Messy. That’s the kind of art supply person Samantha Llanes is.
But after the loose drafts, lineart detailing and character gesture trial-and-errors, she said the way her illustrations look in the end are the most rewarding.
Llanes, of Jersey City, is the artist behind @sammakesamess on Instagram. Her account has over 2,000 followers, and she runs an Etsy, a monthly Happy Mail through Patreon and accepts commissions. But she told Slice of Culture that, for her, creating art is a tool that allows her to do more.
“I get to recreate a lot of sentimental moments for people and their reactions and thank you emails really make my day…,” she said. “Creating is a tool, or a bridge, or a stepladder. It leads to happier things beyond just a painting or a title.”
But creating an illustration is a process — this is hers.
Step 1: Make sure the gesture pose is “solid enough” for a loose draft and the head is angled how she wants — especially if there’s two or more characters interacting together.
Step 2: Line in with details for hair, face and outfits, usually with references from real life or the internet.
Step 3: Colors. Lots of it.
“Since I think I’m pretty weak in lineart detailing, I like to make up for it with my colors,” Llanes added. “If it’s a sad moment, it’ll be less saturated or cooler palettes, and if it’s a happier memory I’ll make it obnoxiously bright or gentle and pastel.”
Aside from the various color combinations in Llanes’ art, you’ll also see many of her original characters portray people of color. The Filipino artist said, at first, she thought creating digital POC characters just meant different skin tones, but as she grew up, she realized there was more to it.
One of her biggest fears when it comes to art, is that she’ll end up drawing characters that all look the same.
“I started picking things up once I started drawing my friends and myself in the same paintings, and we all looked decently different from each other, either completely or subtly,” she said. “… So I’m constantly studying how hair and facial features work.”
During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Llanes said being an artist became her full-time job — whether she was ready or not.
She had a “decent” amount of gigs and commissions before the lockdown and she had a side job to supplement that, but once she was furloughed from the job, she stuck with being an artist.
And her love for art stemmed from her youth.
She admired Pascal Campion, a Los Angeles-based illustrator and storyteller who was born in River Edge, New Jersey. Campion’s work replicates moments from his life as well as general life moments.
Like Campion, Llanes’ favorite thing to draw are personal moments like with her boyfriend, friends or family. She started by drawing characters with colors — which she said she was terrible at — but eventually she got good.
“It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to remind me of that moment,” she said. “I’m more passionate and successful with these because they’re more so made out of the need to remember a time that I didn’t photograph.”
Once she perfected it for herself, she said others wanted illustrations too. She does digital and traditional — utilizing physical art supplies — arts.
And here she is now, one year older, 2,341 followers and dozens of Etsy sales later.
Llanes is teaching art at Camp Liberty in Jersey City until the end of summer. Here, she teaches the kids how to use art to communicate and build teamwork.
She still does commissions for other people and is trying to develop Patreon and Etsy products, but her next big step is an art book of all her illustrations.
“I was 22 once I started drawing for others, and by 24, I was a full time freelancer from home,” she said.