw, and I had some other friends who did too. We would make comic books together. We’d come up with these crazy characters and put them together in little books. I’d make cartoons and stuff. Just really silly stuff and sometimes I would try to do really detailed drawings. I took some art classes in high school and it was a lot of fun. For some reason, I never really made the connection like, “Hey, I could keep doing this for the rest of life. I could make a career out of it.” I didn’t pursue that. I went to college for journalism.
Sandi: Okay. There you go.
Matt: I figured out the newspaper industry is going to be thriving forever.
Sandi: Thriving. Forever.
Matt: I did that, it was fine. It turned out I didn’t have the passion for it. Once I started doing it, it wasn’t really my thing, so I went in some other directions. I went into radio. That was a lot of fun so it’s kind of like getting my creative juices flowing that way. And then it was more in my thirties when I tried out graphic design. I had to do it for work. I had to do the basics. They were like, “Graphic design is not a huge part of your job. Do you think you can learn enough just to get by?” I was like, “Yeah, sure.” I did that and I was like, “Oh, this is really fun.” I started doing more and more. Then I started doing it on the side, making logos for other businesses. Loved it. There is a connection to my childhood when I loved to draw.
Sandi: Exactly. Exactly. Did you run into huge obstacles that you’re going, “Oh my gosh, maybe I do need to change direction here”? How did handle some of those obstacles that you ran into and what were they?
Matt: You mean in design?
Sandi: In design, creativity.
Matt: One of the hardest things was learning the stuff by myself. Fortunately, in this day and age there’s no lack of resources. It can be hard to know what the right resources are though. Eventually, I found some really good ones and then you have to put that into practice. It’s kind of a one-way thing. You watch a video and someone’s telling you how to do it. You do it. Okay, I think this is right. I didn’t have the advantage of having someone, a teacher, who could real-time look at my work and be like, “You need to trim these letters back” or “This is a little off right here.” Just figuring that out on my own and beginning. I’ve had some terrible designs. I look back on it and cringe, but I guess that’s a good sign.
Sandi: Everybody does that. They go, “What was I thinking. Oh my God.”
Matt: It shows growth. You want to look back and cringe but just figuring out how to do this stuff. That was the biggest obstacle. I enjoyed it so much that I just kept doing it. I enjoyed the learning and I still do. I still have a lot to learn but I enjoy that mindset of I’m always learning. There’s always something else.
Sandi: It’s so important to tap into that always of just going, “There is so much to learn.” Just keep at it, keep at it. Was there a mental obstacle in that too or have you always been somebody that’s gone, “I’m going to try it. I’m going to go for it. I’m going to take that risk. I’m going to learn something new”?
Matt: I have to push myself too because there’s always that little voice in your head saying, “Eh, this is too hard. You don’t need to do this, find something easier. This isn’t that good. You aren’t going to be at this other person’s level.” I just have to keep telling myself, there’s no use comparing yourself to someone else. There’s always someone better but who cares? If you love it, just do it. You don’t have to be the best. Just reminding myself that I can improve. I was joking about ‘look back and cringe,’ but that’s a good thing because it reminds you. You were at this level, now you’re at this level, and next year you’ll be at a different level if you keep working.
Sandi: That sounds like great advice to give to somebody. What you say to somebody that is starting out, like on their entrepreneurial journey or creative journey? What would you tell them as advice starting out?
Matt: I’d tell them, “It’s hard. Don’t expect to just start something and then magically, you’re a success at it.”
Matt: You’ve got to work. You’ve got to learn. You have to be able to take criticism, maybe if you’re doing something entrepreneurial. You’re working for a client. They’re not going to like everything you hand them. You’re going to have to do it over.
Sandi: You can’t have that personal feeling attached to it too much.
Matt: Exactly. Don’t take it personally because they’re trying to do their own thing. They’re trying to help their own business. They can’t take work that they don’t think is great. You’ve got five minutes to be like, “Okay, I’m really upset. I can’t believe you said that.” But then you just have to say, “Alright, that’s enough. I’m just going to do it. I’ll improve, I’ll take the feedback.” Those things are tough but that’s just part of it and you just have to push through it. It will be alright.
Sandi: Just keep going. Just keep going. Are there any podcasts or books that you read that just keep you inspired and on it and motivated to keep going forward?
Matt: Let’s see, in my book collection I have a lot of design books that keep me motivated. Aaron Draplin, John Contino has a book come out late last year. A great body of work and also great stories behind them. People like that really keep me motivated but I try to read about all different kinds of things, not just design. I’m reading a really cool book right now called Sidewalk by Mitchell Duneier. I think that’s how you pronounce it. It was written in the late ‘90’s and it is ethnography about these street vendors. These guys are homeless guys who dig through the trash and get books and magazines and they put them on tables, and they sell them on the streets. That’s how they make their living and it’s fascinating. He works with them for a couple of years, just to learn about them. It’s great. I try to read anything that interests me. For podcasts, my go to is Adventures in Design. It’s a daily show and it’s a subscription service thing. The first half is free, and you can unlock the second half if you subscribe. I do that and it’s really fun. It’s all about creativity, interviewing all kinds of creatives about their successes and struggles. It’s a good show. Like I said, I try to get a variety of other things. Radio Lab is good for that. Freakanomics, 99% Invisible.
Sandi: Everybody, we will have everything that we talked about, we’ll have them linked in the show notes. Any kind of website, we’ll have everything there so that you can find it yourself so don’t worry about it. We’ll have that linked for you. Where can people find you?
Matt: My personal website is mattreno.com. Nice and simple.
Sandi: Easy breezy.
Matt: For a while, it was not available. There was a musician in California named Matt Reno. Dang. So, I was using something else for a while and then I guess he gave up or something and that domain was free. I was like, “I’m taking it, taking it before some other jerk named Matt Reno takes it.”
