Through this series, Community Spotlight, we are highlighting a range of designers who inspire us with their boundless imagination and resilient spirit. We hope that in doing so, they too will bring inspiration to your doorstep.

For this spotlight, we invited Sam Díaz to share her story with us. Sam is without a doubt one of our most active community members, always going above and beyond to welcome new and existing Design Cutters. When she is not in our live sessions, she can be found either illustrating, listening to music, 'bingeing' tv shows, reading or spending quality time with her family. Thankfully for us, she was able to spare enough time out of her busy schedule to let us get to know her and her love for design. Everyone, meet Sam!

Q: Hi Sam, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hello everyone! My name’s Samantha but I usually go by Sam. I was named after the main character from the 60s’ show “Bewitched”. I’m a graphic designer and artist from Mexico.  

I’m an only child and I grew up with my parents and my grandparents from my mother’s side, so I always tend to describe them as my second parents. I guess you could say that I was pretty mature from a young age as I was constantly surrounded by adults, but I wouldn't change that for the world since they all taught me different things. It is thanks to my grandfather that I know English because he insisted I learn – he was a Marine so he learned while travelling – and that led to my parents enrolling me in a bilingual school. He also spent most of my childhood talking to me in English and we would have secret conversations that the rest of my family wouldn't understand. My first job was as an English teacher when I was 18. 

My dad’s an optometrist and my mum has a degree in Administration and one in Interior Design. They work together in a hospital and I usually help them with product photography and publicity. If I’m not working with them, I work as a freelancer.

In my free time, I love to draw and create new artwork while watching some shows or listening to music. Since the pandemic started, I have spent a lot of time with my mum. We sit together in her room and binge-watch whatever show has caught our attention.  

I love reading. If I’m not drawing or listening to music, I’m most definitely sitting somewhere with a book in my lap. Getting lost in a story is one of my favourite things. It also helps me whenever I’m stuck, giving me the inspiration I need or helping me relax. I consider myself a fangirl and that's pretty much where a lot of my inspiration comes from. I think my biggest loves are Harry Potter and the MCU; I’m a total nerd for those two and I can spend hours discussing the characters or theories I have for the next set of films.  

I also dabble a lot in photography. I love creating compositions and scenes for the pictures I share on my social media. Taking pictures is also a great way to find inspiration in everything I see. 

I have a dog and her name's Millie. We adopted her after my grandpa passed away and she helped us cope with the loss. She's a little demon though, she loves to play around and cause mayhem, but we wouldn't change her for the world. She makes our days brighter.

Q: How long have you know about Design Cuts?

It was around March 2020. I found the page thanks to the live sessions. It was one session with Ian Barnard that caught my attention – I had been following him for a while and I liked his work a lot. I remember I woke up early to get ready for it (due to time zone differences, some of the sessions are usually early for me and while I love my sleep, the live sessions and the community make waking up early worth it). I had gotten my first iPad a few months prior, so I was still learning how to use it and the DC sessions helped with that. 

Immediately after the session ended that day, I went into the website and one of the first things I got was the Shimmer Set by Sadie Lew. I still use this now and then, when I want to add some sparkle into my designs. 

Honestly, Design Cuts has been a lifesaver… It’s the reason I’ve gotten into digital art and why I’ve learned so much about it. All the sessions are super helpful and we always learn new things - even things I did not learn in college - and the community is fantastic. I’ve met so many people and even made some friends along the way.

Q: What was your graphic design journey?

Ever since I was a little kid, I was into colouring and drawing. It was part of my day-to-day life and if I ever ran out of pages to colour, I would ask my mum to draw me something or sometimes I’d even ask my dad. He’s certainly not an artist, but don’t tell him I said that.

Every time a birthday or a special occasion was coming up, I would spend a few days making a poster or drawing an art project for the person we were celebrating. I can tell you that my grandma's walls are filled with all the art I've given to her since I was a kid. I  guess you can say that’s when I realized art would be a part of my life for good and where my love for lettering started, though I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a thing back then. 

Fast forward to when I was around ten, I started drawing clothes and creating outfits that I thought might look good and suddenly, I decided I wanted to study Fashion Design. My parents have usually been supportive of me and my dreams, however this time my dad was against it, mostly because he said that I could only do it if I knew how to sew and create my own outfits from scratch. My mum didn’t think it was something that would make me completely happy, because what I loved most was drawing the outfits I created, making posters, creating collages, etc., so she convinced me that what I truly loved was graphic design. She was right like mums usually are. 

However in 2015, right before I enrolled in university, I started to wonder if I should study to be a mechanical engineer since it was the closest career to what my grandfather had studied when he was younger and I wanted to feel closer to him. I believe it was mum who convinced me that he’d be proud of me no matter what I chose and that’s when I finally enrolled myself into a Graphic Design career. Sadly, he passed away right before I finished high school, so he never got to see me get my degree, but my grandma did and she was cheering loud enough for both of them.

My mum has always been my number one supporter and if there’s anyone to thank for where I am today, it’s her. She encourages me to keep going and make my dreams come true. 

Q: What does your design process look like?

