Loco for local: Sam Hepburn

Malaysian artists: a special feature!

Continuing from our first Loco for Local interview, we talk to Sam Hepburn, a KL-based illustrator and writer who just launched her book, NO! (featured previously).

Sam Hepburn

Name: Sam Hepburn
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Shop: hepburnco.etsy.com
Website: www.samhepburn.com
Illustration media: My favourites are pastels and black ink pens

You live in Malaysia — what stands out about living here, and what is your daily schedule like?
One of my favourite things is how the culture all smooshes together here. When I’m chatting with my friends, we string sentences together using a bunch of the local languages – we even make up our own words here and there. I often joke with my sister about how if we ever go back to Scotland and meet up our old friends, we’re going to have to bring a translator along.

My daily schedule is insane because I work a few jobs. (It’s less about the going being tough than it is about my greedy ambition and criminal shopaholic tendencies!) So I’ll often go for a massage on Saturday or Sunday just to clear the week out of my head and work out the keyboard wrists.

Sam Hepburn

And does being in Malaysia influence your art in any way?
Well I was born in Scotland and lived there until I was about 15, but I think I only really grew up in Malaysia. Being thrust into a completely different culture, environment and way of life at that critical point when all your important (or at least you think they’re important!) opinions are being formed – yes, it definitely affected the way I express myself. Actually, it’s a long story but I might not have even gone back to drawing if I hadn’t travelled this path. A lot of people ask me why I moved here when locals with a scrap of potential would rather leave, but I don’t regret being here because I learned so much; the exposure was and is invaluable.

In Malaysia, I find that the progress of the art and craft community has yet to catch on. What do you think can be done to increase awareness of art and craft locally?
I guess we all grumble now and then about how there’s not enough support for the arts here, other countries are so much better, etc. etc. But really, it has to start with us. The resources, networks and opportunities are there if you know where to look or are willing to find out. I think that’s the fun of it as well, the challenge! We’re in a position to do really amazing things here in Malaysia because nobody’s actually stuck their flag in the ground yet. So we just need to be more fearless, more adventurous, more ambitious!

Sam Hepburn

Sam Hepburn

How did you get your start in illustration?
To me, drawing was one of those careers that you enjoy on the side but never really take seriously. And then I met some really amazing people during a college internship – I was lucky because they gave me room to be 100% myself. So while I’d signed up to write ads, I found myself leaning more and more towards my quirkier, cartoony side. Soon I decided to make more room in my career for drawing. I started a web comic, was booked for a couple of commissions from that, and slowly began to take on more projects. It was such a pivotal moment in my internship that changed everything – dramatic as it sounds! – and I’ll always be grateful to the people who gave me that paradigm shift.

Could you tell us more about your thought process when you start a piece?
I use up a lot of paper, all kinds, and mess up my room until it’s a complete landfill and I can’t find my dogs. I spend quite a bit of time feeling guilty about the amount of paper I’m wasting, and then thinking up ways to reuse it. Once I’m over the paper bit, I’ll start actually being productive. I bring a notebook everywhere, and will draw bits of projects or write down little phrases I suddenly think of. I change up my workspace quite often – sometimes it’s just working in different rooms, otherwise I’ll take my materials out to a coffee shop. I take lots of breaks! Whether it’s to watch a movie, grab a bowl of cereal, play with my dogs (or clean up their business) – I guess all the distractions help free up the mind to be more random and creative. (Although if I’m on a tight deadline, I definitely don’t dillydally quite so much!) I also like to pore over old stories, toys and TV shows I knew as a kid because I realize what amazing art they are now; I used to take it all for granted. One thing I never do when creating new work is look through ‘visual reference books’, and I try to avoid image bookmarking sites.

Sam Hepburn

What’s your favourite project so far?
I’m just happy that I even have a ‘so far’ – it means that there’s so much more to come! I’m always proud of projects that really challenged my field of experience – like my first picture book, NO! A Lesson in Love, where I started with zero contacts, zero expertise in design, book layout or production, zero anything! I’m very happy to be doing what I do, and I think invitations to new projects will always thrill me out of my mind.

Do you keep a journal/sketchbook, and would you mind if we had a sneak peek?

Sam Hepburn

Sam Hepburn

Sam Hepburn

What or who inspires you?
I love kids – their random logic and lack of social grace! I had an eight year old come up to me during a school reading session and suddenly tell me ‘you have teeth on top of your other teeth’. I’ll never forget that, it was so weird and awkward, yet wonderful at the same time!

What keeps you motivated?
Just like anyone else, I fluctuate between being a flaming ball of motivation and not being able to roll out of bed. It’s often a movie, the lyrics of a song, a mind-numbing meeting at work, or an interesting conversation with a friend that will suddenly put my gramophone needle back on the LP.

Could you share with us your progression as an artist — compared to when you first started out, how has your style changed since then?
I like to think that my style gets stronger and more defined as my confidence grows, but that it always retains its original naïveté and honesty. I never want to change, only to get better at something only I can do!

Sam Hepburn

Sam Hepburn

What’s your favourite tool?
Pastels! Fat ones!

Are you a full-time artist?
Well, if my career was a pie chart, I suppose the biggest slice would go to my dogs – and then perhaps the second biggest would be the ‘artist’ slice. And then the third biggest would be the jobs that pay for the first two slices. Complicated, isn’t it!

What advice would you like to give people who are interested in being an artist full-time?
Lose all interest in profit, fame and the title of ‘artist’. Just concentrate on being wonderful.

Sam Hepburn

Where do you see yourself within the next few years?
I want to be smarter, savvier, more culturally aware and better traveled – but still feel like everything is brand spanking new.

What message do you want to send out to people about your work?
I think they can see it for themselves – what I do is and will always be honest, lo-fi and a tribute to childhood.

Tell us something random about yourself!
I still have decorations up in my room from two Christmases ago. They’re reindeer and awesome.

3 Replies to “Loco for local: Sam Hepburn”

  1. wearn_ar says:

    Thanks for sharing so much about illustration,
    love your blog!

  2. natemac says:

    just found your blog and I really dig these artist interviews. especially the sneak peeks into other artists’ sketchbooks. I just showed a batch of creatives my notebook as we talked about how important it is to just get ideas out.
    keep it up! you’ve got a new subscriber : )

  3. Elisa says:

    Hi Amy, first time reader, really enjoying your blog and art and personality. Thumbs up! 😀

    Hi Sam, I admire your courage to just do things with full inspiration and no experience, haha! I’m searching for some of that in myself. Great job on your first book. Ganbatte!

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