Matthew Hawkins on the joys of papercraft, puppet-making, and punny animals in The Pitch Questionnaire
Matthew Hawkins is a visual artist and banjo player born in and based out of Kansas. He works in the mediums of papercraft, illustration, and puppet-making. Hawkins’s work often features punny, sassy, anthropomorphic animals, though his work explores human emotions and situations.
His work has been featured in galleries around the globe, and he sells his work online as MatthewMadeArt. You can also visit his website for free downloads of some of his original papertoy designs, and for free tutorials if you’d like to try your hand at papercraft.
Hometown: Shawnee, KS
Current neighborhood: Overland Park, KS
What does Kansas City need more of? Kansas City needs more of us, our best, more of our time. Find a cause and volunteer. Get involved, employ your talents and skills to create a more inclusive, caring and just community.
What is the last thing you laughed at? This made me think about this one time I was playing music on stage with some friends. I was being introduced to the audience and everyone booed when it was revealed I lived in Overland Park. That memory just made me chuckle.
The best advice you ever got: I can’t remember where I heard it or how I picked it up but “Don’t get good at anything you don’t want to do for the rest of your life” is one of my favorites to share. Good advice, although in all honesty, I’m not sure I could have become good at anything else. I have real trouble concentrating on things. So it’s all but impossible for me to improve and practice things that don’t light my passion and interest. I’ve made a career out of things I did when I should have been doing other things.
Who did you want to be when you grew up? Ever since I can remember I wanted to be an artist or cartoonist. I wanted to be a part of making the things that brought me joy. I didn’t know anyone who was in the creative field so I had no idea how to make that happen or even what that path might look like. It really just felt like a pipe dream. I’ve never really had a plan in place. I’ve always just followed my passions and kept creating work. I look back now and I’ve had a career, how did that happen? I’m not sure but I’m extremely grateful to be able to spend most of my time doing fun, challenging, and fulfilling work.
Your prints feature illustrative animal portraits paired with puns that are at once whimsical and crazed—a fine line. Do you begin with a pun or an image in mind? I always start with an idea I want to express, even before the wordplay. Most of these works are notes to myself or people I love. I keep a huge list on my phone of phrases, things I hear or pop into my head. Some are usable and some are terrible and unusable but both are valuable to the creative process and worth keeping. I see the image, as an illustration, to help convey the concept of the phrase. So usually, it starts with the words and then the image. Except for sometimes when I just wake up and want to draw an ostrich. Then I draw an ostrich. It might just sit there, or it might spark a phrase or fit with one from my ever-growing list or it just stays with me, my own secret ostrich.
When and why did you start exploring animals as subjects? I grew up drawing my favorite characters from animated cartoons, comic strips, and books. So, drawing anthropomorphic animals has been something I’ve always found joy in. I like to use animals in my work because it allows me to get to the heart of the emotional experience without getting wrapped up in the physical human experience. Plus animals are fun to draw—the sheer variety of form and color that nature provides is always inspiring.
The variety of mediums you use is impressive. For example, your custom papertoys are meticulously structured and soundly engineered, while also being beautifully delicate. Can you talk a bit about your process of sculpting with paper in contrast to drawing? My focus is always on exploring character, so regardless of the medium or technique, it starts there. I was drawn to papercraft by the magic of a flat piece of paper becoming a 3D object. I really enjoy working in that infuriating space between the technical and the creative. I really don’t consider myself a multi-medium artist really. My medium is the expression of character and I’ll use whatever I need to, to explore that.
Your artist’s statement on your website calls your work “humorous and empathetic.” Can you talk a bit more about the importance of empathy in your work? All of my pieces, but most overtly the animal and words series, are inspired by human interactions. As lighthearted as these images are, they reveal human truths. I find humor to be a great tool for cutting right to the heart of the matter.
@matthewmadeart He’s my latest prototype for my basilisk parade puppet. #artist #art #maker #puppet #k18results #artistsoftiktok #matthewmadeart #puppetbuilding #puppeteer #puppetsoftiktok #mardigras ♬ Go To The Mardi Gras – Professor Longhair
I love sharing my work with people who can relate. I get immense satisfaction when someone finds themselves or someone they know in my work. It’s this shared human experience that is really the heart of my work. Well, at least at its headiest, sometimes I just make things I think are funny. In this world, if it can make someone chuckle even for a moment that seems a worthwhile endeavor.
You’re a musician, too—a banjo player—which seems to inform your visual art. Can you tell us about your book with accompanying CD, Words, Notes, and Drawings of Animals? I love to play music with other people. In the same way my art has helped me connect with others, playing music has helped me make lasting friendships. It seems my deepest friendships are all with people who I share this bond of making music and art. So many of the phrases I use in my work are inspired by these connections and the conversations we have and the music we make. Going back to that list of turns of phrases that I keep on my phone, I tap those not only for the images I make but also for songs I write. Since these are both drawn from the same well I thought it would be nice to make a little project that brought them back under the same cover. So I put together a book of drawings and songs I wrote and recorded with some friends.
It’s inspiring that an artist working in landlocked Kansas has had their work featured all over the world. Can you tell us about the various exhibits you’ve been part of? I feel very fortunate to have been invited to participate in art galleries and exhibitions from Disneyland to Amsterdam to Tokyo. I look back and I’m amazed that I’ve gotten to work with some big companies like Disney, DC, Nickelodeon, Nintendo, Klutz, and Newsweek. It’s always funny to be on a call and be asked what coast I’m on and hear an audible gasp when I say Kansas City. I love living here and I never really thought about how the Midwest informed my work until I started to get out there. I get comments all the time about how my work has a Midwest sensibility, whatever that is. Lately, I’ve had a renewed focus on connecting and cultivating real relationships with people who enjoy my work and I’m actively avoiding the big corporate gatekeepers. So, I’ve been doing a lot of in-person art shows, conventions and fairs where I get to share my work directly with the people who enjoy it.
Where is your favorite place your art has taken you? My favorite place my art has taken me is out of my own head and out into the world. It’s allowed me to connect with other humans in a way that wouldn’t be possible for an introvert like me otherwise.
Where do you see your work going next? I’ve been doing a lot of puppet-building lately. I started building during the pandemic to keep myself occupied. In the same vein as the papercraft before it, puppet-building satisfies my need to make characters and my curiosity for learning new things and experimenting with new mediums. I’ve been super lucky lately to get to do some work recently with What If Puppets here in KC and really enjoyed getting out and learning new things and really collaborating with other creatives. So, I’d like to see my work go toward collaboration, challenge, experiment, growth, and community.