The Life & Journey of Matt Doering, Part 2

This is an ongoing series meant to explore what it means to be an artist and how you can go from artist to entrepreneur.

One of our clients is Dreamworks illustrator Matt Doering. We recently got to talk to him about his journey as an artist – In part 1, he shared his origin story (if you haven’t read that yet, check it out). This is part 2, where he shares how he became an entrepreneur.

As he was growing up, Matt knew he wanted to be an animator. Thanks to his grandfather’s early influence, Matt knew his “what” and his “why” long before he knew the “how”. As in, how was he going to break into the tight animation community?

The Necessity of Cons

Matt Doering, Dreamworks Illustrator
The man, the artist, Matt Doering!

Matt knew he needed exposure to the people he wanted to meet.  The answer seemed clear: getting into the convention circuit. By getting a table at animation conventions Matt knew he’d have an opportunity to be around the people he needed to meet.

And it worked. Matt’s first con was in 2012 at the Disney Animation Expo. He got a cheap exhibitors table and offered prints for sale. Though he did sell some prints, the real value came from having an exhibitors badge. That badge gave him credibility he might not have had otherwise, leveling the playing field between him and important figures in the animation world.

From Exposure to Entrepreneurship

For a couple of years Matt’s goal was to gain as much exposure as he could, meet the right people, and try to advance his career. By 2015 his plan had worked and he had broken into the animation industry. From that point his focus switched from exposure to entrepreneurship. He wanted to start making a return on his table investments.

So he started to strategize and come up with unique product ideas to bring attention to himself and his art. He wanted to focus on creating products to sell and building his own personal brand.

One of his first products was log art. Using slices of wood, Matt transferred his art onto the rustic surface, trying to match the drawing to the wood grain and rural aesthetic. His log art became pretty well-known, and he moved on to another unusual art form. Cardboard.

Matt’s 3D cardboard art, though interesting, was slightly less popular. With each iteration of his products, Matt learned a bit more about what people wanted and how he could provide that.

Then he discovered enamel pins.

Why Pins? Why Not!

Emotional Crisis Llama enamel pin by Matt Doering.

“As far as I’m concerned, enamel pins get the best bang for the buck at cons,” Matt said. “They’re popular, don’t take up a lot of room, there’s good profit, they can go in many different contexts. So many good reasons for selling pins!”

Matt’s first pins, his Sassy Llama pins, were created in 2016. He found that people loved collecting his pins and it was fun to create around the llama theme. His hipster llama, party llama, and emotional crisis llama have all been big sellers at cons – and in his Etsy store.

“It’s hard to keep up with trends,” Matt said. “I like to focus on pins because they’re easy to do and pretty fun.”

The Strategy Behind the Art

While Matt has had success with his enamel pin designs, he’s also got his eye on the future. He wants his side business to grow, but not at the expense of his main career in animation.

Right now he exhibits at about four cons a year. Over the next couple of years he has plans to step back from the shows and scale up his pin collections and Etsy store. He’s toying with different pin ideas, including turning a set of Game of Thrones postcards he created into a pin series.

“You have to think ‘Is there a market for it? How can I get my idea funded?’ In any small business there’s a practical side, it’s

Tyrion Lannister pug, from the Game of Bones collection by Matt Doering.

not all just fun and creation. It’s about having a hook, having what you think your audience might want, and figuring out the best way to deliver it” Matt shared.

Career Arc of an Artist

Matt’s perspective on his career path wasn’t born overnight. It came from thinking about multiple points of view and having conversations with lots of different people.

“All throughout my career, from when I was just starting out to today, I’ve talked everything over with people I trust. We’ve had debates and I’ve taken it all in. At difficult points I got really good advice, and I tried my best to listen to it all, then trust my instinct,” Matt said.

“I’ve taken a lot of calculated risks, so far. I’ve tried different opportunities, always with my eye on my ultimate goal. ‘Is this choice going to get me closer to the thing I actually want?’ I always trust that I’m moving in the right direction, even when I’m not sure that it’s really going to work out. There has to be a balance between the logical and emotional sides of the brain along with a healthy dose of trust.”

Advice From an Animator Entrepreneur

The best advice Matt has for aspiring artists, is to trust that it will eventually happen. You have to take risks and chances to keep moving forward, but at the same time, you have to make sure you can survive along the way.

Matt’s journey is far from over, and though he’s achieved a lot in the years since he left his small town in West Virginia, he knows he still has a long way to go.

“I’m excited to see where things go with my business. Pretty soon I’m going to have some time to take a step back to do some reflection and figure out my next course of action. Think about where I want to go, what I want to pursue. There are lots of new phases coming up!” Matt said.

No matter where his path takes him next, we feel sure that Matt will come out on top.

