In-Focus: Sam Peet on Iconography
Sam Peet is an illustrator and designer and proud member of Brothers of the Stripe.
His vector based geometric illustration has graced the pages of Men’s Health, Scouting Magazine and Monocle, frequently designing eye-catching iconography for editorials.
Curious to find out more about Sam’s creative process we talk to him about his illustration work and crafting the perfect icon.
Tell us a bit more about your journey into illustration? How long have you been freelance?
I studied for me BA (Hons) in illustration at Cambridge School of Art and finished back in 2008. I had a completely different illustration then, very layered handmade work with lots of Photoshop, and I found it difficult to get anywhere. I had a few commissions here and there but something wasn’t working.
I started experimenting with screen printing and riso printing, played about with vector work and something clicked.
I liked working with limited colours and vector shapes and lines, and I found that I could communicate my ideas in a much more direct way. Soon after I was asked to join the illustration collective Brothers of the Stripe, which really made me push my work in this new direction. I think reinventing my style was the best thing I could have done in terms of continuing a career in illustration. I’ve now been freelance full-time for about 3 years now, and I have a studio in Camberwell with 2 other amazing illustrators Fran Preston-Gannon and Jamie Jones.
How did you start drawing iconography? How does it differ from more detailed illustration commissions?
I started with iconography really through the illustration agency George Grace. I think he saw that my work would fit in this format well. Designing icons are pretty similar to how I create larger illustrations, I plan out the idea by drawing in my sketchbook, then make a certain amount of rules to abide by like only using a certain amount of line weights and colours. They are similar also in that you have to really make sure the image you produce communicates the theme in an immediate way, the exact same as producing an editorial illustration.
Describe how you tackle a typical brief (for example Men’s Health) are they normally fast turnaround?
Men’s Health icons I produce have a fairly quick turnaround. This is because the deadlines are usually only a couple of days and also I work quickly. So producing 5 icons sometimes will only take a couple of hours. But planning the work is probably the longest part, researching images and sketching out ideas.
How do you design eye-catching iconography? Can you explain the creative process?
To create icons that are functional and immediately identifiable, I generally turn to visual cliché. This is a really good starting point for me which I can then build upon and put my own style and technique to make it a more original piece. Planning is a key part of designing any icon or illustration for me.
Quick, rough drawings are invaluable in getting a strong visual concept down before designing in Illustrator.
What are your go-to software tools?
For drawing, I stick to one line weight which creates continuity between the set. I recommend using Adobe Illustrator for iconography as it really is the best tool for the job. It’s simple to control line weights and create exact work with guides and grids. Curves are quick to create with the new Adobe Illustrator CC.
You can draw 3 straight lines with the pen tool and select the to end anchors with the direct select tool (press A on a Mac keyboard) where you will see circles appear on each point you have selected. If you hold shift and drag inwards you will create a perfect curve, without having to use the ellipse tool and removing paths then joining points to create the same curve. It is a real time saver and I use this method all of the time.
Illustrators are always looking for fresh ways to get inspired – what are your go-tools to stay creative?
I get inspired only when I’m not feeling stressed! So just taking time to go to shows, seeing friends, going to the pub with my girlfriend, seeing family, just doing stuff that makes you happy is for me the best way to feel inspired.
Now that you have agency representation has it motivated / changed your practice?
Being on George Grace agency has made me look at my work with a more commercial head on. I think my work is still evolving slightly. I have had a lot of advice and suggestions from the agency of what is working in terms of my style and I think this has really helped my illustration output, commercially and personally.
What do you think the main challenges of creating illustration without the use of any words are?
I don’t think creating illustrations without words are necessarily a problem, I think if you can communicate the idea directly without using type means that you have made the illustration work. I never use words or typography and actually find it a bit strange working with type!
Extracts from this interview appear in 25 iconography tips from leading illustrators published on Digital Arts Read the feature here.