Finding Her Voice: Illustrator Samantha Mash
Samantha Mash’s healthy client list includes DC Comics, Outside magazine, and Slack. But the line from art school to a thriving freelance career was not a straight one—in fact, soon after leaving school five years ago, she stopped drawing entirely for two years. We sat down with Mash to talk about how she fell away from her artistic practice, and how she found a path back to it.
DEVELOPING A STYLE
In the midst of depression and stifled creativity, she decided she needed to make a change. "No one’s going to hand you an illustration career,” she says. “I decided, ‘I’m going to finish one illustration a month, and that’s what I can manage’—and I started feeling a ton better with this progression.”
Over time, her visual voice developed at a quicker pace, and she made intentional choices to create a body of work that got her the jobs she really wanted.
Mash says, “When I got out of college and I was trying to shop my portfolio, I met with a lot of people who said, ‘This is great; you could be a fantasy artist.’ But I didn’t want to be what they thought I should be.”
Mash’s style has progressed from the very painterly work she did as a student to more shape-based elements with small hints of intricate digital painting that recall her earlier work. She primarily works in Adobe Photoshop CC, starting with a traditional sketch in red pencil. “I scan that in, flip the canvas, and make sure everything is relatively proportional to what I like,” she says. “Then I make a new layer and do new lines on top of it that can act as a blueprint.”
After that, she blocks out the image with colors. “I fill in those lines on different layers and check that contrast is good and that colors close together aren’t too similar,” she explains. She then sharpens shapes and makes sure everything looks clean. After that, she starts putting in shadows. To finish, she brings in smaller lines for texture, as well as adding larger swaths of texture with custom brushes she makes.
Mash is mindful of creating an inclusive space in her images. “My consciousness around minority groups and disability and diversity in body types started when I was young, specifically because people are so vocal about their racism, about their sexism, about their weight-ism, about their clear anti-disability-ism…I never really considered it in my art until late high school and early college,” she says. “It’s mostly coming from a place when I felt isolated as a child and a teen; I felt body-conscious. I didn’t feel good enough in my own skin, and I can see that other people feel that in similar ways.”
Teaching has also influenced her own work. “Sometimes I’ll sit down and have a particular student in mind and think, ‘You know what, I actually haven’t drawn that,’” she says. “If they’re not seeing themselves in art, then I’m going to take that step.”
When asked about what advice she might give to this upcoming group of artists, she talked about finding pleasure in the creation process. “You’re going to have these expectations put on you of what your work should be, what it should do, and what style you need to communicate…. You should be drawing things that entertain you. If you’re forcing yourself to paint for 60 hours, and at the end of the day you’re like, ‘Well this sucked and it became a labor,’ then it’s going to make doing this career awful.”