Chicago-based illustrator Samantha DeCarlo feels strongly about ballpoint pens, watercolor paints and potato chips. Her artwork tends to simultaneously encapsulate memento mori and dynamic vivaciousness, combining themes such as bones and decay with wind-blown hair and animals caught in movement. We couldn’t help wanting to find out more about the enigmatic artist behind these haunting images. Luckily Samantha was game to provide some As for our Qs:
Let’s start with your home base, Chicago. How’s the art scene there? What’s your favourite aspect of being an artist in Chicago? What do you think could be improved?
Chicago has an eclectic art scene. Many galleries host urban street art as well as traditional landscapes and still lifes. I’m represented in three very different galleries across the city, all housing specific art genres and catering to a wide range of art buyers. There are young buyers looking for inexpensive prints of trendy art. There are sophisticated buyers seeking large originals for their fancy homes. There are movie and tv shows looking to borrow art for props.
For a young artist, Chicago is a great place to begin promoting because there are many pop-up art shows all over the city. Networking is easy as the art scene tends to be incestuous – which actually works to the artist’s benefit. This spreads your name faster when you link up with one gallery that has a sister space in another town. Even though Chicago is the third largest city in the US, it feels small-town because of the different pockets within it.
A strong sense of community is definitely important. You went the formal art education route with a BFA in Illustration from the American Academy of Art. Is that something that you would recommend to other aspiring artists? What would you say or suggest to pre-art school Samantha?
Although a degree is not necessary to be a successful artist – and success is defined differently for everyone – I strongly believe at least a little education is vital to hone skills and learn how to critique work. especially your own. It’s great to have a natural born skill, but the healthy competition and constructive feedback one gets from a classroom can’t be beat. School also provides a network you can rely on after graduation. I’ve done a few shows since then with school friends. There’s no need to spend 100k on school, as long as you surround yourself with positive people and a method to develop basic skills (time-management, artist-client communication, etc.).
Say you’re working on a new piece of art and your go-to ballpoint pens and water-colour paints aren’t options. What tool(s) would you opt for instead then?
I’ve recently begun working with acrylic paint more frequently and have absolutely fallen in love. During my school years, I clung to my ball point pens, expressing vehemently that I was NOT a painter! Only until I became an apprentice painter for Dodie Mondero during the summer of 2013 did I find a quickly growing appreciation for opaque paints. After my short apprenticeship ended, I started working at a “paint and sip” art studio, instructing acrylic painting to beginner adults. It was a non-threatening environment for me to practice painting as well as teach to people who had never painted before. It’s there that I really learned more about the medium. I feel silly now that I waited so long to touch canvas, but I’m happy to continue learning about it.
We’re happy that you picked up painting as well! Let’s talk about the recent Sierra Mist billboard campaign where you collaborated with four other artists. Can you tell us a bit about what that experience was like? Did you guys decide beforehand what elements the finished image would incorporate, or did every artist just freestyle it? You were the first artist to tackle the mural - was there more or less pressure associated with going first? Would you have preferred to be somewhere else in the queue?
In August of 2014, Sierra Mist contacted me to become part of a five-person team to create a billboard promoting the launch of their new logo. The mural would be created in the “exquisite corpse” style where one artist would start the illustration, and then the following artists would each have one day to add something. I had the honor to paint first, which meant I was last to see the final painting. I admit, I feared the other artists might cover up my painting, however every artist respectfully painted around each other’s work, adding only illustrations to enhance the previous painting. I was thrilled. Sierra Mist allowed us free reign as to what was painted and with what we painted. They supplied us with spray paint, acrylics, paint markers, brushes, palette knives – basically everything we would need to create the mural.
You mention in the video feature that you’re a potato chip eater and a Potter head, so we have to ask – what flavour for the chips? Which house at Hogwarts?
As I answer these questions, I’m listening to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and I constantly play the soundtrack at my apartment. Being a “Potter Head” is probably an understatement. If I were to attend Hogwarts, I would be in Ravenclaw and would have of course helped in the rebellion against Voldemort. If I ever get a tattoo, it will most likely be of the deathly hallows or of “9 3/4” since I have an infatuation with numbers. As far as my other favorite thing in life – potato chips – I don’t discriminate. I love jalapeño, barbecue, sea salt, spicy-hot, sour cream and onion… well, you get my drift.
If someone offered you a flight to anywhere in the world with the following three stipulations: 1) you have to leave in 3 hours; 2) you’ll be gone for 3 months; 3) you’re only allowed to bring one backpack – would you go? Where? What would you bring?
If someone offered me a flight to anywhere, and I needed to leave in 3 hours, I admit I would go to California. I know it’s not the most “worldly” of answers, but it’s honest. I wouldn’t need much: my worn-in denim shirt, pair of jeans, chapstick and eyebrow pencil, ballpoint pen and mini portfolio. I would try to hit every art gallery on the coast all the way up to the border of Oregon. I would promote, draw, schmooze, and network the entire time. If I still had time, I’d go to Seattle and drink coffee all day while enjoying the misty rain. I love a good overcast day. I’d also bring my passport so I could visit Vancouver and maybe see a friend of mine living there now. You’d have a hard time making me go home!
You could even try ketchup chips while you’re in Vancouver… Based on your experiences, what would you say are the most important words of wisdom to live by?
If I could impart any words of wisdom to listeners, it would be to keep making what you love. As long as you continue to create, people will see, and you get personal fulfillment. If you love art, nothing keeps you from it – no excuses. There is always time to draw, paint, sculpt, whatever.
Now go check out S.G. DeCarlo’s haunting portfolio for yourself – no excuses!