matthew cook, illustrator, drawings, sketches and sometime times war artist

One of the many fine illustrators to emerge from Kingston School of Art (now Kingston University) Matthew Cook has established himself with his very signature style as one of the busiest illustrators of his generation.
Excelling in reportage work, he is never more at home than when out in the field with sketch book and camera. Directly after graduating, Matthew was given the opportunity to join the Raleigh Expedition, an organisation that provides young people with the chance to extend themselves in the demanding environment of a full-rigged sailing ship in exotic waters. Spending a whole year sailing in the South Seas gave Matthew a chance, as an instructor, to hone his skills and to return a year later hungry for a chance to establish himself as an illustrator.

Now Matthew is busier than ever, at a time when the received wisdom is that photography holds sway and that illustration is meant to be a dying art.

Fairly early on his career, Matthew was commissioned by Barry Robinson, Design Director of the Royal Mail to record the unique series of events that make up The British Season. Travelling up and down the country, Matthew avidly recorded events as diverse as Royal Ascot, Henley Regatta, The Highland Games in a much admired set of five commemorative stamps. The issue was also marked with the publication of a book The British Season by Pavilion Books which rapidly sold out its entire edition. It was probably this commission that did more to establish his reputation than anything else.

Another early commissioner was David Driver of The Times. David who has a great regard for illustration, and who has worked with some of the finest illustrators, has since the very beginning regularly used Matthew in the pages of the newspaper. Instead of the obvious photographic route, how much more imaginative and brave to send an illustrator on an assignment? It requires a degree of imagination and courage, qualities that are these days sadly in short supply amongst art directors. But it also needs artists who have the requisite skills and temperament. In the words of David Driver, "Although this sort of project could benefit many companies, the problem is that only a few artists could undertake it. Reportage is the most difficult form of illustration, because it involves everything…observing, being able to draw people, working with figures that are moving, focusing on particular incidents, having a strong graphic sense, and being able to tell a story. So much of the drawing that we see today is purely decorative. Sadly for most illustrators, the requirements of reportage would be too exacting. Matthew is able to rise above the challenge because of the fluency, acuity and sheer quality of his drawing."

The editor of The Times, Peter Stothard wanted to create a permanent record of the environment in which the newspaper was then working, before planned changes took place to their listed building, a rum warehouse. It was decided to commission Matthew who spent nearly two years visiting the building and being given unique access to record every aspect of the newspapers production. The result is a unique and historical collection of drawings.

A similar exercise was conducted by The Clothworkers Guild, an ancient Livery Company in the City of London. Their archivist, having seen Matthew's work in the pages of The Times, commissioned Matthew to record all aspects of the life of the Guild with completed paintings and drawings being bound into a special portfolio of work to be held in their own library, a permanent record of a particular time.
With the regular commissions from The Times, a very creative and productive relationship has built up between Matthew and David Driver. The trust that develops over a period has meant that David has been able to ask more of Matthew, and in the process developed the range and scope of his work. During the last British General Election, David had the notion of getting Matthew to produce drawings of the three leaders of the main political parties and their strategists as they campaigned around the country. These pencil drawings were a slightly new departure for Matthew, and have in turn been instrumental in him being commissioned by Bennet Robinson of Kurtin Robinson in New York to produce a series of illustrations for the annual corporate report for Knight Ridder the communications company. A new departure for Matthew, this involved colour portraits of the company executives.

Partial list of clients:

  • Royal Mail
  • Sanyo Corporation
  • Howard Hughes Corporation
  • Ogilvy Mather
  • Penguin Publishing
  • National Geographic
  • Sainsbury's
  • Knight Ridder
  • Times Newspapers
  • Countryside Commission