Welcome to the Women in Fantasy Illustration interview series. I am interviewing prominent women who work in the Fantasy Illustration Industry. You will find the links to more interviews at the bottom of the page.
This week’s interview is with an incredible illustrator and concept artist; Sam Hogg! We are going to talk about her career, concept art and about her personal project The Whaler Girl.
- Please give a brief introduction of yourself, your career and your work.
My name is Sam Hogg, I’ve been a concept artist for the last 10 years, and prior to that I worked as a graphic designer and traditional illustrator. My work reflects the huge number of influences I’ve had over quite a varied artistic career, I’m one of those artists who can turn her hand to most styles with a bit of practice, which is both a blessing and a curse!
My work reflects the huge number of influences I’ve had over quite a varied artistic career, I’m one of those artists who can turn her hand to most styles with a bit of practice, which is both a blessing and a curse!
- When did realize you wanted to make a career as a concept artist?
I’ve always wanted to work with games. Since the age of 11, when my dad bought an Atari 520 and I spent hours messing in the pixel painting program, it’s something I’ve always come back to. I’ve had almost every console and have taken whatever jobs I felt would benefit me best to getting into games. I don’t play games as much as I used to these days as my spare time is given over to personal projects and freelance, but when the first thing you do when someone gifts you an xbox with Halo: Combat Evolved is stare at the amazing grass texture for 5 minutes, then you kinda know that you’re meant for it! However, it wasn’t until I saw Bjorn Hurri’s Viking: Battle for Asgard thread on conceptart.org that I realised what a concept artist actually did day to day and how difficult I would have found that with my curent skillset. That thread made me buckle down and learn all the fundamentals that were lacking in my work and a year or two later I broke into the games industry as a concept artist.
(...) when the first thing you do when someone gifts you an xbox with Halo: Combat Evolved is stare at the amazing grass texture for 5 minutes, then you kinda know that you’re meant for it!
- What difficulties have you faced in transitioning into becoming a professional concept artist?
I think I found the time restraints hardest at first. Suddenly having to come up with ideas on the spot, and flesh them out in a few hours certainly makes you realise what knowledge you lack pretty quickly. The years I spent as a graphic designer were also something of a hindrance as well as a help. Even now I find it hard to see things in 3D space, especially with environment work, my brain defaults to flattening everything into interlocking shapes.
(...) I found the time restraints hardest at first. Suddenly having to come up with ideas on the spot, and flesh them out in a few hours certainly makes you realise what knowledge you lack pretty quickly.
- What do you like the most about illustrating?
I love the breadth of illustration, the myriad of styles you can find under that one descriptive word. For me, illustration is at its best when it’s like catching a fleeting glance of some larger narrative. I love finding ways to hint at the story, whether that’s through costume design, finding the right way to light something, or the subtlety of gesture or expression. Those kind of details are the sort of thing I can get lost in with illustration, more so than concept art. If concept art is the linguistic structure of a world, illustration is like the poetry, a chance to really appreciate the minutiae.
- What do you like the least about it?
I hate rendering things. This might be a surprise to those who’ve seen my tightly rendered illustrative work, but tightly rendering things bores me to death. My interest in art is solving problems. Once I can squint at a piece and see everything working, I really have to force myself to push through to get the details done. I do like the end result of the work though.
- I have been following your art for ‘The Whaler Girl’ with great interest – can you tell us about this project?
Thank you first and foremost, I love hearing that my little world peaks other’s interest! The Whaler Girl is something I’d been knocking around for a few years before I took Iain McCaig’s Smart School course. He really helped me shape it from a bunch of random characters into a fully fleshed story with themes and a reason for being. I’ve always loved creating stories around my artwork, The Whaler Girl is a way for me to combine a love of both writing and art.
It’s the story of a young girl, Eideann, born in a narrow-minded whaling town, who harbors a strong ability with ancient, elemental magic. Raised to believe that this kind of ability is evil incarnate, when things inevitably go wrong for her, she flees the safety of her home town and joins a band of Dark Merchants, the leader of who happens to ‘recruit’ women with extraordinary abilities to fund his less than noble trading. The story follows Eidy as she transitions from a naive, young woman into a leader for those who are being persecuted for their abilities. It’s a tale of coming to accept who and what you truly are. It’s been an anchor for me, artistically, allowing me to explore styles and designs while having an overall guiding narrative. There are a number of themes through the story that are deeply personal to me and my own experiences, this project is a way for me to share them with the world.
I’ve always loved creating stories around my artwork, The Whaler Girl is a way for me to combine a love of both writing and art.
- You are really nailing both concept art and illustration, is there one you enjoy more and if so why?
I like both, but I think concept art is more enjoyable for me. Especially thumbnailing and the exploration you get to do at the start of a new project. I love getting past the immediate ideas and finding the combination of ideas that creates something new, but familiar, or taking a client’s idea and finding a better way to present it to them without losing the essence of what they wanted. Because concept art is generally a little faster and iterative, you can create whole worlds and find ways to link the things within those worlds visually. I love being able to punctuate the quick ideation with an occasional deeper illustration though, that affords some love to the ideas that have been created, so I think while I enjoy concept art more, the two compliment each other well enough for me to not have to choose between them.
- What is a typical day like as a concept artist?
A lot less glamorous than most people think! For the most part it involves me sitting in front of a wacom of some kind, with headphones on, either listening to music or documentaries to get me in the right frame of mind for the kind of work I do. Working at Atomhawk has been really interesting because of the breadth of clients they work for. Some days can be started working on an epic marketing art illustration for a AAA game studio, and by lunch you’re working on small, graphic props for an indie developer who’s just hit funding with Google or Amazon. It takes a lot mentally to be able to sit for 8 hours a day and create idea after idea, and keep everything fresh. We also spend a lot of our time painting less interesting things so you have to know how to find something engaging in even the most mundane object or scene.
It takes a lot mentally to be able to sit for 8 hours a day and create idea after idea, and keep everything fresh. We also spend a lot of our time painting less interesting things so you have to know how to find something engaging in even the most mundane object or scene.
- What is the best advice you have ever received regarding your artwork and career?
Iain McCaig gave me the piece of advice that’s stuck with me most. Draw what you’d run naked through the snow to see. That one phrase is something I think about whenever I sit down to do my own work and I get overwhelmed by the constant pressures of social media, or furthering my portfolio, or that voice in my head telling me that I should be working on my weaknesses, not pandering to my strengths. You only get one life and if you want to do art, don’t spend it talking yourself out of doing the things you love. Inevitably, people respond best to the work where I’ve let go of expectations, including my own.
Draw what you’d run naked through the snow to see.
- What are some of your goals for the future?
I keep poking Blizzard every now and again to see if they’d like to hire me, as I’m an unashamed Blizzard fan and I’d kill to work on one of their IPs. On a more personal level, The Whaler Girl is my ultimate long term project. Eideann’s story is one of a number I want to tell in that particular universe. Ideally I’d start with a 3 book trilogy around Eideann, which I’d love to publish with a visual companion then if that does well, expand into the other characters and chase the heels of authors like Janny Wurts, Robert Jordan or David Gemmel. I’d also love to look at doing a small scale, indie game with some of the tales I’ve developed in the world too, since I love the genuine immersion you get with video games.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this interview with Sam Hogg, check out her website and social media for more!
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View all Women in Fantasy Illustration interviews here.