“After” - Portrait Contest Winner Illustration by Sam Spratt
So first, thanks again to everyone who entered my portrait contest, they’re always fun for me to make. Rob, who won the whole shebang, gave me a few vague ideas to get inspired by, and let the rest unfold. He liked aspects of The Grey, and desolate, almost post-apolcalyptic in aesthetic environments — the minimal colors, extreme lighting, and graphic look of 300, and from his FB interests I noted a lot of top notch cinematic movies and TV shows like True Detective and Memento so wanted the pose and composition to give a more in-motion vibe than I usually am keen on. I sketched out a new pose from the references given, used myself and a shirt as a lighting reference, created a vague refinery scene, added small details from cuts and bruises to his girlfriend’s name carved into the butt of the rifle on his back, and began painting.  Thanks for being an awesome subject matter with a hell of a beard, Rob. 
To everyone else, I’ll be sure to do this again, and you can of course always snag a print of many of my other works: HERE
Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady Cover Art by Sam Spratt Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady Cover Art by Sam Spratt (Target Edition)

Janelle Monáe’s “The Electric Lady” Album Artwork (Standard + Target Edition) - By Sam Spratt

I’m extremely excited to finally get to share this project. Despite just being two album covers, they’re the product of over 2 months worth of research, countless revisions, built and scratched concepts, working directly with Janelle Monáe and Atlantic Records, to evolve the artwork from sketches to finished paintings alongside her ever-evolving music and image. She’s Grammy-nominated, a Cover Girl, but more so just one of the most mind-blowingly intelligent and talented people I’ve been able to work with and encourage you to check her music out if you haven’t heard of her.

  • A small glimpse into its creation can be found: HERE
  • The narrative that accompanies the paintings can be found: HERE

Normally, I feel that whenever I answer questions here, whatever perspective I have to offer will suffice, but this one left me with a laundry list of opinions, most of which conflicted with one another. While it would probably be most expected for me to think that art can change the world, and it’s other professions that serve a more tangible purpose that would look down on art as a career choice – if I’m being honest, my gut feeling was that me deciding to become an artist and continuing to be one IS incredibly selfish and narcissistic. Even when I engage with people considering following a similar career path, my words of encouragement boil down to “I love what I do, it fulfills me immensely”. From artist to artist, that’s exactly what you’d expect, but suddenly I considered the possibility that all of my artistic “advice” was just perpetuating a cycle of selfishness – encouraging people to pursue things only to make themselves happy. Having an impact on the world was never even a consideration, I just… like making things.

Is what I do, is what all artists do, just for themselves? Are we really just choosing a path that puts a smile on our faces when we should be picking careers that tangibly assist people? I was at a loss. I knew that I lacked the proper perspective to answer this question in full on my own.

Thankfully, two of my brothers happen to be in fairly interesting careers that contrast my own as an illustrator: a Doctor and a Rabbi. While we sat around a coffee table in Manhattan eating Thai food — my niece running around in circles holding a Superman action figure, and my 6 month old nephew smiling in a dapper baby outfit while he happily filled his diaper – I broached the question to see what two people who respectively save lives and save souls, would have to say about this. However, unlike myself, they almost immediately dismissed it as absurd.

The narcissism and selfishness was one of the first things they tried to dismantle — saying every profession, no matter how seemingly noble by label, attracts people who do it entirely for themselves, a doctor being no exception. I argued back saying that in these instances though, regardless of the reasons FOR pursuing these practical professions, a doctor still saves lives.

Next on the chopping block, they dissected the notion that artists have no real impact on the world. There were a slew of very expected and easily rebuked statements thrown around. When I told my Rabbi brother that the impact he has on his congregation and community is deep, profound, instantaneously noticeable, and that I don’t have a damn clue whether anything I’ve ever made has affected anyone, he was just his usual humble self and in denial of that fact. But my other brother said something that if there were ever a statement that gave any sort of real answer to a question layered with so many existential onion rings, I felt this was it. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Sam, just look at history, Doctors, Engineers, and Scientists are the people who have an impact in the world and matter the most? If anything you could make a strong argument that these are the professions that are extraneous. Art pre-dates medicine, science, and engineering by very wide margins. Art has grown and expanded exponentially throughout history, it has transformed language and sold belief systems to entire nations. I gain more from looking at a beautiful painting or listening to good music than I ever do from how something is engineered. I mean even on a really basic level of what I do, without artists, what the hell would us doctors learn from? You have no idea how much the field of medicine relies on illustration.”

I didn’t have an argument for that. It was historically sound.

While I’m not sure that I have a definitive answer to your question, after filling my perspective and knowledge gaps from my brothers, I will say this: It’s a slippery slope to say that artists don’t impact the world. Art’s effects may not be as tangible as the aforementioned career alternatives, but it’s still around, broader and more widespread than ever, permeating ever facet of our human-made world. Its effects may not be as quantifiable as how many years a Doctor has kept a person alive, but as most doctors will tell you, quantity of life is not nearly as valuable as the quality of it, yet their job demands that they deliver the number over the experience.

Art demands nothing, we just make it. We express, we depict, and we rage on whether or not our impact can be put into numbers.

Blood Brother Poster - Illustration by Sam Spratt

I illustrated the poster for the winner of Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a gorgeous and refreshingly self-aware film that I’m happy to be a part of in some small way. It will be making its way around, but I believe the next upcoming screening will be at Sundance London — so you should see these plastered around if you’re in the area. 

