Matt Saunders: From street art to Pottermore, making it as an illustrator

At a glance

Name: Matt Saunders Illustration

Industry: Freelance Illustrative Design

Key Learning Points;

Work with whatever you can find when starting out

Starting out can be a sink or swim moment, but it’s also a period where you might be most open to working creatively.

You need to be able to look at whatever is around you, and think about how you might be able to monetise it – in the early days, Matt painted on pieces of wood he found on the street and made it work!

Create what you love and in time, people will look to you for it

My favourite line of any Inkbike interview;

If you draw enough stuff related to magic, eventually wizards will show up at your doorstep’.

I genuinely can’t think of any way to summarise this any better – bravo Matt, bravo.

Take care of yourself to perform at your best

A creative block comes from burn out, take care of yourself so that you’re able to keep up your creative momentum.

Look outside your medium for inspiration

It can be easy to flock to similar communities to get ideas for your work – painters following other painters on Instagram, illustrators following illustrative subreddits etc. 

Look elsewhere for unique inspiration, whether that be movies, photography or something removed altogether. 

I don’t know about you, but when I think of LinkedIn, I tend to think of people either sharing viral videos about something vaguely related to science or an office manager sharing boomerang GIFs of their team that they made on their phone (inexplicably always shot portrait-mode). 

It was to my great delight then that amongst the office GIFs I noticed one of my connections like a comment on an unbelievably beautiful piece by the artist Matt Saunders.

After viewing the portfolio on Matt’s website, and discovering the work he’d been commission to produce for the likes of Time Out, The Financial Times and Pottermore, I knew that he was someone that needed to be featured on Inkbike.

With an incredible body of work now under his belt (and much more still to come), Matt’s story embodies everything that Inkbike lives for – he didn’t set out to be an illustrator ever since he was a kid, but it was an interest outside of his job which he chased until it became his business.

Matt’s interview is a brilliant source of inspiration for any creative that’s looking to make a living with their craft – enjoy!


Did you have formal training on illustration?

When I graduated I specialized in animation/motion graphics this where my first job started I always had a passing interest in illustration. On an evening after my day job I would focus on creating illustrations and trying to find my voice.

I would paint in nightclubs throwing myself in the deep end. So I guess I am self taught as I didn’t have higher education in illustration.

Did you start off your career working full time as an artist or was it a gradual process?

I had a full time job as a motion graphic designer for 6 months , I was then let go by that job as this was the peak of the recession and went out on my own.

How did you first start making money as an artist?

I would juggle between doing freelance motion graphics work, editing, film making, animation, illustration, art working. I became extremely diverse in terms of how I made my income so I could support myself independently.

I would always come up with new ideas to generate income; at one point I was painting on planks of wood that I’d find in the street. You just have to grab what you can find and think how can this be monetised. It was a bit of a sink or swim moment where I had to do whatever I could to pay the bills.

“You always want to try to be ahead of what is going on around you.”

What was your first client commission and how did it come about?

I think it was for a friends band it was a t-shirt design and I was paid the grand some of £100, which at the time seemed like a lot.  

I imagine that one of the most difficult things to do when first starting out is figuring out how to price your work – did you ever struggle with that when getting off the ground?

I think it was a lot of trial and error and learning what styles work for certain budgets, the more you do it you learn how to become more efficient with your workflow so you end up working less for more money and your work becomes better as well.

It’s also about being more confident and knowing what you are worth and if a client doesn’t value that , you need to have the confidence to say no and walk away. It’s difficult when you’re starting out though, as people will take advantage of you.


Have you ever had to deal with people taking credit for, or even profiting from the work you post online? If so, what happened and how did you deal with it?

I have had a few instances, but if anything comes about I normally get my agents to sort things out when this happens. My style can be complicated so it’s not as easy to replicate.

What have been the most successful ventures you’ve undertaken for raising your profile as an illustrator?

I think creating work for myself is always a successful venture, if you produce a handful of unique pieces/concepts for yourself for each year, this will bank roll you in the future.

You always want to try to be ahead of what is going on around you.

“If you draw enough stuff related to magic, wizards will eventually show up at your doorstep.”

How did you secure an agency?

I was super lucky!  My agents were just starting out and still trying to find their voice as an agency. Now they are one of the most sought after in the world.

