Sam Twardy on how working in a grocery store got her back into illustration

New York-based illustrator and designer Sam Twardy specialises in creating bold, playful work built around flat vectors and bright colours. We caught up with her to hear how she's gone from working as a grocery store chalkboard artist to being represented by Closer&Closer.

Creativity seems to run in Sam Twardy's family. As the youngest of five kids, Sam grew up with two older sisters who both displayed artistic abilities. "I remember thinking early on that everything they did was cool," she tells Creative Boom, prompting her to start drawing for as long as she can remember.

This early start means that Sam has a lot of work to look back on, and she loves to look back over her childhood sketchbooks, where she was still getting the hang of the basics. "It's so fun to look through those old books and pull inspiration from the flattened perspective that kids often draw with," she adds.

Sam's artistic background meant that she always knew she wanted to do something creative for a living, but she had to answer those two formidable questions: what and how? Even after earning a degree in design, she felt a bit directionless, so she spent several years in different industries, including fashion, screen printing, and even as a chalkboard artist at a grocery store.

"It was at this random grocery store artist position that I got myself back into a regular illustration practice," Sam reveals. "From there, I honed my current style, which is still evolving."

As well as sharpening her drawing skills, especially when depicting realistic fruit, this role led Sam to create her own characters and scenes digitally. "Over the years, I've started to bring more of myself and my interests into my illustrations, and that has made my style feel like 'me'."

Bold lines and vibrant colours characterise this personal style, as well as flat vectors that contain a sense of depth and interest, thanks to the patterns that Sam adds to clothing and other surfaces. "I'm often inspired by artists like Agnes Martin and Ellsworth Kelly," she explains. "I love their ability to create minimal compositions but maintain interest and beauty. My style is very different, but I often return to the work of artists like them when I feel like I'm over-complicating something."

Including textile patterns also harks back to Sam's interest in fashion design. Having worked for a small fashion company after graduating, she fell in love with textiles more than ever.

"I'm in awe of what designers do, and I love to create illustrations pulling inspiration from that world," she adds. "I like the idea of taking an ornate tactile object and recreating it in a 2D illustration."

Besides being able to draw on these passions, Sam says that the best part of being an illustrator is the variety. "I love that every project is so different," she says. "Illustration as a medium is so versatile and can be used in various industries and various ways.

"It can be challenging at times, as the work can feel somewhat solitary, which is why it's so important for me to find other creatives to connect with whenever possible."

Unsurprisingly, this means that the work Sam is most proud of involves her working with other people. "I love projects where I get to create scenes of people or a community," she says. "I created a logo for a fiction podcast called Forgive Me! which included a scene of a town and the people mentioned throughout the series. It was a great experience to translate an audio piece into an illustration."

Having come a long way from the grocery store chalkboard, the future is looking bright for Sam. But what does 2024 hold? "I am currently working on a personal project where I create an illustration for every movie I watch this year," she concludes. "It is proving to be.. a lot! But I love watching movies in my free time, and it's so fun to find a way to represent a film through illustration.

"I also just signed with the agency Closer&Closer, and I am looking forward to taking on all types of new projects in 2024!"


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