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Vivid and lively aquatic worlds: the art of Jacek Matysiak

September 10, 2019
Salmon. Image: © Jacek Matysiak

We recently came across the work of illustrator and designer Jacek Matysiak, and were so impressed that we knew we wanted to share it with you. Jacek is based in Dublin, Ireland, and his work provides a unique window onto the natural world. We caught with him recently to find out more.

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Freshwater Blog: Your illustration and design work is focused on images of the natural world — what inspired you to take this direction? And how did you get started?

Jacek Matysiak: I grew up in a town that was surrounded by beautiful lakes, rivers and conifer forests; the proximity to nature and ease of access have eventually given me some ideas to capture the mood of wilderness in a more creative and artistic way. I was initially more drawn to photography but eventually discovered the medium of illustration and started to enjoy it much more, as it gave me broader opportunities.

Arowana. Image: © Jacek Matysiak

FB: There are some iconic freshwater animals in your portfolio — arowana, pike and osprey to name three. What draws you to aquatic environments, and what are some of the challenges and opportunities of depicting them?

JM: I have spent most of my life near freshwater environments, and heading to a fishing weekend trip, kayaking on a lake or spending a day out in a forest is a common activity throughout most of the year. Naturally you would be observing creatures like freshwater fish, majestic birds of prey and mammals that came up close to the water.

The biggest challenge is to avoid creating very generic images in your art. I see a lot of good work that is depicted in a very realistic and nearly scientific way. Even though I want to achieve a certain degree of accuracy, I also strive to give my characters more cartoon-like features and stylize them in a particular way.

Osprey hunting. Image: © Jacek Matysiak

FB: What is your process? Do you undertake fieldwork, or work largely in the studio? What are your tools and materials?

JM: It is a combination of both really. Whenever I can afford it, I do spend a lot of time in the wild and try to capture the look and feel of the environment, observing the landscape, taking various photographs and doing quick sketches but sometimes I inevitably have to rely on other resources.

I work at home or sometimes in a cafe. For sketching I use mainly pencils, color pencils and lately posca pens. For finished work I complete my artwork largely in Illustrator and often do some additional coloring and add textures in Photoshop.

Page spread from ‘Obscure Cycle’, a book about the eel life cycle. Image: © Jacek Matysiak

FB: Tell us about Obscure Cycle — your book about the eel life cycle. What drew you to this fascinating creature, and how did you go about depicting it?

JM: As you say, an eel is such a phenomenal creature that it simply creates a great story on its own. Last year I was very eager to do a small picture book about a fish, and initially had a pike in mind, but eventually went for an eel, as there is so much more to write about it.

The book is constructed in a form of a loop, with the beginning and end in the Sargasso Sea, depicting eel’s treacherous journey. I wanted people to find out more about eels and stop dismissing them as ugly and creepy cadaver eaters. It is also important that people understand how endangered eels are and how serious the problem of glass eel trafficking is.

Frog. Image: © Jacek Matysiak

You write on your website that you put a ‘strong emphasis on vivid and lively colors, highlighting the beauty and diversity of our planet.’ What role can the creative arts play in highlighting (and even helping address) environmental problems?

Art is a brilliant form of expression and I think it can help bridge the gap between the scientific and common perception of natural environment. Through the use of appealing and powerful images we can reach a much broader audience that we normally would and engage people of different ages in understanding the key environmental issues.

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Jacek Matysiak website.

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