Born in Alaska, Sam grew up in Deep River Ontario, Canada. After attending the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, he moved to New York to pursue illustration and attend graduate school at The School of Visual Arts. In addition to drawing, Sam works part time as assistant art director of the OpEd page at the New York Times, with senior art director Brian Rea. Current likes include Italian and Japanese comics, David Lynch movies, and hanging out with Jillian
Clients include: The New Yorker, The New York Times, Scholastic, Random House, The L.A. Times, ESPN Magazine, Wired Magazine, Penguin, SPIN, Flaunt, Herman Miller, Business Week, Men’s Health, Paste Magazine, Nylon, The Deal, Runners World, The Boston Globe, SEED, Plan Sponsor, Global Custodian Magazine, Toro, Los Angeles Magazine, Inc. Magazine, More magazine, The National Post, Macleans, Outside, The CBC, Stocks and Commodities, Cosmo Girl, Explore Magazine,Canadian Business, Play Girl, The Village Voice, The Walrus, Bitch!, Forum magazine, The Stranger, Ascent magazine, Dose(R.I.P.), etc…
Your work seems to have a depth, not only in your illustration techniques, but also through your mood and concepts. This is evident in the final result, but I’d like to know how you start the process.
For me the process always starts with drawing. I know a lot of people who love to attack a problem with word lists, or research, but I’ve always found it most useful to just jump right in and put pencil to paper. Although I love collecting reference, and getting familiar with the subject matter, I always feel a little like I’m procrastinating if I haven’t at least done some drawing to figure out where my head is in regards to a particular assignment or idea. The process always seems to somehow unfold from there. The initial drawings I rarely show to anyone, I suppose they are purely for myself, used more to generate ideas and concepts, as opposed to communicate ideas. I’ll usually redraw my scribbles before I show them to anyone, or begin refining the image. I’m terribly self conscious about my drawing. I’ve been very lucky, people have been pretty responsive to my personal vocabulary, and more often then not I get to use imagery and content that I’m interested in. Although continuing to evolve and change as an image maker is really important to me, I simultaneously very much enjoy getting to play around in a world of consistent character and themes.
What medium do you like to work in, and why?
Most of my work is ink, water colour, and acrylic, which is then scanned and finished in photoshop. I love the flexibility the computer offers, although working entirely in the computer has never really appealed to me for any extended period of time. I’ll often work in black and white, and then add all the colour digitally. Although the computer is an incredible tool, I’m trying to use it less and less. I’ve always loved the hand crafted component of what I do.
What kind of environment do you work in? Who and what kind of surrounds allow you to produce your best work?
I share a studio with four other illustrators, in an old converted pencil factory in Brooklyn, NY. There’s a lot of great exposed brick and pealing paint, and great old factories and warehouses all around. I have for a long time really enjoyed working away from home. Part of it has to do with avoiding distraction I think, as well as having a physical separation between work and home.
You seem to have amassed a high quality back catalog of work in just the passed year or two. Do you paint every day?
I try to. Although sometimes forcing it gets me nowhere, I really do try and adhere to a pretty strict schedule. I’ve never believed in waiting for inspiration to hit, I think sometimes the best ideas come with a little work and suffering. When I’m not working on projects for clients, I try and work on personal projects. I don’t really view them too differently from assignments, especially since they tend to inform each other. The personal work is really important to me. Although I’ve been very lucky, and am for the most part afforded the luxury of getting to draw the type of images I’m interested in, I think the personal work lends itself a little more towards experimentation. The absence of deadlines and concrete criteria can lend itself to exciting results, and is for me a great way to generate fresh ideas and ways of working.
What motivates you to paint?
Seeing great work by other people. Good books or movies. Rainy days.
What are some common or key characteristics you always aim to express in your work?
I don’t know if there is anything I’m trying to do consciously. A lot of the consistencies in my work are in part based on what I’m bad at I suppose. I don’t have a very sophisticated sense of humor, so I suppose my ideas tend to lean a little towards the melodramatic side. There’s a tongue in cheek darkness that I enjoy playing around with, I think based in large part on my childhood interest in scary stories and fairy tales(my parents are German, and I blame them). Also, at the risk of sounding like a complete flake, I do like the image to be pretty in the end.
What are some projects that have given you the most satisfaction?
That’s very difficult for me to answer. My favorite project is usually the one I’m working on. There’s always this incredible sense of optimism when starting something new, I think that’s something I always look forward to. With that said, a lot of the magic is often gone soon after the piece is done. I’m always a little unsure as to how I feel about my old work, I guess I’m a bit of a fair weather friend in that regard.
Snow White is part of an ongoing personal project for you, how do you see her and her world?
Snow White is such a great story. Such jealousy and anger, and these great characters. I’ve never found the dwarves of particular interest. The Queen and Snow White though, and the hunter and Prince, what wonderful characters. The story is filled with such desperation. The Queen terrified me as a child, all witches and evil women did for that matter, and I think getting to play around with childhood fears has become very thrilling to me.
Have you had any comments about your artwork that were unexpected or insightful?
I’m lucky to have some very talented and insightful friends. I wish I could think of something specific, but nothing comes immediately to mind.
What do you think about the current landscape for commissioned art and commercial artists?
It’s all very exciting. I sometimes feel a little guilty or naive for being so enthusiastic, but there is so much great work being done these days. There is a lot of amazing stuff being made out there, and what seems like a growing interest in story telling and narrative imagery.
What are your future goals?
I would love to spend some time working on an extended project, like a book, or something with a larger, more cohesive end result. Having some sense of authorship over your work is important, and I think extended projects are a great way to develop some ownership over what it is that you make.