My illustration work back then is so different from what I am doing now and I feel like I’ve grown with the agency. The talent under the roof of Handsome Frank is incredible and we all push each other a long.

Illustrating for Pottermore is such an impressive achievement – how did the opportunity come about?

If you draw enough stuff related to magic, wizards will eventually show up at your doorstep. I’m a big believer in finding your audience and voice and anything in that is similar to your voice will find you.

This has happened quite a bit where things that inspire me will eventually cross paths with me. Slightly different than work but I was in the last Tim Burton film and I don’t think this would have happened if I didn’t put myself out into the world.

Have you ever found that you’ve gone through periods of extended ‘creative block’ in your career? If so, how have you overcome it?

I don’t really get creative block just more frustration , there are so many things I want to do and sometimes things get in the way be it work or life. There is a stack of projects I want to do and I just need to put my time into these.

Ive learned that blocks are linked to burning out and taking care of yourself to not think about anything is a helpful way to open ideas up.


Are there any particular tools, platforms to raise the profile of your work, pieces of software or anything else which you consider to have been particularly influential in your career as an artist?

Explore and be curious put down instagram/twitter there are so many interesting artists/styles that have been done in the past that can be applied to your work.

This could be films or photography, but look outside whatever medium you are in.

Are there any tools you think that absolutely every artist should have?

Adobe software is a must if you are wanting to be a commercial working creative these days and a notebook and a pen so you can always catch rough ideas and jot down thoughts.

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Bethany Thielen: Innovating on the job-hunt

At a glance

Name of campaign: Hire Bethany

Industry: Creative

Key learning points;

Don’t state capability, demonstrate it

If you’ve been reading around Inkbike much, you’ll know that the above is one of my biggest mottos.

In the context of job hunting, it’s even more relevant than ever, because you can guarantee that all the other applicants you’re up against going to do nothing more than state their value by simply handing in a CV.

If, instead, you’re willing to invest some time, you can end up leaving that competition behind entirely, and instead make companies fight for yourattention.

Understand your strengths

Where do you find you come across to people best? If you’ve been unsuccessful on paper, then maybe it’s time to consider whether another medium might be effective for you.

Bethany understood that she tended to get further when she met people in person and so catered to that by using video (to great effect)!

Don’t be shy

Reach out to big presences on a platform and ask for their help. Bethany had one LinkedIn influencer interact with her campaign and it resulted in its engagement figures doubling.

The worst thing an influencer you contact can do is nothing, meaning that there’s absolutely no harm in asking. Remember that most influencers are constantly on the look out for inventive content to share so you might be pleasantly surprised by how willing they are to help out.

The power of a network

The true value of a professional network is in its ability to connect you with others that you would never have had any opportunity to reach before. These new connections can create new opportunities for work and take your career in brilliant directions that had never thought possible before.

Building such a network can be extremely difficult, and most of us overlook the idea that we can simply ask influencers directly for their support in raising your profile – there’s nothing to lose.

Let me frame this article with a universal truth that every single person who’s studied at any university knows: job-hunting as a recent graduate is brilliantly sh*t.

It certainly was for me and a lot of my peers, and the reason is because experience talks. Employers don’t want to spend time training someone up, they want to hire people who already have experience doing what they need them to do.

Simply having a degree, even if it’s in the same field as a position you’re applying for, is not generally worth much to a lot of recruiters.

Enter Bethany Thielen, the graduate who decided to turn this common struggle into her advantage in the most fantastic way possible — through an epic job-hunting judo move that meant she had potential employers’ scrambling for her attention instead of the other way around. 

Simply put — her approach was genius.

She decided to market herself like a product to businesses, by creating a sponsored (paid-for) campaign on LinkedIn using a video and landing page, and targeted business owners with her content. 

As part of her campaign, she used all of the skills required of the position she was hoping to fill and in doing so, demonstrated that she was a capable candidate despite not having a wealth of experience.

I interviewed Bethany about the exact steps she took to execute her campaign, and whether — ultimately — it was a success.

Her answers were completely open, honest, and I believe should be required reading for every graduate so that they can be inspired to follow her footsteps and stand out. 


Chapter 1 Header

For the readers who might not have seen your campaign, could you introduce yourself and explain the Hire Bethany campaign?

