Mobile Artist Profile: Matthew Watkins' Fossil-Fueled Works | Cult of Mac

Mobile Artist Profile: Matthew Watkins’ Fossil-Fueled Works


"Rare fossil of robotic fish attacking an iPhone 3G." @Matthew Watkins.


This story first appeared in Cult of Mac Magazine.

Matthew Watkins spends a lot of time fingerpainting, but has also brought his handiwork into the real world on carpets, cars, plexiglass and the more usual prints.

He caught our eye in 2009, when his one-man show went up in an Apple reseller, the first of its kind. His early playful works seemed to dance across the iPad screen or knowingly frame scenes of daily life with his iPhone. Watkins lives in Southern Italy – by way of England and Canada – and has recently been involved in iPad art mash-ups and live fashion shows in Manchester, England and Florence, Italy. He’s also a founding board member of iAMDA (The International Association of Mobile Digital Artists).

We caught up with him to find out what apps have taken over his toolkit, why you should think big when it comes to printing and how he’ll be picking up a shovel for inspiration near Verona, Italy.

Watkins fingerpainting live in Verona, Italy.
Watkins fingerpainting live in Verona, Italy.

Cult of Mac: What have you been up to lately?

Matthew Watkins: 2013 was a year full of travel and fingerpainting, new technology and new collaborations.

In February, I worked on a multi-discipline project with the 154 Collective.  I was invited to participate on their two Manchester dates at the Lowry theatre. It consisted of an exhibition, theatrical production (for which we provided collaborative finger painted animations) and concert with live collaborative projected fingerpainting featuring Fabric Lenny, Benjamin Rabe and myself…

March was my biggest show so far. I was given a one-man exhibition at the Verona Natural Science Museum called “Uncontainable Art.”

The show was coordinated by the University of Verona in concurrence with the yearly science event “Infinitamente” (Infinitely) which showcases a new artist every year…It figured four works about three meters high and about 40 medium 50x70cm pieces.

I kicked it off with two days of workshops. It was great to be in such an old institution in an old city. The show ran through June and counted about 15,000 visitors.

"Fossilized robot swimming in chewing gum." Matthew Watkins.
“Fossilized robot swimming in chewing gum.” Matthew Watkins.

CoM: These robotic fossils are a new thing for you. How did that get started?

MW: I was shown the museums collection of fossils from Bolca. It’s the largest collection in the world. Bolca is a very small area about the size of a fair sized pub. A geological fluke of nature with stacked a motherlode of perfectly preserved fossils with unprecedented biodiversity.

Fish fossils have inspired me since I was a child, but this was over the top.  I worked on my robotic fish fossils for a couple of months. First I started with robotic fish, then I inserted common everyday elements, including a broken iPhone 3g. Imagining a distant fossilized robotic future juxtaposed with our culture. Maybe 50 to 100 million years from now.

Then a funny thing happened. I got a phone call from the head of the fossil collection at the museum.  I went back to Verona and we chatted for two hours about fossils and art. He explained all about the strange origin of the Bolca fossils, and I explained what I was thinking. T

The deeper we got into it the more it seemed like a scientific/artistic collaboration. I had just made stuff up. He told me under what conditions things fossilize and how they might be preserved. For example, a jellyfish is 99% water, but in the right conditions it will fossilize and even retain some of its color.

So I am invited back in November to participate in some digs. I will dig for fossils and inspiration. I hope to be given some samples of Bolca rock from which to make to make my own real, robotic, fossils.

"The White Crow." @Matthew Watkins.
“The White Crow.” @Matthew Watkins.

CoM: What else are you currently working on?

MW: Other than the fossils I am painting imaginary cities. I am fascinated by urban decay and architectural artifacts.

CoM: What new tools or apps are you using?

MW: My favorite painting app is by far Procreate by Savage Interactive. It has a perfect painting engine, amazing brushes, awesome resolution and as of recently video playback. Almost all of my recent work is done on it.
Sketchbook Pro is a great app.  Paper53 is also a fun app.

Brushes 3  and 4 are no longer supported, but the developer Steve Sprang has made his delightful vector app InkPad open source. This should be interesting. It’s like Illustrator for your iPad. I have used it for a number of logo designs.

One of the coolest apps is Tagtool for doing live shows. It allows you to create looping moving art on multiple layers. You can connect multiple iPads in a session for collaborative work. It’s one of the more expensive apps, but well worth the money. Looking forward to getting my hands on the iPad Air. Sounds perfect for tagtooling.

There are also some fun designing apps like Phoster and Over. You can comp quick fun designs from your art. Sometimes very convincing.

Stylii have improved since we last talked. There are a number of options for a pressure sensitive stylus. I use the Pogo connect. But mostly I just use my finger.

CoM: Any advice for artists looking to get their works off the iPad and into the real world – about printing, finding sponsors, opportunities?

MW: When you create virtual art how you output it becomes very important. I would think beyond letter size glycee prints. Experiment. There are no limitations. Paper, plastics, I have had great results with plexiglass. I have been commissioned to do a glass door, I am looking forward to that.

You should get your work out there, online, social media…make connections. Don’t be timid. People will notice you. Participate in competitions. But mostly, to paraphrase the great cyclist Eddy Merckx, “Paint lots.”

CoM: What are some ways that newbies can become a part of the online community?

MW: Don’t be shy and start uploading. All social media channels are open.
It seems a lot of the community has moved from Flickr to Facebook. It’s a big tribe now with lots of great art and lots of people getting their fingers dirty, so to speak, for the first time.

They are a very sharing lot and you can’t go wrong.

"My 1983 Moto Guzzi SP 1000."  @Matthew Watkins. Hipstamatic + PS.
“My 1983 Moto Guzzi SP 1000.” @Matthew Watkins. Hipstamatic + PS.

CoM: What mobile art shows or conferences will you be attending in the next six months or so?

MW: The curators at the museum would like to see me set up a show with my work hang side by side with some original fossils from Bolca. I think the result would be intriguing. I think it would make a great story. I am hoping for international interest in this show as the Museum has given me permission to ship the fossils.

I am participating in a show in Phoenix with some of my original core group of fingerpainting friends. That will be nice.  The show is to start February 2014 and run for a year.

I am also talking about going back to Bosnia and Herzegovina for another show. I had a great reception last time. I would really like to do workshops and some live painting shows this time.

You can check out more of his work on Flickr or his website.  

This story first appeared in Cult of Mac Magazine.