Meet Matt Phelan, Our Newest Faculty Member

At VCFA, our faculty members are the beating heart of our program. Recently we were privileged to sign on a brilliant addition to an already star-studded faculty: author and illustrator extraordinaire Matt Phelan! Matt Phelan first joined VCFA as a Visiting Writer, and joined the faculty shortly afterward. Today we’ll hear about his first semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Get a glimpse into his teaching adventures this semester (and a glimpse at his favorite coffee mug.)

  1. What drew you to join the faculty at Vermont College of Fine Art’s Writing for Children and Young Adults program?

I had been interested in teaching and was very much aware of the VCFA program through former students and faculty members. It sounded like an amazing opportunity to not only share my experience but also to be inspired by others in a grand pursuit of creativity.

 2. How do you think your background and experiences as an author/illustrator inform your approach to teaching and advising?

Before becoming an author myself, I spent many years illustrating books by other authors. That perspective—how an illustrator interprets a text, what an illustrator looks for in a story—is valuable for an author to understand. And my own books always have a visual component, so I feel like I can speak to how an author can write in a way that leaves room for illustration, whether that’s a picture book, chapter book with spots, or a full graphic novel.

3. How have you found the experience of remotely guiding students through their creative work this semester?

It’s been fascinating and invigorating. I actually think the model of remote study is a good one. It puts the focus squarely on the work, where it should be.

4. What was the most surprising or unexpected thing you learned from your students this semester?

I’m not sure if it is a surprise given the nature and reputation of the program, but I am impressed with the quality and variety of work within each packet.

5. What author, living or dead, would you love to collaborate with and why?

Frank Cottrell Boyce is one of my favorite authors because his books constantly surprise me. He knows the rules and knows how to break them. I don’t know what a collaboration with him would look like exactly, but I’d be game to follow his lead. (Bonus answer: there are many illustrators that I would love to collaborate with in some way. Handing a graphic novel manuscript over to LeUyen Pham would be a dream.)

6. What’s your favorite picture book from your own childhood, and do you see its influence in your work today?

It’s hard to decide between Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson and The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. I can see the influence of both in my own work. The humor and pacing of Ferdinand and the lovely quiet moments in The Snowy Day have stayed with me.


7. Last, what’s your go-to comfort food or snack when you’re deep in the creative process? 

I actually don’t think I’m much of a snacker when deep in the process. Coffee, definitely. I have a favorite mug that was made for me by one of my best friends. The mug appears in several of my books, probably because it was sitting on my table while I was drawing. (See below!)

You can learn more about Matt Phelan at Matt will be a Cloud faculty member this semester and is looking forward to working with the next batch of brilliant WCYA students.