The Life & Journey of Matt Doering, Part 1

This is an ongoing series meant to explore what it means to be an artist and how you can go from artist to entrepreneur.

One of our clients is Dreamworks illustrator Matt Doering. We recently got to talk to him about his journey as an artist – how he started and how he got to Dreamworks. We also talked about how he became an entrepreneur, but we’ll save that for part 2 in this series!

A Would-Be Animator’s Legacy

When Matt Doering says he grew up in a small town, he’s not waxing poetic. The town in West Virginia was literally small. The

Matt Doering, Dreamworks Illustrator
The man, the artist, Matt Doering!

nicest bar was a Buffalo Wild Wings and the closest Starbucks was 45 minutes away.

Even as a young child Matt showed artistic promise. Neither of his parents were particularly artistic – that all came from his grandfather, the true artist in the family, and the one who took Matt under his wing.

“My grandfather was very visual arts focused. He saw Snow White in the theaters as a young man, and that film inspired him to want to become a Disney animator. He got an art scholarship, but wasn’t able to take advantage of it,” Matt shared.

World War II stopped Matt’s grandfather from pursuing his artistic dream. He enlisted in the armed forces and went off to fight for his country.

But the war wasn’t all that occupied his mind. Just before enlisting he had married his sweetheart and they had a child. Once the war was over, Matt’s grandfather knew he had a duty to take care of his family – and that didn’t include an arts education. He went to work to support his wife and young children (the second one came along after the war) and left his dream of becoming an animator behind.

A New Dream

Matt’s grandfather never gave up art completely. Matt has vivid memories of his grandfather always sketching, painting, drawing. He always had a pencil and a sketchbook handy and would take any opportunity to doodle and draw.

Then, when Matt was old enough to put crayon to paper, it was like he was born anew. Matt showed an early interest, and talent, in drawing, and his grandfather did everything he could to cultivate that interest. He taught Matt how to color, forced him to watch old animated shows like Looney Toons and the original Mickey Mouse.

Matt visited his grandparents often and he and his grandfather would sit together, coloring, drawing. At the age of five, Matt entered and won a church coloring contest for Easter. And, at the age of six, Matt already knew what he wanted to be when he grew up: a Disney animator.

His grandfather did everything in his power to make sure Matt had all the opportunities that he himself never got to take advantage of. That wish, that directive, always stuck with Matt’s father – especially after Matt’s grandfather passed when Matt was just seven years old. Matt’s parents made sure he took art classes and had drawing instruction. They provided him the tools and opportunities to learn, just like his grandfather would have wanted.

An Illustrator’s Journey

Art by Matt Doering
Matt maed dis!

It was thanks to that loving support from his family that Matt was able to achieve his dream. He graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design with a degree in Sequential Arts (which is like storyboarding). He took a ton of classes in hand-drawn animation, then focused on illustration and concept development.

His ultimate goal was to work on a feature-length Disney film – until Disney closed their Florida studio.

Despite that set back, Matt still knew exactly what he wanted to do, even if he wasn’t 100% sure how he was going to do it. Even with an arts degree, he knew he had a lot to learn, and he opened himself up to opportunities.

Even if those opportunities didn’t quite fit the roadmap.

“I’ve always been very open to opportunity and followed the opportunities wherever they presented themselves. Some of them seemed like random jobs, but I chased each opportunity, from graphic design to illustration to animation. I got to travel to different places, live in different cities across the country, get different tastes of different types of city life,” he said.

Matt’s first job was working on mobile games for Facebook gaming. Though it wasn’t exactly animation, it gave him the opportunity to hone his graphics skills – and he got to live in both New York and Baltimore.

From there he took a job working for Disney Interactive Studios in Eugene, OR, working on mobile games. He got to go back to the small town life, but still work for a major player in the industry.

But he still had his eye on the real prize. And it wasn’t long before he got exactly where he was trying to go: Disney animation.

It wasn’t feature length animation, but that didn’t matter to Matt.

“I remember being in first grade and telling people I wanted to be a Disney animator when I grew up,” Matt said. “And I know my grandfather had the same dream. As soon as a stepped onto the Disney lot, I felt like I achieved that dream for both of us.”

Now Matt is happily working at Dreamworks animation as a background design supervisor for an unannounced Netflix series.

“I came in as the background designer, the first one hired on the show,” Matt said. “I got to establish the look of the background, the ‘main model pack’, which is all of the key backgrounds.”

For now, he’s perfectly happy exactly where he is: in LA, working for Dreamworks animation, trying to build his own artistic brand, fight expectation, and be his own artist.

In part 2 of Matt’s story, we’ll talk more about his journey from artist to entrepreneur.