Sam Hogg is a talented and versatile illustrator who has worked as a senior concept artist for a range of top tier clients in the gaming industry. She’s helped bring many major video game titles to life from studios like Playground Games, Jagex and Bizarre Creations.
Her illustrations have also graced the likes of Fantasy Flight Games, Critical Role and (the much coveted) Magic the Gathering.
Sam was generous enough to answer a few questions about her process and creative origins, as well as a sampling of her stunning body of work.
We’ll also gain some insight into what it’s like to work as a concept artist and her advice for aspiring artists.
When did you know you wanted to pursue art as a career?
I think I was bound for an art career in gaming early on, even at the age of 13 I was making pixel sprites on the Atari desktop computer my parents bought!
Throughout my schooling, though, I was told repeatedly that art wasn’t a viable career choice, so I studied languages and sciences, convinced I was going to keep art as a hobby and go work in Europe in law or maybe genetics.
It wasn’t until I stumbled into a job painting miniature paintings for an American company straight out of high school that I even considered art as a career. Even then it was only supposed to be a temporary fix, something to save money to travel to Europe for the aforementioned ‘proper’ career.
When I stuck around for the next 3 years, you’d think I’d have taken the hint, but I didn’t. It was only after my mum demanded a local design firm gave me an interview because I was good at art (!) and another 6 years as a graphic designer that I really put my mind to the idea of doing something with my actual painting skills, especially in relation to the gaming industry.
By that time, I was 26 and my fundamental drawing skills were pretty bad, even if my ideas were decent. It took me another 2 years to bring them up to scratch and land my first concept artist job.
Where do you find inspiration and how do you overcome creative block?
This is going to sound cliché as all get out, but I find inspiration everywhere. It can be anything from the way light hits something, to dealing with turbulent raw emotion like grief, to all the amazing artwork you can see online.
It’s one of the reasons I think my work is so eclectic, because the need to translate all that inspiration into forms of artwork that fit the thing that inspired it is huge in me, and incredibly frustrating that I’ll never have the time to explore it all.
As far as creative block goes, as a professional concept artist paid to do it every day, creative block isn’t something I get very often, I’m not sure I could do my job well if I couldn’t find ways around it.
On the occasions where the brain just isn’t engaging with what I want to do, I find reference gathering or studying/practicing usually loosens me up or gets me excited for new ideas. Or if I can, I’ll just step away from the work and go try something totally different, be it going out somewhere, or trying a new style or chilling with some games with friends, anything that gets my brain out of the space where I’m treading the same water.
On the occasions where the brain just isn’t engaging with what I want to do, I find reference gathering or studying/practicing usually loosens me up or gets me excited for new ideas.
What’s your process like when you start a new piece?
I almost always start with reference. I’ll put together a mood board of images that have the kind of vibe I’m going for, whether that’s clothing refs for character design, or palettes and textures for a new traditional painting.
Occasionally I’ll just jump in and start sketching if I have a strong idea from the get-go, but I like percolating over a bunch of inspirations, seeing how things that might not seem related could be connected by shape, or colour or pattern repetition, that kind of thing.
You’re clearly skilled with both traditional and digital tools, but do you prefer working with one over the other?
Honestly, both have their ups and downs. I do love the tactile nature of working with traditional media, but digital is a lot more freeing, and even my traditional pieces almost always start out as digital sketches, as I have an odd perfectionism with traditional media that can make it hard for me to be as exploratory in the early stages.
I do love the one off original that comes with traditional, too, knowing that even if I did the exact same thing again the next piece won’t look like the first one, there’ll always be small differences. But I think it’s telling that when I want to just sit and draw and let ideas flow, digital will always be my tool of choice.
…there’ll always be small differences. But I think it’s telling that when I want to just sit and draw and let ideas flow, digital will always be my tool of choice.
Your art features a lot of incredible character designs – how do you come up with the wardrobes, hairstyles and accessories that make the characters come to life?
There are SO many amazing inspirations for character designs out there. I can lose hours down google rabbit holes, looking up anything from what an official sleeve cut is called, which might then lead me to find out about particular cloth types from certain times in history which then finds its way into my next character design.
I also have a lot of factual documentaries or audio books on while I work, it’s hugely helpful to have specific terms to look up when I’m researching. I try to find real people who are of the cultures I’m referencing, whether that’s looking up YouTube accounts, or following people on social media, or finding books and articles to read.
There’s a wealth of info out there if you follow the right people and respect the cultures you’re being inspired by.
If you were trapped on a desert island with just one art supply, what would it be?
Oh god, as someone who hoards almost every type of art supply like an obsessive artistic cave goblin, this is worst case scenario for me. I think maybe a decent oil paint kit? Oils can paint on all sorts of stuff, generally keep well, and I’m sure I could fashion some tools to use with them on the island, use rocks as a canvas, or tree bark.
Let’s say you encounter a genie who grants artist’s wishes. If you could wish for instant mastery of one creative skill, what would it be?
Figurative sculpture in clay. I love doll makers who make things like ball jointed dolls, or the folks who made Disney maquettes back in the day. I love discovery with painting and drawing, but the ability to just be able to do what I do in 3d analogue mediums without all the messy learning would be amazing.
Final question – any words of wisdom for someone looking to become a professional artist one day?
Make sure you love the process and if you’re thinking of getting into concept art for entertainment, make sure you can detach yourself from the work you do.
Pouring so much of yourself into what you do can be really hard to deal with if it then gets put through a process that often involves folks who aren’t artistically minded and churned into something you weren’t expecting and that you’ll never be able to show anyone outside the folks you work with.
Be proud of your work, know what you bring to the table and don’t be a dick. Oh, and ladies, ask for more money.
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