By Zachary Swickey
When digital painter Sam Spratt was a spry art college grad in June 2010, he immediately became the (first) in-house staff illustrator for popular media conglomerate Gawker. Articles boasting his work were getting plenty more hits than ones carrying boring stock photo images. Before long, Spratt was getting more commission work than he could handle and had to say goodbye to Gawker and venture out on his own. (But trust us, he’s doing just fine!)
Since his departure, Spratt has diversified his portfolio – creating merch designs for herbal enthusiast and rapper Wiz Khalifa, as well as album artwork for rockers Foxy Shazam and metal-heads Trivium. Spratt has no problem with tricky imagery, whether it’s a Renaissance period piece for a private client or his collaboration with Rovio Mobile’s super-mega-smash-hit “Angry Birds.” It seems he’s up for any type of visual challenge.
Quite the fan of pop culture, Spratt has painted multiple interesting likenesses of various characters, including Ron Swanson from “Parks and Recreation,” quirky Dwight Schrute of “The Office,” Kanye West, a breathtaking portrait of “2 Broke Girls” star Kat Dennings and a hilarious take on Troy and Abed of “Community” in a fake movie poster for “Inspector Spacetime.” Even his personal self-portrait is stunning to say the least. We are simply floored by the visual creations Spratt manages to create and with Twitter as an outlet – some of his creations have gone viral. Rainn Wilson is even using his portrait as his Twitter avatar.
Spratt is currently based in Brooklyn, New York, and was kind enough to chat with us about his interesting craft and provide us a look into his digital art domain.
MTV: It took me a moment to realize your works were digital paintings when I first discovered you. I know you were not originally trained on digital media, so how was that transition?
Sam: Not too hard, actually. In college I first learned oil painting under the technique of Peter Paul Rubens – studying every step of his process. The transition to digital touched on many of the same concepts: ground color, sketch, grayscale painting, cool and warm color additions and final color/detail-work. It’s a different medium … a cleaner one, but it can be treated almost identically.
MTV: You’re only 23 and you’ve already got quite the clientele list. Was it a nerve-wracking experience to be Gawker’s in-house artist at only – what, 21?
Sam: It was terrifying. I walked in there with this massive ego that my professors had helped build, and was almost instantaneously knocked down 10 pegs and it was like starting all over. The crew there was great in both bringing me down to earth and challenging me to work my ass off. It was a one of a kind experience that I wouldn’t change in any way despite its wealth of difficulties. Getting put back in reality and being demanded to learn and grow in a very real environment with very quick deadlines was the best thing that could’ve possibly happened to me after four years of people telling you almost nothing but candy-coated pleasantries.
MTV: So several of your most interesting pieces feature characters from some of our favorite comedy television shows (“Park and Rec’s” Ron Swanson and “The Office’s” Dwight among the many). Did you do these pieces just for your own personal fun?
Sam: Thank you. I love television and keep it going while I work during the day. I could have a busy as hell 14-hour day of painting and blow through an entire season of a show in the background, so they’ve become a weird part of my productivity. When I started doing them, they were for fun, but I treat all of my pop-culture/non-client pieces as one of the most important parts of my business. Ron Swanson, Dwight and Inspector Spacetime each had pretty large viral-pickups and sent dozens of clients my way and granted me some nice exposure. I treat them like my advertising – except they are also some of my favorite pieces to make.
MTV: How did “2 Broke Girls” star Kat Dennings like her portrait painting? We’re big fans of her and the show.
Sam: She’s this unusual archetype of beauty and dark humor that many seem to respond very well to. She seemed very happy with it and apparently “likes the voodoo that [I] do“.
MTV: That Foxy Shazam album art work you did was incredible as well as the Wiz Khalifa merch design. Do you find yourself getting more music-related commissions? Are there any musicians you’re itching to paint?
Sam: Much appreciated. I’ve worked with a few. Foxy Shazam being a personal favorite as those guys are both amazingly talented and complete and total characters in their appearances. I keep my toes in the water in the music industry as I definitely have my share of interest there and would love to contribute album covers to some of my favorite artists. If I can score a cover for Broken Social Scene and Kanye West in my lifetime, I’ll consider it a success.
MTV: Do you know if Kanye has seen his portrait you did of him?
Sam: I have no idea, and if he did, he wouldn’t be Kanye if he acknowledged it. His appeal to me is in his utter honesty with how completely self-absorbed he is. No one wants a humble or appreciative Kanye. Those who value him, value his god complex – which, when it comes to music, I think he has largely earned.
MTV: I constantly refer to him as “King Midas” in my write-ups.
MTV: Have you thought about or been approached by film studios for design work? I can’t help but think you could’ve lent a hand with Ridley Scott’s upcoming “Prometheus” or a Pixar flick.
Sam: I’ve been approached by a few; some haven’t been things that have excited me, others I can’t talk about quite yet. That said, I want to see a renaissance in illustrated film posters. Things are getting pretty generic out there.
MTV: That actually leads me to my next question… Would you like to tackle movie posters someday? You seem like a worthy candidate to take the torch from Drew Struzan and bring it to the digital world.
Sam: Every time someone draws a link between myself and Struzan, I get absurdly nervous – the man is an illustrative deity and someone I couldn’t possibly ever match in technical achievement. One of the nicest and most pressure inducing things said to me was by Ryan Kalil of the Carolina Panthers, who made a similar parallel. I can only hope to even be in a league similar to Struzan. That said, the genre he tackled is one I would love to visit and approach in my own way. I mean, I love photographers, but for a movie poster – studios/the ad-agencies behind them have to hire a photographer, a crew, sets, retouchers, compositors, etc. Big movies easily have six figures poured into some of these posters dispersed across the many facets that go into them. Why not hire just one painter?
MTV: We hear you, man. Right there with you. Lastly, you don’t have divulge any names, but have you done private commissions for any big-time celebs? Any star struck moments there?
Sam: Sadly, the nature of private commissions is that they remain private, but I have definitely had my star struck moments. What I’d really like to do is to eventually segue my painting into advertising/promotional tools for television. I find the industry hugely fascinating and though I have the benefit of a job I already love every second of it that supports me well, the closer I get to other industries I’m passionate about, the bigger the results seem to be.