“My biggest reference is probably nature,” Washington DC-based designer and art director, Sam Jayne tells It’s Nice That. “Aside from its natural beauty and obvious visual impressiveness, I think there’s a certain weird magic that happens in my work when I manipulate natural elements using software and end up with this strange digital imagery that feels totally disconnected from anything remotely organic.”
Although a thoroughly unexpected reference upon initially seeing Sam’s work – which is graphically bold and, at times, lurid in its colour palette – his explanation makes perfect sense. In a recent piece titled Rare Plant Sale, for example, Sam utilised the popularity of house plants and cactuses but created something abstract and almost psychedelic: “a rejection of the cutesy illustrated plants that are in vogue,” he adds.
Sam first became interested in graphic design at an early age through skateboarding. “Paying attention to board graphics opened my eyes to how accessible art was and the role design plays in generating a connection with things,” he recalls. Now, his practice is divided in two: editorial projects with a clear content and more experimental work, where more decisions need to be made. Although originally from northern Virginia, Sam previously spent a couple of years in Boston, working as the art director for MIT Technology Review where much of this editorial work was achieved.
One such project was Sam’s design system and art direction for MIT Technology Review’s annual list charting ten technological advances which are shaping the way we work and live. “I used the typefaces Ferry, from the foundry Letters from Sweden, and Lydia from Colophon foundry to create a unique mixture of typography that helped the package sand out,” he describes. With each spread featuring a formulaic layout in terms of headlining, this formula was disrupted by a different striking colour to accommodate each article.
These kinds of graphic solutions are typical of Sam’s approach to design: “I always strive to provide a visual narrative that functions in parallel with the text while feeling as special and unique as possible — I really want to stretch the storytelling through the art.”
Sam’s work, whether editorial or experimental, is incredibly varied, making it difficult to summarise as one practice or medium. With illustration, poster design and book design, as well as his art direction commissioning others to do these things, his understanding of the industry is clearly broad. Despite varying in output, there is a visual tone which unites his practice; a mishmash of textural, distorted and typographic elements combined with bold colour choices. “I think there’s something really interesting about the spaces where the natural and man-made worlds collide — that juxtaposition, the decay, the overlapping of elements,” Sam remarks, concluding that, “I think channelling that into some visual output has been something I’ve kept in the back of my mind.”
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