“Tomb Raider” - Illustration by Sam Spratt

Official illustrated poster commissioned by Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix to promote the upcoming game for global print, covers, and a special gold-foil variant just for the developers. There’ll be more info soon on when and where you can get your hands on the 18”x24” poster and I’ll have some fun behind the scenes pics on its creation in the near future.

Huge thanks to Alex Ruby, Joey L, and Caleb Adams.

(Source: tombraider)

"The Americans Ad Concept Sketches" by Sam Spratt

FX approached me a few months back to develop some early conceptual advertising sketches and art direction for them to promote their new show about KGB agents living undercover in the US during the Cold War, “The Americans”. While I have design documents filled with dozens of sketches, color treatments, and mockups, these are two of the directions we considered going in early on. The more graphic/screen-print-esque approach with the close-up was a first for me. It was amazing to work with Todd Heughens and Frank Okenfels III to shoot reference of the stars — Keri Russell is amazing. I saw the pilot of the show a ways back and it’s genuinely fantastic, I highly recommend tuning in tonight.

Well I’d argue heavily that there’s nothing even remotely wrong with drawing porn or sex if that’s what you want to draw — but she is a mother after all so let’s mainly focus on selling her on nudity’s detachment from sex and its artistic utility for now.

While the most progressive out there would simply deem nudity as having no attachment to sex and that The Man is oppressing everyone… generally speaking, people seem to ditch clothes while they have it. Even with blind, progressive, idealism, the connection is pretty easy to make. The problem is that for whatever reason, that one simple nudity/sex link has taken over and spread to the nudity/clothes-changing, nudity/breast-feeding, nudity/bathroom-going, and nudity/hygiene links as well. Literally everyone (maybe sans Tobias Fünke) gets naked or naked enough to be societally-deemed “offensive” from day one of their lives, and while I personally don’t think being naked’s association with sex should matter in the first place, I also just don’t feel that the ties from sex to nudity should have changed its socially-normal definition so expansively when nakedness exists in such frequency for such unsexy reasons. While undressing can certainly be stage 1 for sex, on a daily basis for me (and most people) 90% of the time it just means things like hopping around and tripping trying to get jeans off and looking like you’re Jim Carrey trying to escape from the robotic Rhino in Ace Ventura 2 while you wrestle out of a shirt if you were nervous at all that day. I don’t even need to explain why breast-feeding or going to the bathroom is in almost all instances non-sexual, and while a bath/shower is just one of a bajillion places one can have sex, yet is the de facto standard of where you clean yourself in much of the world — it’s pretty baffling that the same place I go to to sanitize myself after a New York subway ride gets such a sexy spotlight in society.

Now, I mention all of these very normal, largely non-sexual, things in reference to drawing nude people, because, well… drawing ‘em is right there with the others. As mentioned, there are exceptions to all of the above. Have I and most mildly competent artists somehow managed to woo a gal or two by painting them like French girls? Sure. But that wasn’t because nakedness was involved, some people are just attracted to artistic ability in the same way some people are attracted to non-naked things like “nice hair”, “a good vocabulary”, or “a deep understanding of the Harry Potter universe.” 

Most people don’t try to feed a baby THROUGH a shirt, change clothes while keeping all of their original clothes on, or take a leak while their jeans are still zipped up and buttoned tight… they/we get down to basics and expose ourselves because “nude” is our natural state — it just makes more sense. Drawing clothed people works fine, but when LEARNING HOW to draw people, it is most helpful and practical to do so while they’re in their natural state. In life drawing classes, the models are there as tools for learning. Bodies reduced to their simplest of forms — nipples, penises, vaginas, and butts galore included — are there for you to study and practice. And what’s crazy about learning to draw people naked, is that after staring at all that skin for so long, you a) Get over any weirdness you feel about nudity and b) actually learn how to draw people fully clothed better without even realizing it. By understanding how everything underneath sits, it suddenly becomes much easier to not just see a shirt, but to see how it interacts, falls, and folds across skin, muscle, and bone. You learn about movement, how joints interact, how skin stretches and crinkles, and the relationship on a macro level from limb to limb down to slightly more micro-level things like where nipples fall on a chest, the many positions of the chest depending on how the body is contorted and how arms are raised, or the creases from pelvis to thigh as legs and waist pivot about… Drawing nude models isn’t just something I personally use as someone who draws many portraits, it’s honestly MOST valuable to people like animators and (when they’re not twisting their super heroines into anatomically impossible positions) comic book artists. I know people at Pixar and in the game industry who take nude life-drawing lessons all the time because it keeps them sharp and because those same fundamentals that some deem “pornographic” are applied beautifully to something as child-friendly as animating a beloved Disney film.

There are MANY value systems that demonize sex and sexualize anything within a few degrees of Kevin Bacon from it — something as simple as drawing people nude is just one of many casualties from that line of thought. But naked is just what we are. It’s our natural state. In a perfect world, you’d be able to draw naked people, sex involved or not, without needing an explanation or defense for your parents, but this is something much more basic. Your mother thinking you can take an art class and fully learn to draw people without learning how to draw them nude, is like her expecting you to get squeaky clean while showering with your clothes on. You can do it I guess… but it really just does not make much sense.