How designers work: Matt Needle talks surrealism and fineliners

Matt Needle began freelancing in 2007 and has since worked with many high profile clients such as Nike, The Big Chill Festival (commissioned by London design studio Bleach), Clash Magazine, Chelsea Flower Show, Hugo Boss and CNN. "I am inspired by the minute and insignificant things I see around me," he says, "and I strive to create beautiful, meaningful, complex and often bizarre pieces." Here, Matt talks to us about his influences, his favourite design tools, the challenges of freelancing and his advice for developing your career.

1. What inspires you?

I find inspiration in many forms. Movies and music are a main inspiration for my work and act as a reference point for a lot of self-initiated and commissioned work that I receive.

Also, I look to the interesting things I see all around me and I strive to create beautiful, meaningful, complex and often bizarre pieces.

I am inspired by several art movements and people including: Roman Cieslewicz, Salvador Dali, Escher, Massimo Vignelli, Saul Bass, Milton Glaser, Paul Rand, Terry Gilliam, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Bauhaus, Dada and Surrealism movements amongst many others.

Matt Needle's poster design for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

2. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy the creative freedom that my job affords me. I have worked for studios and magazines before, but working on the projects that I choose, progressing self-initiated briefs, and choosing my own hours are the best aspects of my work.

I also enjoy that I have the time to experiment without a boss breathing down my neck to get something done faster.

3. What are your biggest challenges?

My biggest challenges would again relate to the fact that I'm freelance and don't have anyone to discuss ideas with.

I work from a studio in my flat and it can get a bit solitary sometimes. It's the only noticeable downside to my job.

It's sometimes difficult to get motivated as well. But at the other end of the spectrum sometimes you overwork and end up doing 15-hour days as a result.

You need to have set hours to work and know when to start and when to stop. I started out working from 9am-7pm. But nowadays it seems to be more like 10am-8pm, then again in the early hours between 12am-3am, then bed.

Keeping a normal routine is my biggest challenge.

Matt Needle's tutorial on reinterpreting album artwork using Illustrator appears in Computer Arts, issue 198.

4. What's your favourite creative tool?

It's a toss-up between Photoshop and my sketch pad plus a Fineliner. My sketch pad is always with me. I use it all the time for sketching ideas and jotting down notes for projects.

Photoshop is the software I use to create most of my work.

5. What tips would you give designers?

  • Firstly, always have something on the go. Even if you're not receiving commissions, try to further your portfolio with outside work and self-initiated briefs.
  • Carry a sketch pad at all times. Creativity can strike at any moment and you need some way to document your ideas.
  • Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone with a project. Take chances. Try new things and learn new techniques.

You can see more of Matt Needle's work and contact him at You can find his PrintStore at Check out his Batman poster in our list of the coolest Batman merchandise for designers.