Interview: Illustrator Samantha Denmark

If you’ve been to Eveleigh Artisan Markets you will have seen Samantha Denmark at her gorgeous Big Toast stand. Her beautiful and playful illustrations come on canvases, notebooks, prints and they make beautiful cards for all occasions. I have several favourites and I love the titles given to each illustration (“Mr Tea loves Mrs Toast” above left). If you haven’t been to the Eveleigh Artisan Market yet, you definitely need to check it out. With Christmas not too far away you can stock up on great presents for everyone. The next market is on Sunday 6 November (10am-3pm), so make sure you pop in and say hi to Samantha. Thank you Samantha for taking the time to answer my questions…I can’t wait for the book.

How would you describe your illustration style?

My illustration style is quite playful and whimsical. There’s a lot of humour in my work and it’s quite detailed with a strong focus on texture, colour and line. It’s all drawn and painted by hand in acrylic or watercolour, coloured pencil and pen and ink. My illustrations are inspired by poetry, stories (real and imagined), everyday observations and events so I see each illustration as a single frame of a larger narrative. The characters in my illustrations, often animals, are always doing something and there’s always a reason.

How did you become an illustrator? Did you always want to be an Illustrator?

I’ve always loved to draw and knew I wanted to do something creative. I studied Visual Communication at UWS Nepean, majoring in illustration which was great. I was very fortunate to have some amazing lecturers who I learnt so much from, especially in terms of expressing ideas and how much you can say through an illustration. That was when I knew illustration was what I wanted to do.

Is illustration your full time job?

I wish it was, but like many creative people in Sydney (and everywhere probably) I work part time to support my work. I am very lucky to have a great part time job though, I work for Cookie Couture icing gingerbread cookies! Yum!

How do you come up with an idea for a design?

My ideas come from many different places. Sometimes it’s a line from a poem or song that stands out, or a funny story told by a friend. Sometimes I just get an image in my head and a little story is formed from that. I’m planning to start a blog actually so that I can share where some of the ideas for my illustrations come from. Lots of people ask me at the markets and my response is probably a bit vague most of the time! I thought a blog would be a good way to share a bit more about my work, so stay tuned for that.

I originally discovered your work at the Eveleigh Artisan Markets but I have also seen your cards in the Art on King Store in Newtown. Do you sell your designs anywhere else in the Inner West?

Eveleigh Artisans’ Market is the best place to see my work and Art on King as you mentioned have my full range of greeting cards. They have been great and make an effort to support lots of local illustrators and designers in the shop which is always nice. Erskineville News in Eskineville also stock some of my greeting cards from time to time.

Who are you favourite Illustrator’s?

I have load of favourites, there are so many amazing illustrators that inspire me. Shaun Tan, Sara Fanelli, Ralph Steadman, Julie Morstad, Henrik Drescher, Michael Sowa and Edward Gorey are long time favourites. I just discovered Daniella Germains’ work, she’s from Melbourne and does the sweetest food illustrations. I’ll often go straight to the children’s book section in the bookshop so there are heaps of book illustrators that I love as well, Oliver Jeffers and Ayano Imai come immediately to mind.

What would be your dream illustration project?

My dream illustration project would be to have the time to write and illustrate my own children’s book. There’s an idea that’s been lurking for about 6 years now and I will definitely make it happen one day. The character the story is based around still makes me laugh, so I know it’s a good, strong idea. I just need to make the time!

What’s next for Samantha Denmark and Big Toast Illustrations?

Well there is a lot going on! I’m starting a blog and an online shop to sell my greeting cards and prints of my illustrations. I’m always working on new illustrations to add to my range. At the moment I’m working on a new card for my Christmas range. I’ll be at Eveleigh Artisans’ Market the first Sunday of every month until the end of the year and will have lots of new work as well as Christmas cards in November and December. So there’s quite a bit to keep me busy.

Inner West questions

Best place for a caffeine hit in the inner west?

I’ve got to say Campos in Newtown. I’ve been going there for so long, love it!

What/where was the last great meal you ate in the inner west?

I had dinner at Bloodwood in Newtown a few weeks ago and the food was just amazing! We had polenta chips with gorgonzola dipping sauce, socca (chickpea pancake), sweet potato croquettes, salt cod brandade, the most amazing chicken I’ve ever had and luscious desserts too. Great wine, great ambience and I had great company as well which is always a bonus. Bloodwood, love it, can’t wait to go back.

The Inner West’s best kept secret?

I just keep thinking about food now! A bacon and egg roll on a quiet Friday morning at Big Brekky in Stanmore has become a little indulgence of mine! It’s amazing and they have great coffee, it’s a good way to start the day.

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