Sam Pierpoint on working with paper, living in the countryside and doing good in the world
Sam Pierpoint is a Bristol-based illustrator and paper artist whose rural surroundings, close to the Mendip Hills, heavily influence her playful, charming work.
With wildlife and nature playing an obvious prominent role, Sam directs, designs, cuts and handcrafts all of her creations from a range of fine quality G . F Smith papers and has skilled apprentices on hand who are able to get stuck in on larger scale projects.
She regularly collaborates with designers, photographers, videographers and production companies to produce eye-catching, unforgettable work. And her clients include Lush, Goldsmiths University of London, Chilly’s Bottles, Soho House, The City of Strasbourg, Kiehl’s and Visit Bristol. With a new project to help the world's illiterate, we chatted with Sam about this and more.
Did you always love working with paper?
Yes, for as long as I can remember I’ve always loved working with paper. I have fond memories of being a child and building my own dens out of cardboard boxes, cutting windows to see outside and drawing decor on the exterior… quite similar to the work I do now really! I think it’s amazing how a piece of cardboard and a pen can fuel the imagination.
Twenty years later, paper found its way into my work whilst studying at Nottingham Trent University – first through collage, then layering off the page and slowly morphing its way into 3D paper sculpture.
Fast-forward to now, and I’m doing lots of what I love best: making paper sculptures for advertising or awareness campaigns in the events, public relations, environmental and travel and tourism sectors. My work usually features in print, but sometimes my sculptures are displayed in their physical form, too.
Talk us through your process. Is it different every time?
It varies depending on the project but most of the time it starts off with a small thumbnail sketch which, following client feedback, develops into a more detailed sketch and colour palette. After the final sketch has been signed off I scale things up and make my plans for the paper sculpture build.
Once I’ve got my scaled-up measurements, I build the base of the structure with the necessary platforms for the buildings to sit on. They start off as temporary shapes so I can adjust their positioning to get the composition looking as close to the final sketch as possible.
When the composition looks right, I then build the landscape and make templates for the buildings and people on my Silhouette Studio software. These details are then cut out on a cutting machine and assembled carefully by hand.
The next stage is the project photography which we often do in-house. I’m very lucky to work at home with my partner @Mikefoyle who is a photographer and filmmaker. So he does a lot of my photography and post-processing work. He also puts together the making-of videos and any animated elements in my work. Over the years, we’ve developed a style of post-processing which really brings the work to life.
Can you tell us more about some of the projects you've worked on?
I Iove my Paper Bristol sculpture, featured in Visit Bristol’s summer campaign. I had so much fun designing and constructing this one!
I’ve just completed a project for the wonderful Soho House for their December magazine cover; it features all of the Soho House hotels around the world. I’m so pleased with how this has turned out.
We were asked to bring summer and winter themes into the sculpture, to represent their houses in different locations, from balmy Malibu and Mumbai to cooler New York, Amsterdam and London.
As we’re on the theme of Christmas, this is a piece I created for the City of Strasbourg's #CapataledeNoel campaign in collaboration with French design agency @citeasen. This was a pretty large one as far as the paper cities go, measuring 160cm tall.
We delivered the physical sculpture to Strasbourg and assembled it in a beautiful window location next door to the cathedral square. We installed integrated lighting to the sculpture itself meaning it would look beautiful in the daytime and at night. It was a lovely project to be involved with especially as I got to explore the real city after creating the paper version. The whole process was a pretty cool adventure! Watch the video below to learn more.
You’ve recently worked on a campaign for Project Literacy called IlliteraCity. What was the brief and how did you respond to it?
Project Literacy is a campaign fronted by Idris Elba and convened by the digital education company Pearson. It is dedicated to closing the world's literacy gap by 2030.
When I researched the initiative, I was astonished to learn that there are five million illiterate adults in the UK and 32 million in North America. Illiteracy lies at the root of a variety of social problems, from unemployment to homelessness. My brief was to help Project Literacy shine a light on this global problem via a sculpture that engages and educates.
I created a two-sided city; on one side is "IlliteraCity", my representation of what a city might look like if everyone in it was illiterate. Through various buildings and hotspots – such as a jail and an empty office block – the sculpture demonstrates the various issues that people who suffer from illiteracy can face. The other side of the city – "LiteraCity" – embodies the positive impact increased literacy has on places and populations.
My city is now a fully interactive digital experience, allowing users to get a better understanding of this issue in an engaging and immersive way.
You often get involved with charitable projects. Is it important for you to give back?
Yeah, definitely! One thing that makes me happy is seeing positive change in the world around me. This had led me on a mission to seek work with charities and campaigners who are fighting for causes that I’m passionate about. I’m particularly interested in environmental, wildlife, sustainability and humanitarian charities, and generally supporting anyone who’s trying to make a positive change.
You live in the countryside, south of Bristol. Does where you're based matter?
It matters in terms of my lifestyle but not in terms of my clientele. I love living where I do because we’re surrounded by the beautiful countryside of the Mendip Hills, plus we’re between two of my favourite cities in the country – Bristol and Bath. We have a small dog who enjoys woodland walks and running around in open fields. I love being outdoors and I’ve got a very good quality of life here.
For me, having a solid online presence and engaging with my followers on social media has been far more important, in terms of growing my business, than my physical location. I know this doesn’t apply to everyone and many people find that they need to base themselves in larger cities in order to find enough work but my clientele is relatively international, so my location has had little impact on my ability to secure work.
What do you love most about what you do?
I really enjoy collaborating with new creatives as well as others that I work with on a regular basis. My partner Mike does a lot of my photography and re-touching work so even after I’ve finished a project I get to experience the excitement of seeing what he can do to bring it all to life. The photography allows us to be experimental with lighting and other elements, which can really add a sprinkling of magic to my sculptures.
If you weren't a paper artist, what would you be?
I’d love to be an activist or involved in conservation or charity work. That’s why I’m keen to work with more charities in future. The beauty of working with illustration is that it can be applied to pretty much any topic, including those issues I feel strongly about.
I’m trying to follow a PALL (plastic a lot less) and vegan lifestyle; it’s difficult to get it exactly right all the time and it is a constant learning process but I like to do what I can. I love getting inspired by everyone else’s efforts. More and more people are choosing to make mindful changes to what they buy, where they shop and who they work with these days, whether big or small, it's lovely to see the positive impact of those lifestyle choices.
What has worked for you in terms of getting your name out there?
Interviews like this one and getting involved with amazing blogs like Creative Boom!
I also think that self-initiated work is a very important part of any creative person’s business. It allows people to express themselves in whatever way they want and prospective clients will potentially respond to that work by commissioning you to produce something similar.
Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring paper artists?
Craft a style that’s as unique to you as possible but still has the potential to be used in a variety of different ways. Focus on refining your style and allowing it to evolve organically. Remember to have fun with your work as that will always shine through, and try not to spread yourself too thinly!