Phoenix Designer Matt Noakes’ 5 Creative Essentials

Phoenix creative Matt Noakes has kept busy for years: attending ASU and Berkeley to study architecture, project managing at Kornegay Design in Phoenix, guitar playing for local mega band Black Carl, buying a house – name it.

Yet since returning from Berkeley in 2010 and the disbanding of Black Carl in spring of 2015, Noakes says he’s discovered time to do something altogether different. “Everybody grows up and does their own thing and gets married and moves and wants to go explore their life,” he says. “When that happened, it basically opened up all this time for me to do what I also love…this creative design work.”

Lately, Noakes is picking up freelance work while keeping his day job, and utilizing platforms like Instagram. “I’m trying to use this momentum to amp up and start my own business, even if it’s just a side business,” he says. “My trajectory from here is to try and build a design company where we have a product line, but we also do entire spaces…that’s my plan.”

For Noakes, 2015 has been busy with side projects ranging from creating simple pots and planters to elegant backyard layouts and concrete countertops. And speaking of concrete, Noakes has developed a relationship with the medium as his unnamed freelance business evolves.

Noakes says there’s something mysterious about concrete; people react to it in visceral ways. “It’s such a brutal medium,” he says, “but at the same time, it’s very delicate and sensitive, very finicky, so it’s very challenging in that respect.”Another of Noakes’ concrete pros includes its liquid form, “so the possibilities are endless with it.” He starts with a mold, building the space around the object, and pours – resulting in everything from intricate figurines to oversized planters. “It’s also arguably one of the most beautiful materials,” he says, “It has a lot of character, but it can also be really sleek and crisp.”

Noakes has decided concrete is where he wants to keep his focus — for now. “Whereas architecture is so broad, concrete really pointed me in a direction,” he says, “but at the same time, my interests are really broad still.”

Though he's drawn to the material, he doesn't count it among his top five essentials for design (probably because it goes without saying).

Noakes describes a Festool Track Saw as a portable table saw, which is crucial since allows him to work alone – not worrying about using a “a big cumbersome and kind of scary table saw.” He says concrete work requires a lot of woodwork – creating forums and the need for a less-dangerous saw.

Noakes says another important and precise woodworking tool is the DeWalt Sliding Compound Miter Saw – used “all the time for everything.“

On to number three: the Moleskin sketchbook. It has to be the kind from the three-pack, it has to be black, and it absolutely cannot have lines. “I have books and book and books,” he says, “and it’s the same damn sketchbook.”

He explains there are all kinds of sketchbooks out there: some with hardcovers, thicker and nicer paper. “I hate that," he says.

“I don’t want it to feel formal at all,” he says, “I just want to shove it in my back pocket, and let it get beat up.” And no lines either. “I feel they kind of restrict you a little bit,” he explains, “or they guide you.” He’s also never lost one.

With design work, Noakes will sketch something “a thousand times” before heading to the computer, where he’ll formally draw it to scale in 3D.

Maria Sais de Sicilia is also essential to Noakes’ design work. “She is one of the things that is essential to my life,” he says. With a six-day workweek, freelance projects piling up, and maybe the need to eat and sleep, Noakes explains how his two-year relationship with Maria keeps him going. “She sees that I’m putting so much energy into this,” he says.

Noakes says when Black Carl dissolved, and he and Sais de Sicilia bought their home, “it was just these different things falling into place, giving me this time and space to really focus on my design.”

Finally, there's meditation. It’s just 20 minutes, twice a day, morning and evening. “It’s been really good for me because I tend to just keep moving,” he says, “And meditating forces a pause.”

Noakes says thinks about his job and projects, amongst other things. “I think about Maria a lot, my clients, my dog, all the things that matter,” he says, “And how to take care of all those things a little bit better.”

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Lauren Cusimano is Phoenix New Times' food and drink editor. She is a journalist and food waste writer based in Tempe. Joys include eating wings, riding bikes, knowing everyone at the bar, talking too much about The Simpsons, and falling asleep while reading.
Contact: Lauren Cusimano