She oozes creativity out of her pores. Everything she creates is characteristically cool and playful. Atlanta native Mattiel Brown is an artist, designer, illustrator, singer, photographer and videographer, among other things. Her mother, a renaissance woman herself, was an early creative influence.
From learning how to paint with watercolors as a toddler to designing for an Atlanta tech company heralded for their trailblazing design and UX, Brown is making her mark. You can find her in the 2016 Illustration Issue of Communication Arts Magazine, or on a stage in Atlanta crooning mysterious melodies with retro vibes.
CommonCreativ recently spoke with Brown about some of her favorite artists in Atlanta, her newest design endeavor, and more.
CommonCreativ: When did you first get into design?
Mattiel Brown: During her career, my mother was a watercolorist, ceramicist, photographer, set designer for films, horseback rider, and overall just a very hungry creative person. My earliest creative memories are of helping her make props in our barn (usually for a commercial or a weird, low-budget film) and having her teach me to paint with watercolors when I was a toddler. She exposed me to a ton of mediums and encouraged my earliest creative impulses, so I’d say she played a huge role in my career choice. After graduating from high school, I couldn’t imagine myself in a field that wasn’t creative. I had to be making things — I felt like that’s what I was best at. And at this point, I’ve learned that I can produce work in several different mediums and overlap them.
CC: How have you developed your style as a designer?
MB: As I develop a style over time, I think it’s really challenging (but also really important) to make work that isn’t informed by too much outside noise. Authentic style should be unique to one person, so I always try to practice inner reflection so that I’m not distracted by what everyone else is doing. I want to make things that haven’t been made before — if I ever see my portfolio starting to look similar to someone else’s or if I find myself following trends too much, I try to disengage from that.
CC: You interned and now work at MailChimp, a company known for its great design. Tell us about your experience working there.
MB: In 2012, I was taking some classes at Oglethorpe University, and I didn’t really know if I was ready for the competitive design industry. I knew my strengths, but I was nervous from constantly hearing how difficult and competitive the field is, that I need a college degree to succeed and all that scary mumbo-jumbo.
I was able to scrape away some value from college, but I’ve learned a lot more from working with my team at MailChimp, which is why I’ve put school on hold for now. Every day of the week I’m surrounded by talented folks, and my portfolio is stacking up nicely. Let’s just say I’m earning my BA at MailChimp.
CC: You’ve recently started designing furniture under the brand moniker Trip Fund, slated to launch this fall. Where did the idea come from?
MB: Oh yeah! I found an old, dry slab of cedar in my parent’s barn and decided to make a coffee table for myself. I enjoyed the woodworking process, so my partner Jason Kofke and I said, “Let’s make more!” Now, after six months of work, we have a soft launch coming up to showcase our experimental housewares brand, Trip Fund.
The name is pretty straightforward. We love to travel together — it was one of the first signs of compatibility in our relationship. Selling our work is a way for us to finance international visits to studios and inspire our future designs. It’s also a really fun way to be transparent about what we do with our resources.
CC: In addition to being a designer, you’re also a musician. How did you get your start as a singer?
MB: Writing music and singing is very therapeutic for me. It’s almost like meditation. In the fall of 2014, I sent a Facebook message to my friend Randy and pretty much spontaneously started working with him in his home studio. Not long after, Jonah Swilley joined in, and InCrowd Records was established. We record everything live in Randy’s living room on vintage equipment — it’s really a lot of fun for me. I just do it for the experience of making music, which is a lot like designing a poster or putting a table together. I never realized how similar the process was until I started making music with those guys.
CC: How would you describe your music style? Who are some of your inspirations?
MB: People have said it sounds very ’60s, which I wouldn’t disagree with. But my music knowledge is pretty limited, so it’s hard for me to reference music styles. My favorites range between OutKast, Donovan, ’70s Pakistani pop music, gospel hymns, anything with an organ — it’s really all over the place. If someone’s musical gift to the world is distinct and pure, I’ll probably love it.
As far as future plans, I’m trying to become less intimidated by instruments — I daydream about being able to play the banjo or the accordion. For now, though, I’ve been working with an Omnichord lent to me by my friend Troy, and it’s been amazing. It’s the only instrument that understands me.
CC: Do you have any interesting projects in the works? What’s up next for you?
MB: I’ve been working my butt off on Trip Fund, so the marketing challenges behind that are really my biggest personal project right now. I like experimenting — the process is always worth it if I learn something.
MB: Atlanta’s art scene has a lot of different facets (as all cities do). A lot of artists tend to stick with their own group aesthetic, which is fine, but I’d like to see more overlapping between “scenes.” It’s always fun to see conversations and collaborations between a folk artist and a graffiti artist. I think everyone has a lot to offer, they just need to chill out and collaborate. As Jay Wiggins would say, ‘Collaboration yields better results than competition.’
CC: Any favorite projects or artists in the city?
MB: I’m impressed with the dent that Kyle Brooks has made since he started painting in the city a few years ago. I’m a big fan of BlackCatTips, and he’s also just an all-around great person. I also really love Killer Mike. His poetic abilities and his dedication to his community are a great representation of what I’d like to call ‘meaningful work.’