"Illustration is one of those weird things where you tend to build your own career depending on what it is you are inclined to show other people [in your portfolio]," says illustrator and SVA faculty member Sam Weber (MFA 2005 Illustration as Visual Essay). His artistic landscape is full of monsters, gothic adventurers, vampires, ominous myths and dark fairy tales—the darker the better, in fact, which is something he has reveled in since childhood. "Work that I consumed at least thematically when I was a child has trickled into my adult professional career," he says. "I guess it's a pretty conscious decision. I started doing work mainly for magazines and newspapers, but over the last couple of years, especially with the rise in young adult literature, there's been a lot of book cover illustration work. I think those projects tend to fit my artistic voice more harmoniously."
When Weber moved to New York City from Calgary, Alberta, to attend SVA, he was creating large-scale oil paintings and shopping them around. "I enjoyed doing them, but they weren't getting me the recognition that I wanted, which at the time was from magazines and newspapers," he says. "I would show my portfolio and they would say nice things, but they weren't hiring me."
So he decided to abandon painting—for a while—and begin making ink drawings. The response was immediate and positive. "People hired me for jobs and it was allowing me to tell stories that were more specific to the client's needs," he says. However, over time he began to add color, digitally, to the drawings and slowly they turned back into paintings. "I'm definitely one of those people who are afraid of sudden change," says Weber. "First I added a little bit of paint to the ink, then a little more paint and a little less ink. Slowly, the paint replaced the ink. Now it's mainly watercolor and acrylic, finished in Photoshop."
Weber now uses the computer in the end stages of all his work, which allows for color alterations or revisions that the client may request. "For better or worse, a lot of clients now expect images to be very flexible," he says. "You need to be able to change a blue dress to a red one on a whim—and relatively quickly."
Whether tackling a book cover or a magazine illustration, Weber brings the same intensity of composition and style to all of his work, the only difference being the time frame he has to create the piece. "If you're doing something for The New York Times you may have a couple of days, if you're lucky," he says. "If it's for the op-ed page, sometimes you have an afternoon. But I still use the same language as I would with a painting that could take me a couple of weeks."
To help in the creation of his paintings he's been able to tap into the resources of New York City—using models and actors to portray his subjects and renting period costumes.
"I love the research that goes into the creation of an illustration," Weber says, "And it's nice to work with real things for reference, as opposed to just low resolution JPEGs that you find online. You can rent a great costume and hire someone attractive to wear it, and pose them how you want, getting all the wrinkles, folds, highlights and reflected light just right."
Weber's illustrations have appeared on book covers for Random House, Scholastic, Penguin, DC/Vertigo Comics, Tor Books, as well as in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Flaunt, National Geographic, and Time magazine. In addition, he worked as a concept artist for the Universal Film, Snow White and the Huntsman. He has received numerous awards from the Society of Illustrators and Spectrum Fantastic Art and in 2009 was named one of Print Magazine's Twenty under Thirty.
"I think invariably if you want to be successful, you have to make work that speaks to you personally," says Weber. With that in mind the bleak, the dark, and the troubled all have a champion in Sam Weber.
To view more of Weber's work, visit www.sampaints.com.