It’s not every day that a graphic designer makes a cameo on a hit series on a major television network. But for one surreal day this past summer, Ty Mattson of Mattson Creative swapped his designer tools for a gun, flashlight, notebook, and badge to appear as a detective on Showtime’s hit series Dexter.
“It was just so fun to be a part of it and see these characters you feel like you know so well actually create the show,” Mattson says, about his on-set experience. “Talking with Michael C. Hall, meeting the actors and writers, and watching them film was incredible.”
- Find out what one question Mattson had for Emmy-nominated actor and executive producer Michael C. Hall.
So how does a designer end up on a hit network, like Showtime? As a huge fan of the drama, which features a likeable forensic expert moonlighting as a serial killer, Mattson created a series of Dexter-inspired prints representing the show’s five seasons. The poster designs were inspired by mid-century modern design and particularly the work of Saul Bass. Mattson is proof that a passion project can pay off in unexpected ways.
“When you’re working on a self-initiated project like this and no one’s paying you, there’s always a sense of guilt that you shouldn’t be doing it. Like, ‘I need to return this e-mail or call someone about that Pantone chip.’ And I definitely felt that, but I was just so inspired to create these illustrations and loved the idea,” Mattson says.
Mattson imagined what a title sequence using his artwork would look like, and collaborated with his friends at Fashion Buddha to create an alternative title sequence for Dexter (above).
On Thursday evening, October 6, 2010, Mattson posted the artwork on his blog. By the next morning, the project had gone viral with not only designers and Dexter fans abuzz, but Showtime execs had flipped for it too: Mattson had a voicemail from the executive producer.
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“With Twitter, blogs and the whole internet, it’s just unbelievable to think about who can see your work,” says Mattson. “I remember 10 years ago, designers were lugging around a giant black portfolio, cold-calling, and trying to set up appointments to be seen. But now I made something, put it out there, and the very next day it’s being seen by the folks who make the show. That’s really exciting!”
From there, Mattson’s artwork turned into official Dexter merchandise with Showtime releasing his limited-edition silkscreens through their website. Mini-prints were packaged into Season 5 DVDs sold at Target, and an exclusive interview with Mattson was filmed for the international DVD’s bonus feature. And if that’s not cool enough, Showtime invited the designer to guest star on Dexter Season 6.
Yet as crazy as it all sounds, this isn’t the first time Mattson’s passion project for a TV show has generated big-time buzz. Last year, this hard-core ABC Lost enthusiast illustrated a series of poster designs inspired by the show—purely for fun. “I thought, ‘Wow, that would’ve been an amazing project!’ And then I thought, ‘Well, what’s stopping me from doing it?’” Mattson says. After sharing his artwork online and receiving an overwhelming response, ABC caught on and made Mattson’s poster designs available through their website and invited him to meet the cast.
“Because of the experience I had with Lost, I was a little more hopeful that the Dexter prints might potentially become official merchandise or connect with fans in the same way,” says Mattson. “I never imagined or ever dreamed Showtime would actually let me be on Dexter!”
These passion projects have helped spread the word about Mattson Creative and served a second life as awesome self-promo pieces. “Because this is the kind of work I love to do and [I] took the initiative to create it, the pieces have functioned really well at showing my capabilities,” explains the Southern California-based designer.
In fact, his endeavors have seriously paid off, not only with ABC and Showtime becoming paying clients, but he’s also attracted new clients who have, “come to me specifically because they’ve seen the work I’ve done for Lost and Dexter and said ‘Oh, we love that! Can you do something like that for us?’”
So after this whole whirlwind experience, Mattson shares a little advice. “Become huge fans of your clients. Find that thing that makes them great and tell their story in the most compelling, creative way possible.” He also adds to “take, the initiative, do what you love, and put it out there.”