Sam Twardy uses flat, simple vector illustrations to satisfy the messy, unorganised nature of her mind
The illustrator tells us how she moved from working for a fashion designer in New York City to becoming a graphic artist for Whole Foods, and has now settled as an in-house graphic designer at a non-profit, for now.
- Dalia Al-Dujaili
- 2 December 2021
“I always joke that I am a jack-of-all-trades, master of none.” Sam Twardy has had a winding path to end up where she is now. For as long as the artist can remember, she’s been drawing. Eventually, she took a childhood obsession and used it to earn a degree in Studio Art, “mostly because I was incredibly indecisive and had no idea what other major to pick,” she admits. “I always envisioned myself in a creative field, though I was very unsure of what that would look like.”
Sam’s work takes on a refreshingly clean approach to what can sometimes be maximalist and messy scenes, depicting food and fashion mostly. “I use a lot of minimal, clean lines, and I think that is a direct reflection of loving fashion as well as photography.” Also a self-identifying “messy person,” Sam finds it satisfying to use “flat, simple vector illustrations”. In a similar juxtaposition, Sam tends to gravitate towards subtle, muted colours in life, so she uses bright and bold colours in her illustrations. It seems life does not imitate art in this instance. “It's almost like I’m finding a balance between those very disparate parts of myself,” the artist explains.
On graduating, Sam went on to the Big Apple, working under a fashion designer, before becoming a graphic artist for Whole Foods Market where she spent all her time “hand drawing food onto chalkboards,” something that probably has come in handy, looking at her clean-cut, two-dimensional food illustrations. “I also worked as a wedding and event photographer.” Working now at a non-profit organisation as their in-house designer, she tells us that because “it’s not always the most creative job day to day,” she decided to focus on “embracing illustration as a way to be imaginative outside of work”.
For a while, Sam had considered going back to school for surface textile design, and while that never ended up happening, she still likes to incorporate aspects of the medium into her creative projects. “I use a lot of patterns and symmetry to take something that is very simple at its core and make it more interesting.” Finding one’s artistic style can be a lengthy, arduous and emotional process of trial and error, and taking plenty of healthy criticism. Sam found this process to be difficult, getting impatient and wanted it to “hurry up” – looking at her work now, it would be hard to tell. Sam has a keenly consistent style and an easily discernible illustrative voice, but she’s adamant on remaining open to the possibilities that come with growth and change. “If you check back in with me in another three months, my work will have evolved even further, because I’m still on that journey of finding what works. It’s super gratifying when I stumble upon one of those aha! moments, where a new piece of my style comes together.”
In typical Sam fashion, her creative process always starts by making “a pile of messy sketches on paper”. Encouraging her partner to model “goofy hand and body poses with different objects around the house,” she’s able to get that exaggerated perspective that is noticeable in her images. “Even once I’ve settled on the theme or subject I hope to work with, I’ll go through several iterations before I ever move over into a digital space. But once I do, I use Adobe Illustrator to start building the clean lines the final product will be made from.” Bringing in blocks of colour very early on, Sam is able to visualise her end goal – colour is no doubt the star of the show within her pieces, paired with liberally sized shapes and silhouettes. “Honestly, that’s my favourite part of the whole process: deciding on the final colour scheme. If one isn’t assigned, I’ll have six or seven different drafts of every piece before I decide which one I want to eventually put out into the world,” Sam explains to us. “I used to get bogged down with making sure every piece I put out is perfect and cohesive,” she reveals of her practice, “but I’ve been enjoying letting myself try new things and seeing what works.”
As a newcomer to professional illustration, Sam has just started landing her first illustration jobs. “A really fun one I worked on this year was a collaboration I did for the band Trace Mountains in celebration of their new record,” she tells It’s Nice That. For this project, Sam put together two separate T-shirt designs that came out in time with the new record release. “I love music and I love this band, so it was really cool to collaborate and to see my work out in the world on a physical item.”
Constantly learning from those around her, Sam finds it helpful to look towards other industries for inspiration. She tells us that she often starts a new project “after seeing work by fashion and textile designers” that she admires, but she could equally find inspiration “just about anywhere” that she looks. “Whether that’s the food in my refrigerator or the random household objects I have laying around my tiny one-bedroom apartment, there’s always something that can get me excited enough to make new work.” As a fan of 90s TV shows, she likes to rewatch old favourites like Twin Peaks and The X-Files so she can come up with ideas for her next piece.
“Right now, I’m weirdly excited because it’s winter in New York, which means I’ll be able to stay inside and work on more personal projects for the next few months.” Spoken like a true artist, Sam. As the artist loves learning new skills, she recently purchased a scroll saw, so her goal for the next few months is to make hand-painted wood cuts of some of her illustrations to revisit her work in a new way, staying true to her vision of a constantly evolving practice. “Going into 2022 and beyond, I hope to expand my portfolio even further with more editorial illustrations, packaging design, murals, and textiles,” she continues, on the topic of what she has in store for the future. “There’s a quote by the designer Massimo Vignelli that has always sort of stuck with me, ‘If you can design one thing, you can design everything.’ I love that the options are sort of endless with how illustration can be applied to almost any medium.”
Sam Twardy: X-Files (Copyright © Sam Twardy, 2021)
About the Author
Dalia joined It’s Nice That as a news writer in July 2021 after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh. She's written for various indie publications such as Azeema and Notion, and ran her own magazine and newsletter platforming marginalised creativity.