Creative Lives — Culture Trip’s in-house illustrator Sam Peet on the evolution of his style
“My work was a mess after university,” admits illustrator Sam Peet. After graduating from Cambridge School of Art in 2008, Sam started out as a gallery assistant and graphic design intern, soon learning the importance of nailing a clear, identifiable style as a freelance creative, “I adapted, changed my style, envisaged where my work fitted into the industry.” Evolving and honing his signature clean lines and bright colour palettes ever since, Sam now works as Culture Trip’s in-house illustrator, creating both still and moving image for the publication’s online articles. He describes the process of going from freelance to full-time, and how he balances additional commissions alongside his nine to five.
Editorial Illustrator at Culture Trip and Freelance illustrator
Freelance Illustrator (2015–2018)
University Lecturer and Industry Mentor, University of Suffolk (2017–2018 )
BA Illustration, Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University (2005–2008)
Wired Magazine, Shortlist Magazine, Arte Magazin, Dezeen, Fortune Magazine, Harvard Business Review, Imperial College London, SBI Magazine, WWD Magazine, Men’s Health Magazine, Adweek, Monocle, Redthread, Pavilion Books
How would you describe what you do?
I mainly work within editorial illustration, with an emphasis on character illustration. Being an editorial illustrator means being able to look at content and make engaging work that translates the content in a direct way. My illustration style has been in development for a long time, and it took a lot of hard work to finally discover my current one.
What does a typical working day look like?
Working at Culture Trip is my 9 to 5, and I spend the majority of the day working on editorial briefs and producing illustrated content. I usually plan an illustration in the morning, so will be sketching and researching images. Then I’ll go through the concepts with the senior illustrator Alex Mellon, then start working up the concepts in Illustrator.
Our team have daily morning meetings where we discuss the projects we are working on and also what’s in the pipeline. I spend most of my time in front of the computer, or sketching ideas and producing roughs. After my day job, I usually have some kind of commission, so I will work in the evenings and weekends as well.
What do you like about working London?
Living and working in London was always the end goal for me as a creative. It’s expensive and hard to get a foot in the door in the industry, but it was where I needed to be to have the chance to work as an illustrator full-time. It can get isolating when you’re starting out, but the creative scene is a massive draw, and there are so many amazing illustrators, exhibitions and agencies here.
“My illustration style has been in development for a long time, and it took a lot of hard work.”
How does your freelance-based work usually come about?
Prior to being an in-house illustrator at Culture Trip, my agency George Grace got me some really exciting editorial commissions, so the main bulk of my client base have been within magazines and publishing. It was only when I started working on editorial briefs that I felt I’d finally found my voice within the creative industry. I also use various social media platforms to maintain online presence.
How collaborative is your work?
I’ve worked with many different art directors in the past, and working at Culture Trip has really opened doors to some pretty exciting animated projects. I get to collaborate with in-house animators Joe Brooks and Alex Hellebaut, which is a massive perk. We created a series of animated portraits of women for an article titled Strong Women Who Are Risking It All to Change the World for International Women’s Day back in March. We also collaborated on an episode for the new web video series Hungerlust called Everything You Need to Know About Icelandic Sheep’s Head.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
It’s really difficult to find anything I don’t enjoy at Culture Trip. The main thing I find least enjoyable is struggling on a concept for an illustration. But the team here are really supportive, so talking over roughs and discussing ideas really helps. A lot of the admin is something I’ve been pretty well-versed in; recording projects, uploading illustrations to the website, time-management and working to schedules are all things I’ve done in my freelance life. So even if the admin tasks eat into time where you could be creating, it’s necessary and familiar.
At the moment I’ve got a lot of freelance work on, so I’m working most evenings and weekends. I think my work-life balance will eventually even out a bit, but I’m really enjoying working on a wide range of really exciting projects.
Work for Culture Trip, 2018
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
I worked on a great editorial brief for a feature in Arte Magazin, which was a full spread and multiple spot illustrations, celebrating 200 years of the bicycle. I was working with Antonia Hrastar at Arte, whose vision of what she was looking for aligned with what I wanted to do, so it worked out really well.
What skills are essential to your job?
Being able to look at content or a brief and understand what is being asked of you is important. Then, pulling out key themes and producing concepts that are on-brief is also key. Apart from that, having a good eye for detail, being critical of your work, and having good illustration skills. Creating illustrations that reflect the editorial content in a direct and interesting way is a great skill to have.
Also, being able to manage multiple projects and work to tight deadlines – which is something I’ve only acquired in my professional life. I’ve learnt something from every commission I’ve done, so experience has taught me things about the way I work.
Work for Arte Magazin, 2018
An animation created for International Women's day on Culture Trip, 2018
Are you currently working on any self-initiated projects?
I’m working on some pieces for an exhibition and concepts for a solo show which I’m planning on doing later this year or next. I write down a lot of lists of ideas in my sketchbook, so one day soon I’ll commit to one of the concepts I’ve got down. Apart from that, I planning a new series of screen prints, and I’m trying to teach myself to animate.
