A desire to capture his family’s travel experiences led watercolor artist/graphic designer Matt Valverde to create artwork and graphic designs. Matt embraces mistakes, practices resilience in the face of resistance, and enjoys connecting with community members both at home and in travel – all habits that further cultivate his creative work. We hope Matt’s story will inspire you to create something too!
MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today.
Matt: My wife has been an audiologist in the Air Force for 11 years. In that time we have lived in Oklahoma, Germany, California and now Alabama. I spent much of my youth in northern and southern AZ, but must call Tombstone, AZ home. Tombstone is where my mom, brother Carlos and two sisters Andrea and Arlenna have spent most of our time. Tombstone is also where I met my wife, but we didn’t become a couple until we were in University. In 2007 I graduated from Northern Arizona University and received my Bachelors of Education. With my degree, I taught elementary and middle school classes.
MilspoFAN: How did you become an artist?
Matt: My wife and I were stationed in Landstuhl, Germany in 2015. We were traveling so frequently and I wanted a way to document our travels. I don’t write in a journal so I began drawing in a cheap sketchbook. I began making sketches in new countries we visited and in museums throughout Europe. My sketches were bland and in black in white with either a graphite pencil or ink pen. One day I watched a YouTube video on urban sketching and learned all I could through videos and books. I bought the cheapest watercolor set I could find and began making my sketchbooks look more dynamic. As my skills improved, I invested into quality materials.
MilspoFAN: Describe for us your creative work and the aesthetic of your painting and sketching.
Matt: For painting, my creative work could best be described as sketchy, dynamic, and fun. I work with dark, waterproof ink and all my mistakes are easily noticed. I appreciate that aspect of it. Once my line is down, there is no erasing or going back. Either it forces me to be more thoughtful of line placement or it forces me to not care and just draw. Once my lines are drawn I go in with watercolor washes and try to bring some life to the painting. Sometimes I like to take a photo of the ink drawing and then one of the finished product to see the stark contrast of the process. When making more realistic work, I occasionally like to draw with a ballpoint pen. With the ballpoint pen, I am able to use a crosshatching technique to bring light, shadow and depth into the subject matter. Again, the technique is unforgiving, one mistake or ink blob and my entire drawing is ruined and I will have to begin the entire process again.
MilspoFAN: Tell us about your travel sketchbooks and how that enhanced your trip and memories of Egypt.
Matt: My travel sketchbooks are my records of my memories and of the amazing places I’ve visited. Taking all my painting supplies with me has always enhanced my trips because it is such a great conversation starter. Other travelers and even locals like to approach me and see what I’m up to, it always leads to some small talk and people are always so kind. I can look through an old sketchbook and remember where I sat, who talked to me, and details about that day.
MilspoFAN: How did you get into sticker design? Do you collect stickers too?
Matt: I decided to get an iPad so I could learn about digital drawing and painting. I predominantly used the app Procreate and learned so much those first few months. It was very difficult for me at first because I had never tried anything like that before. It was many hours watching tutorials and making time to practice. Next, I started playing around with typography with the Procreate app and that was when I felt the desire to make a sticker of my own. I created one for an event and it was well received. That’s basically when I knew I had a creative desire to make dynamic designs for stickers, postcards and t-shirts. I also needed a program that was more powerful so I did some research and moved predominantly over to the industry standard, Adobe Illustrator. I do love to collect stickers, as well as, pins, coins, pens, and legos.
MilspoFAN: How do you cultivate your creativity?
Matt: Watching new movies, music videos, traveling, taking photographs, Pinterest, graphic novels, and comics. Creating practice paintings to explore colors and figuring out the best composition gives me information of what to take out of a work piece and what to keep in.
MilspoFAN: How do you meet other artists or plug into the local arts scene when you PCS?
Matt: I just try to introduce myself to new people and see if they have any similar interests as I do. My wife found a local art collective in Alabama called, Southern Art Makers and nudged me to give it a try. I have been selling my art there for over a year now. I wish I knew how to plug into the local art scene, so if anyone has any suggestions please let me know!
MilspoFAN: What’s next for you?
Matt: I am very passionate about graphic design at this time. I enjoy making original art and designs for clients. There are so many creative options with the medium, such as posters, magnets, pins, stickers, packaging, etc. My goal is to start a small business in graphic design and continue to build my portfolio of all the terrific opportunities I have been given. Alabama has been good to me and I have met a lot of terrific people living here. Of course, I want to continue watercolor painting and selling my paintings and drawings as well.
MilspoFAN: What is the most practical piece of advice that you would give to other artists?
Matt: Go out in your new community and meet the locals. Try and find an art collective or gallery and if you are unsure of yourself like I was, try to find the confidence to put yourself out there to see where you artistically fit in. You’ll be met with resistance at times, but you’ll also have to stay resilient if you want to be creative and if it’s what you want.