With influences ranging from classical paintings to contemporary Japanese anime, young American artist Samantha Mash creates exquisite digital paintings that invite viewers to search for their own meaning.
I read on your blog that you are a 21 year old art student. How are your studies going?
Well I guess I need to update that then! I am a 22 year old college grad. I graduated back in May and now I’m just trying to make my way through each week now with my regular job during the day and doing commission and illustration work by night.
Oh congratulations! Welcome to the daily grind! Was being an artist as a career something you always wanted to pursue?
Yes, thank you! Well, it would be a lie to say yes, that I’ve always wanted to be an artist so to speak, but I think it was always in the back of my mind. As a kid I didn’t know that being an artist was an “option”. I suppose it was always treated like a hobby, never a profession, by the adults that I knew as I was growing up. I must of just thought it was something you would do for fun, not something you could potentially call your job. It took many years before I realised that being an artist could be something more than a casual hobby. I think at least since my final two years of high school, maybe five or six years ago, I wanted to do something professionally in the arts. Of course though, I have to apologize in advanced and say that classic cliche; that I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember.
What were your artist influences growing up? Have they changed much over the years?
I didn’t know a lot of artists growing up, art education in America is very lacking. Mostly what I knew was animated movies and TV shows. Coming to know more artists than just Van Gogh and Dali came after I enrolled in art school. Within four years I went from knowing nothing about artist and art history, to packing in as much as my memory can keep. I’ve kept the influence from my childhood, which ultimately is a lot of contemporary Japanese animation and started to mix it with my interest in classical painting, especially from the Mannerist, and later, Romanticism and Classicism painting movements. I’m always looking at other contemporary illustrators too, they’re huge inspirations all the time. I’m really lucky to live in Portland which has such a large and interesting illustration community.
It’s a very eclectic mix but you pull it off amazingly well! Can you describe a bit of your creative process?
Sure, it starts off easy enough as traditional graphite drawing in a sketchbook. Normally this goes through a few stages and when I finally have the image I want drawn in a way I feel will translate into a painting, I scan it and put the sketch into Photoshop. From there I fix any lines I feel are off, and then start to fill in the flat colours. I try to keep some texture from the original paper I scanned in the image as I do this, I like the way it can peek through in the final image. Once the colours feel right I go in and paint much more thoroughly, it can take anywhere from ten to thirty hours to do this because I just get very absorbed in the details. And suddenly it is just done, after hours of painting I’ll reach this point where I feel that any extra work on it would ruin the piece. It is a very abrupt system, and very draining in a weird way.
You mentioned Japanese animation as a big influence in your work. What is your favourite anime or manga?
I tend to like atmospheric and creepy work, though I have seen a lot outside of this narrow subset. I think Mushishi has been a good example of something at least subject-wise that I strive for in my work. Another influence of mine has always been folklore, especially that of the American horror genre – like ghost stories, cryptids, etc – and Mushishi was, at times, truly disturbing like some of those stories. Beyond that I’ve always adored Hayao Miyazaki’s work, and often think of his movies and comics when trying to work on something very detailed and elaborate.
You can’t go wrong when it comes to Miyazaki! What would you say is the best thing about being an artist?
I really enjoy the ability to transfer ideas into images. Those images reflect my personality, they get to express what I can’t bring myself to say at times. But more than that, being an artist is about freedom for me. It is about allowing myself to draw what I want, and that has allowed me to be who I want to be. I think art really opens up avenues for people; it opens minds and creates a new level of humanity within us, let’s us meet people we would not have otherwise. I am very appreciative for being a part of creative communities that I wouldn’t have been a part of without being an artist. It really is a lot more than just drawing, the best part about being an artist is being part of something bigger than just your own work.
What can we expect from you in the not too distant future?
More art for sure, I’m working hard to build up a larger portfolio for the most part right now. In addition to that I have a comic underway and I’m organizing an art book that is bringing together a lot of up and coming illustrators and painters. I just hope to keep making and collaborating in whatever form I can find.
And lastly, what do you love to do outside of making art?
Well, I really enjoy being aware and active in politics, the environment, and human rights. That sounds truly boring, but that is something I like to do and I think it feeds into my work. As far as more traditional interests go I enjoy cultivating my cactus garden, reading as many ghost stories as I can find, thrift shopping, swimming, and I’m trying to get back into knitting and other fabric crafts. I have a ever growing animal skull collection. I am slowly learning how to clean my own bones and would like to learn more about how to reconstruct skeletons properly. I’m just a very technical and science inclined person, who also happens to be an artist.
See more wonderful work at samanthamash.com
This interview was originally published in Yume Magazine #6 (January 2014)