What tools do you use most for your work?
I use a Macbook pro Retina 13” at CT and when I freelance. I make most of my work using a mouse, but I’ve got a Wacom Intuos tablet. Then I use Adobe Illustrator for my final illustrations. The most important tools I use are a sketchbook and pencil, that’s where everything starts.
Personal work, 2017
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
I always wanted to draw for a living, or become a professional skateboarder! I grew up in a place called Nettlestead, just outside Ipswich where my brother and I would spend most of our time skateboarding. I loved the graphics and illustrations on a deck.
I was also in a hardcore-ambient-metal band called This Mourning After. It definitely affected my uni work in as I was touring and playing gigs a lot of the time! I nearly studied music at university, but I decided that being creative was a big aspiration of mine, so I’ve been working towards that for most of my life.
What influence has your upbringing had on your choice of career?
My parents have always been supportive of anything I decided to do. I owe a lot of my success, if not all, to them. My dad was a self-employed carpenter, so I saw that working for yourself was an option. My mum wrote maths books, taught maths, was a headteacher, and worked really hard all her life. She also owns most of my prints too, which pretty much sums it up!
My brother Tim also was a good role model. He’s a UX and graphic designer, and has given me some great advice over the years on what to expect and how to prepare myself for a sometimes unforgiving creative industry.
University work, 2008
Personal work, 2012
Poster created in 2013
Personal work, 2013
Personal work, 2014
Poster created for an exhibition, 2015
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
When I started my art foundation at Suffolk College, my eyes were firmly fixed on studying graphic design at university. It was actually my tutors Simon Wild and Malcolm Moseley who suggested studying illustration; they definitely steered me in the right direction and I’m very grateful they did.
The illustration degree at Cambridge School of Art was a great starting point. It allowed me to explore different techniques and themes and helped me discover that this was definitely what I wanted to do.
“[When starting out] I mainly worked completely unrelated jobs to pay the rent, while trying to gain as much industry experience as possible.”
What were your first jobs?
I was a gallery assistant and did a graphic design internships at an art gallery in Mayfair called Scream Gallery, where I designed exhibition catalogues, promotional material and illustrated decals along with assisting exhibition installation. The highlight of this was working on a Robert Crumb exhibition, and handling original animation cells of Yellow Submarine.
Looking back, this wasn’t that beneficial to my illustration career, but it did give me the confidence I needed to be able to start thinking about working creatively within a team. I mainly worked completely unrelated jobs to pay the rent, while trying to gain as much industry experience as possible
Personal work, 2016
Personal work, 2016
Was there anything in particular that helped your development at the start of your career?
I was asked to join illustration collective Brothers of the Stripe in 2013 which taught me so much about the industry and was my initial foot into the creative industry. The first exhibition I did was at Pick Me Up graphics art fair that year. This was a really exciting time, having been to the exhibition numerous times, I never thought I would ever be exhibiting there. My screen prints sold well, and gave me the confidence to carry on. Doing screen prints at this time really changed the way I thought about my work. I’ve been lucky enough to exhibit, do workshops, live draw and paint murals all across the UK for the likes of the V&A, Glastonbury Festival, Secret Garden Party, House of Illustration, Eye Candy and loads more.
What skills have you learnt along the way?
I’m still learning all the time, but the main things I’ve learnt are to do with professionalism and having confidence in what I do.
My work used to be very different and I was unhappy with the level it was at. The turning point for me was creating screen and Risograph prints back in 2012. It was then I started to use Adobe Illustrator and producing more direct and graphic work. Without going through this process, I don’t think I would be anywhere near where I would want to be creatively.
Work for Fortune Magazine, 2017
What’s been your biggest challenge?
In the beginning, I found it difficult to get work, as my style wasn’t consistent and didn’t reflect what was going on in the industry. So I adapted, changed my style, started to envisage where my work fitted in the industry.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
My role at Culture Trip is definitely a familiar one. It’s almost the same as freelancing, so I’ve felt at home from the beginning. I didn’t expect to involved in the animation side of things, but collaborating with Joe and Alexander and seeing my work animated has been a real dream come true.
“Having a consistent style is key, so a potential client or employer knows what to expect.”
Could you do this job forever?
Definitely! It’s great to work on exciting projects and have a consistently busy workload. The team are great, and the company as a whole really encourage individuality and creativity, so it’s a very inspiring place to be. It’s having creative freedom that really drives me to make the best work possible, and I can’t see this ever changing.
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
Generally, going freelance is the natural progression as an illustrator. In-house illustrator roles are pretty rare. I think though for me, my next progression within Culture Trip would be to become an art director, or perhaps a senior illustrator as the company grows.
Work for Culture Trip, 2018
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become an illustrator?
Work on your style. See what’s working and what’s not, and refine the parts of your output that you’re not happy with. Having a consistent style is key, so a potential client or employer knows what to expect.
Think about what aspect of the industry you want to be a part of. My work was a mess after university, so have an end goal in sight and with every piece of work you make, you’ll be one step closer to being the illustrator you want to be. Don’t give up!