Sandi: I did the same thing. I had a notification as soon as that website, I went. Who’s using Sandra Savage? I mean, I use Sandi Savage but who’s using that? And they, I guess, gave up on the website. I got a notification and I went, “Bought.” That is mine, that is mine.
Matt: I have never let mine go.
Sandi: Never letting it go. They can find you on Matt Reno. What about your Instagram?
Matt:@Mattrenoart That’s Instagram and Facebook and Dribble. If you want to learn about Bluegrass Printmakers, we’re at BGPrintmakers.org
Sandi: We’ll have all that linked.
Matt: Awesome. Thank you.
Sandi: Because you do quite a few things: you’re at the printmakers, you’ve got your business, your art, your work that you’re doing. In the middle of that, because that’s a lot. Your schedule is full. I don’t like to say, “Busy.” I like to say, “We have a full schedule.” What does self-care look like for you in the middle of that? How are you taking care of yourself in the middle of it, to make sure that you are being able to still create and still have brain power left to be artistic?
Matt: You kind of recognize it’s okay to take a break.
Sandi: It is okay.
Matt: I’m not into the whole hustle and grinding 24/7 mindset. I’ll sleep when I’m dead. You do that you’re going to be dead pretty soon. You do have to prioritize. Sleep and exercise and eat, just taking care of yourself. Sometimes that means I’m exhausted. I have no brain power tonight. I’m going to sit on the couch, watch tv for an hour, and go to bed. That’s okay because it’s recharging you for the next time when you are ready for creativity. Otherwise, you’re just in this constant state of being tired and stressed out. The work is still going to be there tomorrow. There’s always going to be something else to do so don’t worry about getting it all done today.
Sandi: Exactly. You have to take that time. It cannot be grind all the time. I’m right there with you. That happens a lot in the world right now in our society. People are go go go go. What do you think that the world needs right now? What do you think we need more of in this world?
Matt: I think one of the main things we need is understanding, trying to figure out where other people are coming from because there is so much tension these days. I think a lot of it is we just don’t take the time to say, “Why does this person act this way or think this way?” I’m not saying you always have to agree with other people, but just say, “All right, I see where they’re coming from.” Simple example: someone cuts you off in traffic. All right, yeah, nine times out of ten that person is probably a jerk. But maybe this is the one time when his wife’s about to give birth and he’s rushing to the hospital. Try to consider that there are reasons for everything.
Sandi: We need to listen to each other more. There is so much tension and I think it’s our decisions, singular people, every day, to be kinder and listen and be nicer to each other.
Matt: Don’t fight on Facebook.
Sandi: It’s like, “Quit it.”
Matt: You see a fight happen on Facebook, just stay out of it.
Sandi: Stay out of it, block, delete. Get out of the fight.
Matt: Just live your own life, like you said. Be more kind.
Sandi: What is a question that you wish someone would ask you and what’s the answer to that?
Matt: When it comes to creative things, whether printmaking or whatever, I’d love people to say, “You think I could do something like that?” A lot of times, people look at my art or someone else’s art, and they’ll say, “Okay, that’s great.” They give the answer right away of “I can’t do that.” I wish they would ask the question, “Do you think I could do that?” Because the answer will always be yes. A lot of people will say, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.”
Sandi: Oh my gosh, I hear that all the time.
Matt: I don’t remember who said this, I’m stealing this from someone else. I can’t remember who I’m quoting but it’s a great answer. Someone says, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body” just say, “That’s because creativity’s not a bone. It’s a muscle and you have to use it or else it gets weak.” That’s what I want to tell people, like, “Yeah, you can do this.” Printmaking, I’ve been doing for example. I only started that a little over two years ago, just took a class. I had absolutely no clue how to do that. Took a class, had a good teacher, and I started practicing it more. Through Bluegrass Printmakers, I was able to get into galleries and sales. People are buying things that I’m making. I’m like, “Wow, I can’t believe it.” Three years ago, I never would have imagined that I’d be at the Lexington Makers Market and people come up to my booth and like, “How much for that?” I was like, “Wow.” If you want to do something creative, you can do it. Anybody can. We all have that capacity you just have to do it. It may not be great when you start but that’s okay.
Sandi: It’s never great when you start. If you haven’t worked out for two years, that first day back in the gym, you’re not ripped. You are not going to start on day one being buff. It’s not going to be there. It’s a muscle, that is exactly true. Last question. Are you ready?
Matt: I don’t know, am I?
Sandi: Let’s see if you are. What is bringing you joy right now? It could be serious. It could be not. It could be I have a great bed.
Matt: There’s a lot of joy from a good night’s sleep.
Sandi: Or it could be something super deep. It doesn’t have to be either/or. What is bringing you joy right now?
Matt: I mean, really, this is what’s bringing me joy all the time: my family. I’ve got a great family especially my wife and son. The older he gets, the more fun we have, the more we goof around.
Sandi: How old is he?
Matt: He’s eight.
Sandi: He’s eight. Great age.
Matt: He’s hilarious so we’re just joking around all the time. It’s really cool watching him grow. I get a lot of joy from them and sometimes when I’m doing the art, struggling with a logo design or something, sometimes I just have to remind myself, “You know what? I can put this away for a while and just have fun with the family. This will be here later and it’s okay. This isn’t the most important thing. The family is the most important thing.”
Sandi: That’s so sweet. So good. Your family, I love it. Thank you so much. Thanks for coming and hanging out and doing our podcast.
Matt: This was fun. This was great. Great place you have here.
Sandi: Thank you so much. Come out any time. All right, y’all, I am signing off for today. Thanks for listening and we’ll be back at you soon. Bye.