Sam Bailey uses tools in the “wrong way” to find exciting visual combinations

Sam talks to us about searching elsewhere for creative references, and finding the right balance between personal and commercial work.

5 February 2020

It’s been a little while since we last properly spoke to London-based creative Sam Bailey. In the nearly three years that have passed, he’s been producing work for clients left, right and centre, as well as pumping out personal projects. This has included a range of clothing for Lazy Oaf, a whole host of editorial commissions and a zine published by Bronze Age. “In summary,” Sam says, “since we last spoke, I've watched thousands of YouTube tutorials.”

While this has seen this technical skills improve ten-fold, the major thing he’s learned is how beneficial personal projects are for him. “I've tried to create a practice that suits me – essentially it’s about finding the right balance of commercial work to keep me financially afloat while still leaving time for personal projects. Oddly enough, it’s usually the personal projects which are often creatively fulfilling but with no financial gain that I benefit from most. Both in terms of the skills I learn completing these projects, but also it’s the work that tends to get me more commissions.”

It’s also taught him about how important balancing work and life is though: “I always defined myself by how well I was doing in my career, which I actually think is quite boring. I’m much more interested now in trying to live better, and to let things happen organically.”

GallerySam Baily: Brick magazine

One of the most defining things about Sam’s portfolio is its distinct lack of a clear definition. His work flits between illustration, graphic design and code-based projects with ease. No matter what the medium, however, there’s a tendency to break the rules; use tools in unexpected ways or upend visual tropes. This means he often finds new visual combinations that “feel exciting,” searching for the “wrong way” to do something. “I’ve spent a lot of time refining my interests and where I take inspiration from,” he says, which seems to explain this aesthetic somewhat. “I always try to be conscious of any references I’m making in my work, making sure they’re relevant to the project.”

Recently, he provided a series of editorial illustrations for CR Fashion Book. “[I] really enjoyed visualising a concept alongside a written piece, it’s definitely something I’d love to do more of,” he tells us. This piece saw him using 3D techniques to produce polished visuals incorporating complex compositions, particularly in one image where two masks sit suspended in mid air, surrounded by swatches of fabric and barbed wire.

In another editorial project, he produced a pair of illustrations to accompany an article about hip hop trio De La Soul in issue six of Brick magazine. In contrast to his work for CR Fashion Book, this commission employs a DIY aesthetic, collaging black and white images, many of them distorted through stretching or half tones.

These two commissions, when compared, really do show the breath of Sam’s output. His work, while differing in visual styles, is held together by an innate sense of exploration and investigation. “I’m not sure if I have a signature visual language,” he adds on this point. “I try to focus on what interests me, in the hope that whatever comes out is sincere. I hope that there's a style that carries through, but I also feel you can't think about it too much or force it. I'm always impressed by the consistency of other creative people, but maybe that's a grass is greener kind of thing.”

GallerySam Bailey


CR Fashion Book


CR Fashion Book


CR Fashion Book


CR Fashion Book


Make Running

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Sam Bailey: Make Running

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.

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