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Matchbox Art | Interview with Justin Folker

by | Feb 11, 2021 | Meet the Maker

Justin Folker is a typographer, a designer, and a manufacturer. He has an incredible eye for vintage advertising slogans and images which he skilfully replicates and adapts for a new audience. We sit down (virtually) with Justin to ask him about his design decisions for his new range of vintage matchbox art.

Qu: What is it you’re looking for when you’re studying vintage advertising and deciding what images to bring to life again for a new audience?

A: I picked up my artwork early last year during the first lockdown. I have run my own graphic design business for 25 plus years and have always wanted to pick up my art but have never seemed to find the time. I quickly realised during the first lockdown that I would have time on my hands and also that I needed something that would fill my day. My return to art began with some drawing and painting and then moved on to paper collage.

Also during this time I spent a lot of time researching and getting ideas via the Internet and social media. I particularly like Pinterest as a source of reference and through this platform I stumbled across vintage matchbox designs that I absolutely loved. From there it was basically a matter of thinking “how could I use these or incorporate them into my artwork”. I should also say that during this time I had began building an Etsy shop as well as creating stock to sell at a local artisan market in Bradford on Avon.

I spoke to a neighbour and fellow artist whose advice to me was to “just create what you love”. I took that advice but with the creation of my online store and the market I also began to think a bit more commercially. The idea of creating the match boxes on chunky, recycled wood took hold. After some experimenting with an image transfer process I eventually was able to create the match boxes that I was after and thought would have commercial appeal. The great thing is the source of reference material is endless. In fact it’s a matter of reining myself in and being able to manage the stock that I hold.

To try and answer your question accurately I simply just pick designs that I personally love. Looking through the collection I have at the moment you can see there is a strong, graphic, typographical influence to the designs that I use. I will put this down to my training and my working life spent as a graphic designer. As I mentioned earlier I also have the commercial appeal of the design in the back of my mind.

 

Qu: I think there is a line between being an artist, being a designer and being a manufacturer (more of a triangle!) which can become very blurred. What can we expect to see from you this year? Are you working on any creative personal projects that might take you in a different direction?

A: I started 2021 in a very positive mood. My plan was to grow my Etsy shop and also to really focus on getting my product’s into more retail outlets. Best laid plans and all that! the January lockdown and current situation has made this very difficult. That said my Etsy shop is growing slowly and steadily and I have been taking this time to increase my stock and also try and make contact with potential stockists. I have been accepted into a couple of new outlets but of course nothing can happen until they are allowed to reopen again.

 

This can mean I work all day as nine point design or, if I do not have much work on, I might spend a couple of hours doing my proper job before putting my 9 point art hat on.

I think there is a definite crossover and synergy between my design work and my art. For my paintings and more conventional art it’s difficult not to approach the subject without thinking about how I would tackle the project as a graphic designer. I suppose this means I am always thinking about an invisible grid that everything sits on, the colour palette and reaching a point where I feel happy with the final product. The main difference with my art and my design work is that I don’t have to submit my art to a client and then incorporate their feedback and make changes. I really enjoy being able to create what I like to the point where I’m happy with the final piece without having to take in other peoples suggestions and opinions.

My graphic design knowledge also pushes me in a certain direction I think when I’m considering new ideas, for example, I have just produced a range of personalised wooden letters that are hand painted and then sanded to look aged and weathered. Although this kind of product already exists, I was able to bring a fresh approach by choosing a very quirky, retro font rather than the bog standard fonts that most people use.

 

With my art, as I have ventured into working on recycled wood, I have also had to learn a few new skills. My wife will testify to the fact that I am not great at DIY! However, with the purchase of some good tools, including a very scary bandsaw, a Sander and a drill I think I am now able to produce a well manufactured product.

To answer the final part of your question “What can we expect to see from you this year”… my favourite form of art at the moment is my painting/ mixed-media work. I would really like to develop this and be able to offer more of it on my online store and to my suppliers. Some of what I create uses existing images that I try to put a spin on. This creates a commercial product but doesn’t give me the same satisfaction as creating my own work.

My dream would be to develop the art business further and eventually make it a full time job, or at least something that can fill the financial hole that covid has left in my design business. The thrill of selling my work is huge and a bit addictive. My working life means I produce an end product that is for the client. My artistic life means I produce work for me. When someone invests in that and purchases an item I have made to display in their house or gift to someone the satisfaction is immense.

Justin’s [Ninepoint Art] vintage inspired matchbox artwork and prints are available to buy at Spacecraft Westbury. All matchbox artwork is made from chunky recycled wood which stands beautifully on its own and can also be hung on the wall. It’s the coolest!

You can follow Justin on instagram @ninepointart