Samantha Hahn, illustrator and blogger, photographed in her home studio in NYC. She works with with a range of clients in publishing, editorial, branding, and advertising. Select clients include: Vogue Nippon, Refinery 29, Random House and J.Crew. Her book, Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction’s Most Beloved Heroines, has recently been released by Chronicle Books.
Q&A with Samantha Hahn:
Tell me a little bit about yourself, who you are, and where you are from.
I’m a NYC based artist. I live here with my family (husband and toddler). We were both born here and have lived other places but always returned. There’s no place that compares with New York especially if you are an artist.
Please tell me where you work and explain what your job entails.
I work from home. I love doing it. When I’m working everything gets tuned out. Then all of a sudden when work is over the space becomes home again. I get to take my son to school, come home get right to work and then be with family in the afternoon and evening and get back to work if I have a lot to do.
How did you get where you are today? What has been career path?
I was born into an artistic and creative family. I saw my parents use creativity in their professions so it was completely natural for me to follow my dreams. I studied illustration and went on to get my masters in art education. I taught for a few years and painted figurative oil paintings. I didn’t really care for the fine art world. I didn’t really give a damn about getting a gallery show so doing fine art felt sort of hollow and lonely. I eventually found my niche with illustration and now feel well situated in my little corner of the market. I started with small jobs for independent jewelry designers and indie magazines and built my way up to established magazines, publishing companies and now I do work for advertising and branding companies, designers etc.
How did you figure out what you wanted to do? Did anyone in particular give you direction or influence your creative path in life?
I’ve always been an illustrator. Honestly, I remember drawing all through school. I had a 2nd grade teacher who would allow me to draw as she read aloud to the class and not allow anyone else to. She knew it was everything to me. Obviously, I was lucky to grow up in a home where my parents were not discouraging about pursuing the artistic path academically.
What is something you didn’t know before you started on this path?
Well, I think like all artists, you go into the field you want to work in thinking you’ll just be painting away at a drawing table. The reality is there’s a lot of business, marketing and management involved in being a professional artist. Even with an agency representing me and negotiating all of my contracts I’m on the computer for many hours each day doing work other than art.
Where do you get inspiration?
So many people I know inspire me. I love being friends with fellow artists, designers and editors. Just being around such vibrant women doing such amazing things is inciting. I am active online on my blog Maquette, pinterest and instagram. I really enjoy my friend’s feeds from Aran, the blogger and author behind Canelle et Vanille’s gorgeous pacific northwest scenery to my friend Christene Barberich’s incredible style snaps.
Do you have a dream client or assignment?
I’ve definitely been lucky to work with some incredible dream clients. I was Daily Candy’s illustrator for a few years and I just illustrated the cover for Vogue Nippon’s beauty awards. I’d love to work with The New York Times someday. I love working with a variety of clients and am always excited to work with people/publications and brands where there’s mutual admiration.
Please describe how your creative brain works.
Sometimes I have reference that’s super inspiring and other times I get a mental picture first and try to find reference for salient details like facial structure, light and shadow etc. I try to stay loose and let the paint inform me. Sometimes I get nervous and get too tight and the illustration does not have that effortless flowing feeling so I do it again, and sometimes again and again until it’s more natural.
Describe your style. Is your personal style different from your professional style?
fashion: Yes, I’m a form follows function person. I love the way heels look but they’re not that conducive to my actual lifestyle, which entails running around town with my son, and to meetings. I have a pretty paired down look personally and professionally. On a regular old work day I wear jeans and a soft t-shirt with stacked heel booties or sneakers (vans mainly) and to a meeting I wear wide leg trousers and a blouse with stacked heel booties (my favorite are Rachel Comey), pumps (Loeffler Randall) or wedges (Madewell).
art: My style is decidedly feminine. I use an economy of delicate quill lines and lush colorful watercolor to create form. I leave negative space to create an airy feeling. I work this way in both commercial and personal work.
What has helped you to become successful?
Willingness to keep trying even in the face of rejection. No artist gets to a place where they are working their dream job without a struggle first. If you can get over that hump, you can get to where you want to be. It may not look exactly the way you thought it would but if you are flexible, hard working, talented and willing to be persistent you can make your way to doing what you want to do in life.
Any advice for someone interested in following your chosen path as an artist?
Yes, build a portfolio of the kind of work you’d like to be assigned and pound the proverbial pavement knocking on doors until one day someone says “yes, we want you for this” and then your professional work will take over the work you did to showcase yourself.