I’m Bethany Thielen and I’m a 22-year-old designer living in the Bay Area. I graduated college and set out to find a job! Little did I know, finding a job as a recent college grad was going to be tricky.

A picture of a woman sat looking over a San Fransisco skyline

I had 2 years of professional experience from internships, yet 407 applications and 0 offers later, I was no closer to a job than when I began.

That’s what led to my #hirebethany campaign. I shot a video of myself giving a 50-second elevator pitch and sponsored the video as a paid advertisement on LinkedIn for 2 weeks.

I accompanied my video with a company page called Hire Bethany and a social media campaign.

What was happening in the lead up to you deciding to launch the campaign and what was it about the conventional method for seeking employment that made you decide that it wasn’t the way to go?

Honestly, my campaign was fuelled by a lot of desperation! I had just become financially independent and moved to the 3rd most expensive city in the United States. I REALLY needed a job. I had an internship, but it was ending in just 2 months.

Basically everything about the traditional job hunt is broken. You might have incredible skills, passion, and a personality to match, but you’re only as good as you look on paper. If your resume displays 2 years of experience and the hiring manager wants someone with 5, your chances drop from 1 in 250 (the average number of resumes submitted to an opening) down to a big fat zero.

In my opinion, minimum requirements filter out perfectly capable candidates before they’re even given a chance. This is especially tough on recent grads.

You’d be surprised at how many requirements in a job req are completely arbitrary and sometimes even unreasonable. Recruiters even have a name for this: “The Purple Squirrel,” AKA the candidate that doesn’t exist.

A screenshot of the Hire Bethany campaign video

Where did the inspiration for the Hire Bethany campaign come from? Had you seen something similar done before?

I just ranted about the broken system that is the hiring process. However on the occasions that I was selected for an interview, nearly all of them had ended in offers. Hiring managers like the real me better than my resume.

So I targeted my video directly at hiring managers using LinkedIn’s advertising tools, in hopes that I could bypass the resume stage completely.

I had built similar campaigns for clients at a marketing agency I had worked at previously. They all used the exact same techniques I employed in my #hirebethany campaign.

While these campaigns focused on selling products or services, I thought, why not try selling myself, the Hire Bethany package? After all, I only needed to find 1 buyer.

What was your strategy for building the campaign and for marketing yourself? Has that strategy evolved after your campaign was launched?

My strategy was all about making connections. I built my campaign to include as many “contact me” calls to action as I could. I included them in the video, in the video’s description and even embedded a contact form on my landing page.

A picture of a woman sat working on a MacBook

My purpose for these connections was originally to find someone to hire me, or to be referred to someone could. However I realised I needed to expand my definition of success. Many of the people who reached out were offering freelance projects. I had completely overlooked the possibility of freelancing as a career path.

While I’m not giving up on my job hunt to become a freelancer, because of this campaign, I decided that I’d like to work full time while completing freelance gigs on the side.

Chapter 2 header

Was the type of branding you did for your campaign tailored to the industry you were looking to find work in or do you think that your approach could be a template for others to mirror regardless of the industry they’re looking to work in?

The most notable parts of my campaign (paid ads, a company page, a hashtag, etc.) actually belong in the digital marketing industry. I did brand myself as a designer, of course, but what people really noticed as unique was my marketing style.

I actually attracted a lot of people seeking freelance digital marketing services. However this didn’t hurt my campaign, as it simply helped me meet more people. I think anyone could use this approach, no matter their industry.

My strategy was all about making connections

If you don’t mind my asking, how much did you invest in setting up the campaign and what was that money spent on?

Not at all. Here’s my exact breakdown:

  • Ads: $430
  • Landing page subscription: $14
  • Domain name ( $13.60
  • I filmed and edited the video for free. It involved a lot of stacking Mac & Cheese boxes to get the camera at eye-level. 🙂

Day 1 of the campaign, what did you do to kick things off?

I hit “publish” on my ad sets. And then installed every analytics tracking application I could find. I used LinkedIn’s campaign manager dashboard to track my ad’s metrics.

I used LinkedIn’s chart tool on my ad sets to find out the demographics of the people that were most responsive to my ads.

A picture of a MacBook screen with analytics displayed

For example, I learned that the top 3 job titles most engaged with my ads was CEO, Founder and Co-Founder, in that order. I also used Google Analytics to track how people interacted with my landing page.

