Sam Gilbey is a name you might not recognise, but his work will feel very familiar. As an Illustrator and designer, Sam taps into his love of popular culture, masterfully welding his pen creating stunning commissions that have a warming nostalgic glow to them.
Sam has worked for a number of impressive clients including Paramount Pictures, Wired and Adidas, and boasts fans in Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Luke Skywalker!
We got a chance to talk to Sam about his work, childhood and being a dad.
D.A.D: For those who don’t know, could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
Sam: I’m a freelance illustrator and graphic designer – I love pop culture and celebrate it through my work whenever I get the chance.
D.A.D: How many kids do you have and how old are they?
Sam: We have a boy who’ll be four in January and a girl who’ll be one in the same month.
D.A.D: Your distinctive style has a warm familiarity to it, not only in a nostalgic way, but also in your pieces based on current popular culture, can you put your finger on what attracts people to your work?
Sam: Thanks very much. I don’t know, I mean it’s amazing if someone connects with your work, and gets in touch to thank you for it, or if they like it enough to want to own it and put it on their wall, or pay you to create something new. I think with anything creative, all you can really do is try to please yourself, and then if you’re lucky there are going to be others on that wavelength. All I know is that popular culture both old and new gives me a great warmth, and I suppose I try to channel that into my work.
D.A.D: What was your childhood like?
Sam: It was very happy. I drew pretty much every day, mostly whatever pop-cultural thing was floating my boat at the time, and my parents encouraged me. My dad (now retired) was a computer programmer and he’d bring home reams of discarded printer paper, so I was never short of blank pages to fill. I never felt bored.
D.A.D: What is your favorite children’s book you currently read to your children?
Sam: Oh wow, there are so many. We recently read Dylan his first ‘proper’ book, i.e. one that couldn’t be read in a single sitting, James and the Giant Peach. So that was a special experience, although on a day to day basis we’re laughing a lot at Dr. Seuss and Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler books like Scrambled Eggs Super and The Highway Rat respectively. That and The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt (and illustrated beautifully by Oliver Jeffers).
D.A.D: We at D.A.D have tried to educate our children in the definitive age of cinema with little success, have you shared any of the classic 80’s movies with your kids?
Sam: Not yet no. We’re really taking things slow with regards to introducing Dylan to films. It just feels important to try and share them with him at the right age. So far he’s seen My Neighbour Totoro, Finding Nemo (and we took him to see Dory for his first cinema trip) and Ratatouille. I’m not sure what his first live action film will be yet, but we’ll certainly delve into the 80s as soon as the time is right. The Karate Kid is a strong contender (pun intended) but we’ll see.
D.A.D: Your work has nods to the composition and styling’s of Drew Struzan’s iconic work. Being able to capture the essence of a character or plot in a single image is quite a skill. How did you learn your craft?
Sam: Well first of all that’s incredibly kind of you. Naturally if you’re making hand-drawn and painted movie posters, you can’t help but be in Drew’s shadow to some extent. I just love figuring out the composition of these pieces, and seeing them gradually come together. Each one is a unique puzzle to solve. I’ve been painting portraits since my teens, and that just fused with my love for pop culture. I’ve always been enthralled by hand-drawn movie posters, not just those made by Drew, and it’s a thrill to make my own.
D.A.D: Has having kids influenced / affected the type of work that you do or the type of clients you work with?
Sam: It’s affected the ‘how’ a great deal. I’ve been freelancing for 12 years, and before the kids, I spent the vast majority of my time commuting into London to work in-house at various design studios, advertising agencies and digital production houses. Overall I really enjoyed that time, and the commute’s only around an hour, but now wherever possible I try to work from home. This means that I see the kids every morning and evening, and some lunchtimes too. Naturally this is better for them, my wife, and also for me. Sometimes of course I still commute – it just depends on how the bills need to be paid, but that flexibility has opened up time for my own side projects too.
As for the type of work I do – as a freelancer it varies a huge amount, but I don’t think I would avoid anything that I would have wanted to do before. I guess, say if I was working on something for a horror movie, I wouldn’t work on that with the kids around! Every day my boy comes in and asks me “who are you drawing today Papa?”. Which is really sweet, and I love that he’s starting to understand what I do, but of course it means that I only want to be drawing things with a ‘U’ rating when he’s about!
D.A.D: What is your favourite thing that your kids own?
Sam: I love the fact that Dylan can now play Mario Kart on the WiiU all by himself, and in fact just this week he won his first ever race. He was coming twelfth for what seemed like forever, then suddenly it clicked and he started to come eleventh, then tenth, and gradually worked his way up through the pack. We tend to play a little bit at the weekends. His yelp of pure joy when he finally succeeded was a wonderful moment, and I think that was an important lesson right there about perseverance. When the game first came out he just liked sitting on my lap and watching. It was about a year before he actually started to want to take control, and inevitably of course now I can’t get it off him! But videogames have given me a huge amount of joy over the years and it’s amazing to be able to experience that with him. I look forward to having lots more adventures with him.
D.A.D: What would your advice be to your children if they wanted to follow in your footsteps?
Sam: Just to find the thing they love and pursue that through thick and thin. There is no shortcut and the journey itself is the thing to enjoy – don’t fixate on any end goal in particular and just keep creating.
D.A.D: What would be your one tip for new fathers?
Sam: I guess to try and be mindful that all the little inconveniences and frustrations, the nappy accidents and the embarrassing tantrums in public, as these will also be the things you’ll miss some day very soon. Which is easier said than done in the moment (!), but we’re already feeling that a bit with our eldest, even as he gets more awesome and fascinating by the day.
D.A.D: Lastly, you had work featured in ‘Bad Dads’, Art inspired by the films of Wes Anderson. Do you have a favorite father figure from Film or television?
Sam: Ooh, good question. I remember I would just love watching American movies in the 80s, and typically they seemed to feature absent fathers or seriously flawed ones at least. Having recently watched it again to make a poster, I’d say that the dad in Teen Wolf (played with warmth by James Hampton) ends up being a great role model. Other than that I guess I’d have to cheat and say John Candy as Uncle Buck!