FEATURE INTERVIEW WITH:

Sam Minton

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Combining illustration and graphic design, Sam Minton has grown his business organically and authentically with his uncompromising bold and graphic style. We caught up with him and discussed moving to Nottingham, biting the freelance bullet and positive word of mouth.

Words & Photos by Mitch Proctor

Hi Sam. Could you tell me about where you grew up?

I grew up in Salisbury which is a lovely little quaint Cathedral city in Wiltshire. It’s very small and picturesque; I think it’s only technically a city because it has a cathedral. It was a nice city to grow up in, but I moved from there to Nottingham when I was 14 which, at the time, seemed like the worst thing in the world as an angsty heartbroken teenager being dragged away from my friends. In hindsight, it was the best thing that ever happened to me; everything good that’s happened to me I owe to this city. I’ve almost spent as much time in Nottingham as I have in Salisbury now. It’s been about 14 years and whilst Salisbury is where my roots are, I consider Nottingham to be my home nowadays.

Tell me about how you started on the path to what you do now?

Ever since school, I’ve been interested in fine art and it seemed logical to follow that through my various courses. I did a BTEC in fine art at NCN and then a BA Fine Art degree at Nottingham Trent Uni. I always really identified with art, but then I sort of fell out of love with it along the way as the pond was getting smaller. I found myself getting distracted on the course, and instead found my attention going to the fundraising posters for my course, helping to design the catalogue. I found graphic design and I stuck with it, and now I’m here; it’s strange how time goes.

When I finished uni I got my first shift at Rescue Rooms and after a year they gave me my first design project. They had me creating a happy hour flyer, and paid me a bottle of rum for it. I think that was the beginning of when I realised I really wanted to do it as a career.

Did you see yourself doing what you’re doing now when you were younger?

I don’t think I was aware you could do this as a job, so I guess… no? But the things I made at school art-wise were kind of graphical in a way; Keith Haring kind of stuff. I think maybe if I had been told more about it, I would have perhaps got there a bit quicker.

Mural for Datapath by Sam Minton

Did you always feel that you would go into a creative career?

I think so, I would have gone completely unnoticed at school if it wasn’t for the fact that I was ‘the art person’ spending all my lunchtime in the art studio, so it was always on the cards. I don’t have a very good academic brain so I’m kind of lucky really.

“When I finished uni I got my first shift at Rescue Rooms and after a year they gave me my first design project. They had me creating a happy hour flyer, and paid me a bottle of rum for it. I think that was the beginning of when I realised I really wanted to do it as a career.”

Have you had any other jobs prior to doing what you do now?

I spent about 6 years working in 2 pubs and 1 bar. The Bell Inn was my first ever job which I had whilst I was at uni, probably trying to avoid uni work, and then I went to Rescue Rooms. I worked there for a few years and slowly started doing more design stuff. After that I went to The Hand In Heart for a few years.

I’ve always been a bartender who did graphic design, and then I gained the confidence to slowly shift from having this crutch, to going alone. 

What is the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career?

I had butterflies in my stomach when I was going to hand my notice in. Time was passing and I had a lot of friends from uni who were quite prominent artists by then. It was a very nervous day but a great decision that took a lot of confidence to tip that balance and move forward in the right direction.

I can see that your design work is predominantly digital, do you start a piece traditionally or digitally?

I always used to start with a sketchpad but then I found as time went on going straight into Photoshop was more practical. I’ll always rough things out briskly for a client and then rework. I’m happiest working on my own in an office. I have some murals that I’ve started to do in the last few years which seemed to fall onto my lap. They’re not something I’d normally enjoy doing but it’s something that’s happened to me. That ended up being painted by a local graffiti artist, and actually lead to me doing something for Red Bull for a filmed event. Generally, however, I’m much happier on my own working in-front of a computer.

Are there any other mediums that you would like to work in?

I’m at my happiest sketching straight into Photoshop, though that’s caused me problems in the past because it’s not vectorised. I do try to do more things in Illustrator for practical reasons. I have the oldest most beaten up drawing tablet, I got it second-hand for about £70 six years ago so it’s really not in a good way, almost worn down to the nib. I like just sketching straight into computers, purely digital. But I do like to try different techniques out.

Could you explain your process when you work? How does it go from an idea or concept to a finished piece?

A lot of sketching is where it all starts. I think it all depends on who I’m working for. if I’m just working for myself, I’m a lot easier on myself but if it’s for a client there will be dozens and dozens of rough sketches that I would stack on top of each other, slightly transparent, so I can see what I’ve changed, send them over and receive feedback. It’s a very slow and steady process.

What has been your favourite project to work on?