I installed LinkedIn’s Insight Tag in my landing page to track how many people from the ads submitted the form once they landed on my site.

I spent the next 2 weeks glued to my screen, answering emails, comments, and constantly optimising my ad sets based on the data from the analytics.

Chapter 3 header

What have you learned about creating a campaign like this that might inform any similar campaigns you might run in the future?

About 50% of my engagement came within 24 hours of a well-known LinkedIn influencer commenting on my video.

Considering I spent $430 to promote my ads (which had been running for a week by then), that was one valuable comment!

Next time I intend to contact influencers directly and ask them to share my post. I’ve found LinkedIn influencers to be very kind, obliging people.

I had initially set up my campaign so that anyone interested in contacting me was routed to my landing page to fill out a contact form, but people managed to track down my personal LinkedIn page and even my email!

50% of my engagement came within 24 hours of a well-known LinkedIn influencer commenting on my video

I built my landing page using Carrd, a sleek tool that enables you to make a landing page using drag-and-drop, no code required. I included examples of my work, testimonials, my skills and my bio in the website, sprinkling it with “Contact Me” calls to action.

I designed my landing page as a hybrid resume/portfolio experience, but a lot of people skipped over it entirely in favor of contacting me via LinkedIn. I eventually dropped the link to my landing page from the ads entirely, replacing it with my personal email address.

I learned that the LinkedIn community eagerly responds when people show their human side. Next time, I’ll use my personal profile instead of a company page and skip the landing page.

Do you feel like there are any significant differences in marketing when you are ‘the product’ as opposed to other marketing campaigns you’ve put together?

Yes, people are a lot more responsive to humans than to products! About 10% of the people who viewed my ads ended up clicking, commenting, or otherwise engaging. That may not sound like much, but most ads average about 3%.

I A/B tested 2 videos. One featured an animation I had created and the other was a video of my face. The video that showed my face performed 2x better than the animation! It really reinforces what I learned about LinkedIn responding when people show their human side and ask for help.

Chapter 4 header

The biggest question: in your view, has it worked and what are your thoughts on the campaign now it’s run?

I want to preface by saying I’m really glad I did the campaign. The insights and connections I gained from it were invaluable.

However if you’re asking about my initial goal of getting a job, no, it didn’t work. It has been 4 weeks since I started and campaign and I have not received a single job offer.

It’s been a very emotional journey. I’ve had people in other states offer to hire me, except they don’t offer remote positions.

I even got to the 2nd round of interviews for a position I really wanted when I was abruptly dropped and my next interview was canceled. I never found out why. I feel like I’ve come so close to getting hired, but haven’t succeeded.

I’m still glad I did it. I don’t have a job yet (if it’s still the year 2018, chances are I’m still looking. If you’re reading this and know someone hiring, email me:

But I’ve met some incredible people who have given me support and advice beyond what I could have asked for. Worth every penny.

How have companies responded to you? Has it resulted in any interviews or particularly interesting connections being made?

It’s resulted in a few informal interviews over the phone. I’ve gotten to chat with a couple CEOs and some marketing directors.

All extremely inspirational people who took time out of their insane schedules to chat with me and even tell me that they admired what I was doing. I’m really grateful to all of them.

Have there been any particular highlights in the responses you’ve received?

A girl who ran a similar campaign contacted me. Her video had actually gotten so popular it was promoted by LinkedIn and received millions of views! The first thing she said over the phone was “Hey I’ve been exactly where you are now and I just want to give you a big air hug over the phone.

I nearly started crying she said that. It meant a lot to me that a complete stranger wanted to call me just to ask how I was doing.

This entire campaign has been so entangled in every aspect of my life –  in my emotions, my goals, my dreams, and even in my relationships. I guess it all comes full circle.

It started with my humanness, my very vulnerable video asking strangers to help me find a job. And it ended not at a desk in a fancy office, not with a salary, but with real human emotions and connection.

This whole campaign has made me realise how dependent we are on one another to care about each other’s plights. And my goal moving forward is to always, no matter where I am in life, be the person who’s never too busy to help change a stranger’s life.

If you enjoyed this article, then why not sign up to get the latest Inkbike posts sent straight to your inbox?

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Just type your email into the box at the bottom of the page and the job’s a good’un!