Art is an opening—to new places, new times, new people, new perspectives. It ignites dialogue with the soul, if only in a faint whisper. But every now and then, it stirs up a roaring conversation that you feel compelled to share. That’s why we reached out to artist and illustrator Sam Larson.
Based In Portland, Oregon, Sam spends his days bleeding pens dry on paper, leaves, backpacks, his own arm, etc., capturing the natural wonders of America’s Wild West—and occasionally animals munching on pizza. So we tapped him to create a few pieces inspired by our own West Coast heritage and got a chance to see into his world.
He was never not going to be an artist.
Art has always been a part of who I am. I was just FaceTiming with my mom the other night and she was showing me drawings I had done from when I was like 3 or 4 years old. As I got older, I just kept getting more and more interested in it. I always wanted to do something artistic, whether it was being an animator, architect, designer, or illustrator. High school was probably the turning point. I started a clothing line with my best friend, and things kind of blew up from there.
No one—not even Sam—can avoid the struggling artist trope.
I had a lot of horrible jobs. I picked sweet corn by hand at 5 am in wet fields, mowed farms, weeded strawberry fields in the hot summer sun, worked at campgrounds digging out fire pits, etc. I knew I never wanted to do any of that again and would work my butt off to make sure to land a job in the art world.
Keeping his passion from becoming a “job” is enviably easy.
I love creating and experimenting. It’s pretty cool to take a blank canvas and make it come alive. Trying new things keeps me excited. I travel to beautiful places to help inspire my pieces. The only way to separate it from becoming a job is to do more personal projects just for fun. But, I feel like they bleed into one another quite often, and I’m ok with that. I love what I do. I get to create art for a living. I wake up happy to do my job. A lot of people can’t honestly say that.
He has a thing for all things Western.
I’ve been interested in the American West since I was little. The westward expansion was such a crazy, pivotal point in American history. It fascinates me—the people, the wildlife, the intense experiences. I recently finished reading Empire of the Summer Moon and just started The Earth Is Weeping. I can never get enough.
So of course he moved West himself.
I grew up in the farmlands of the Midwest—a very different world than the West Coast. I first moved out here for a job as soon as I graduated college, so it’s been my home for the past 8 years. The West Coast is one of the most beautiful places and filled with countless opportunities in the creative field. Out here there is a special appreciation for art and the natural world. The people and places play a huge role in my inspiration.
He isn’t married to one medium.
I really enjoy the simplicity of just a pen and paper. It was what I learned with mostly due to availability, and it’s the easiest to travel with. But I’m constantly trying new mediums. It keeps art fun for me. I take a lot of photos on my travels but would never consider myself a photographer. I started really getting into watercolor this year and have loved it. I’m hoping to try out a lot more painting in general this year, including gouache and acrylic.
Art takes him everywhere, but there’s no place like home.
I’ll work in parks, coffee shops, friends’ studios, airplanes, but my own studio is my go to workstation. It’s where I keep all my supplies and feel most focused. My studio is starting to take on a jungle look. [Laughs] There are plants everywhere. I recently built out two desks and shelves from reclaimed wood. Vintage nature postcards and photographs hang on the walls. I’m always trying to balance keeping it clean with art supplies all over the place from various projects.
If you turn his work into a tattoo, he’s flattered but also a bit weirded out.
I honestly don’t even know anymore what to think about it after seeing it hundreds of times. It’s kind of cool, kind of crazy, kind of weird. There are things that I almost didn’t post that people now will have on them for the rest of their lives. Pretty wild.
He doesn’t like to toot his own horn.
The thing with being an artist is I always feel like there is room for improvement. If you are a creative and don’t have that mindset, I don’t think you will grow as much.
If time and money were no object…
I’d probably travel the Western states for a year or two, creating art and donating it to some local charities.
Shop Sam’s online store here.
Photo of Sam by Forrest Mankins