Weirdly it’s one of the murals that I have a love-hate relationship with, which came off the back of the Red Bull social project. I got spotted on Behance by a tech company called Datapath who make amazing screens that fit together like jigsaws. You can position them however you like and then a whole image would move across them. I did one in Derby which they filmed and then that was projected onto the screens as well. The whole thing was flown over to Florida where they did it live at a huge conference. It was absolutely wild and I got a free trip to Disney World because of it. Although I do like the work I do on my own, this whole thing was very public with lots of people coming up to you. It was interesting and I’m glad I did it even though it was something I initially wasn’t sure about.

Whenever I get an email from a client I look at it and then put it away for an hour and really sit on it. I took an hour to think about this project, and then I was like ‘actually yeah I can do this’. It’s kind of a process in itself, and it ended up being a very interesting project.

Do you tend to reach out to potential clients, or wait for them to find you?

Personally, I don’t really do much. For a designer I’m not very tech savvy, it’s all confusing to me. I think I’ve just been very fortunate with my work, word of mouth has brought me a lot of favours. It’s a very organic marketing. People have been very kind to me, especially in Nottingham. I was very fortunate to have a good relationship with DHP doing various projects for The Social, and Rescue Rooms, and Das Kino have given me some nice work too. I have one particular friend who was a pub manager I worked with briefly and he moved manage a pub in London. He told 2 other managers about me and now I have about 10-15 bars that I do stuff for regularly.

T-shirt design for The Bodega, Nottingham by Sam Minton

How do you approach selling your work to customers versus attracting clients?

It’s all meetings and briefings with clients. I think I’ve always been unsure of where the value in the work lies, I guess the work has got some value but unless it’s screen printed on recycled paper or something I wasn’t sure how ethical it all was. 

“I think I’ve just been very fortunate with my work, word of mouth has brought me a lot of favours. It’s a very organic marketing. People have been very kind to me, especially in Nottingham.”

I guess it takes confidence to say “no, your work is worth this much” whether that’s for a client or someone buying a print.

Absolutely. The issue I always have with money and work is the fact you have to be a business manager as soon as you’re a freelancer, and I don’t like to talk about money anyway. I find myself sending out so many emails getting someone to pay and it’s funny how often people lose interest as soon as the project is over. It’s so awkward. It’s terrible.

How does living in Nottingham influence your work, compared to Salisbury?

Nottingham is just the right size for me. Coming from Salisbury, I thought it was absolutely enormous, but now I think it’s just the right amount of not being overwhelming, but also there’s plenty going on. There’s also such a nice network of bars and pubs where I established myself slightly so it’s nice to have my name around and it carries quite well. That probably wouldn’t work in a bigger city.

It’s fantastic really, especially seeing this area come to life over the last year as well, watching it develop. About 80% of my friends moved to London over the years and if the work’s not here, fair enough. But I think more people should have stayed and contributed to the city rather than crowding into London, working in bars, renting a one-room flat with no money. I like that I make a nice living here and I’ve got money to go and do nice things, I don’t see how it’s a choice to be honest.

Would you say you’re creatively satisfied?

I think so on the whole, I had a nice feeling the other day when I got out of bed and I was actually excited to get on with a brief that I’d been given. I wouldn’t say I’m always excited but it’s nice to have that feeling. I’m very lucky that I get to stay at home and do something that I love to do and get paid for it.

 

“I find myself sending out so many emails getting someone to pay and it’s funny how often people lose interest as soon as the project is over. It’s so awkward”

What advice would you give your younger self?

I’d be tempted to say don’t do Fine Art, but then sometimes you have to do the things you don’t want to do, to find the things you do want to do.

I’d also say ‘do more stuff’. I was quite lazy and I think if I had been more proactive in almost every element of design work, I would have been slightly further along than I am right now. I guess just take every opportunity you can at first, then value your time after that and don’t get taken advantage of.

What’s next for you?

As much of the same as I can get. I’ve come quite a long way in three years and it would be nice to go further and take on more interesting projects as I develop myself as a designer and as a business. I’m going to try to be a businessman, dealing with money and tax forms and grueling tasks like that, but overall I guess I just want to be better. That’s my next step.

What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?

I’ve never really thought about it. I look at all these pieces that have been designed by someone and are now looked at for a reference piece, I guess it’s not inconceivable that it could happen at some point for me. Probably after I’m dead. Something like that would be lovely. When I was at college I owned a clothing company for a while which did okay for about 3 years. I have a search saved on eBay to see if any of them ever come up and occasionally they do. Maybe they’ll sell for a pound, but it’s always nice to see them still floating about.

You can see more of Sam’s work on his website samminton.com

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