  1. Choose music that sets the right mood. Unless I’m reading, I’m always listening to music.
  2. Find inspiration and then ask myself, “What do I feel like creating? Is it a drawing? Is it a lettering composition?” If it’s a drawing, I always look for a reference image.
  3. Create the basic sketch. When it’s a drawing, sometimes I make it from scratch and sometimes I use tracing, depending on how much detail I want to go for. If I’m creating a lettering composition, I use ShoutBAM’s method and try to find the primary and secondary words while choosing the right style. 
  4. This only applies to my lettering compositions as most of my drawings are realistic and the colour palette tends to be the same as the reference image, but choose a colour palette. However, nothing’s set in stone so I tend to change my mind a lot with the colours and style. 
  5. Once I have my final sketch and the colour palette, I start the final artwork. Time always varies depending on the detail I give to the artwork and how often I change my mind. Sometimes I take one day or sometimes it's closer to a week.  
  6. I tend to take small breaks every once in a while, to help avoid burnout. If I don’t like how it looks, then I take a step back, find whatever I don't like and try something new. Sometimes I start over, especially if it's a lettering piece. 
  7. Once the artwork is finished, I choose what I think would be the best background for the artwork. When it's a drawing, sometimes I go with an abstract version of the background in the reference image and sometimes it’s just a simple watercolour background.

Q: Where do you find inspiration for your work?

As I mentioned before, I’m a fangirl, so a lot of my artwork comes from lyrics I love, shows or movies that inspire me, or artists I admire. For example, I’m currently back with my MCU obsession – you can thank the newest shows for that – so I'm working on a superhero series. Hint: Bucky might the first one. 

I also look through Instagram and Pinterest. Seeing what other artists create always helps me whenever I feel stuck. 

The weekly DC Hangouts are always a great source of inspiration. Not only do we learn new skills and techniques from amazing artists, but we also have a fantastic community that encourages you to create. There’s nothing better than the live chat for a pick-me-up and some inspiration. The Facebook group is also amazing when you are looking to be inspired. I could spend hours in it and never get bored, always amazed with what the community creates. 

Q: What project are you most proud of?

I think currently it’s my Julie and The Phantoms series. I loved the show so much I spent days listening to the album on repeat and creating artwork for each character, as well as some lettering pieces with my favourite lyrics or quotes. It was a challenge, especially drawing the hair, but it has helped me discover what I like the most: creating realistic artwork and lettering pieces. 

I love aesthetics, so creating compositions for the photos I take for Instagram is always fun for me and something I’m most definitely proud of. Whether it’s choosing what the character in the artwork might use or the materials the drawing was made with (even if it was digital), I love playing around with the scenes.

Q: Where do you hope to be in 5 years' time?

In five years, I would love to see my digital products selling on Design Cuts. I have some projects in the works and it’s honestly thanks to Matt and Tom that I feel like it’s something I can achieve. 

I’d also love to have my own online store/boutique, somewhere I can sell my artwork and clothing with my drawings/designs on them.  

Q: Which graphic designers do you look up to?

For artists, I admire Laura H. Rubin’s work and her creativity to create her characters, each with their unique personality/style. You can always tell it’s her work. She inspires me to create my own characters and ideas. 

Elena Pancorbo and Elena Garnu are also artists that I admire. They both work mostly with portraits but their style is pretty unique and they encourage me to develop my style, which is something I’ve been working on for a while. 

I have to add Nathan Brown and Lisa Glanz to the list, not only because I admire their work as artists but also because their brush sets have encouraged me to learn and try different techniques, some of which I’ve never tried before like oils or gouache.

As for lettering artists, ShoutBAM is at the top of my list. Jimbo’s style always makes me want to be bold and try something different, not just my usual script lettering. Ian Barnard and Stefan Kunz are also some letterers I look up to. Their compositions are amazing.

Q: What are your top tips for your fellow designers?

  1. Tracing is not cheating, don’t be afraid to use it! We all learn in different ways and if tracing works for you, then that’s completely fine. I use it whenever I need help with the proportions of my drawings. 
  2. If you are not feeling inspired and you don’t like whatever you are creating, take a step back, relax, and try again later, or maybe start something new. Don’t force yourself to finish something when you are not feeling it. That often leads to burnout and it’s always best to avoid it. 
  3. We are beings that are constantly evolving and learning, so invest in yourself. Whether it’s time or money, it’ll be the best investment you ever make… Try different courses, learn new skills and practice. Never stop practising.
  4. Don’t compare yourself to others, you are your own person and no one knows your strengths and weaknesses better than you. No journey is the same because our experiences are different. Use other artists as inspiration, not as a rule. 
  5. Write your dreams and goals in life and keep working to accomplish them.
  6. Share your work and don’t be afraid to show it to other people. It might not be your best work but remember that there’s always room for improvement. That way you can always look back and see how much you’ve grown. 
  7. Don’t take any criticism personally; embrace the opportunity and take it as feedback. I won’t lie, sometimes people are harsh but if you develop thick skin, you can use that to improve and thrive. 
  8. And most importantly, NEVER GIVE UP! Your breakthrough will come, it can be tomorrow or ten years from now, but you’ll never know if you don’t push yourself and keep trying.

Q: What are your favorite DC products to use?

There are so many products I love, but these are some of my personal favourites:

If we are talking about drawing: 

  • My go-to brushes are Nathan Brown’s Ultimate Brush Toolbox. I love to use the gouache set for most of my artwork, the brushes blend beautifully and help me get the realistic look I try to go. When I draw the clothes, I play around with the rest of the brushes in the set until I get the effect I want. 
  • Lisa Glanz’s brushes are some of my favourites and honestly, whenever she releases a new set, I get it without even thinking about it. I usually use the AquaReal brushes to make the backgrounds in my artwork, however, her Effortless Gouache set might be taking the lead soon. 

If we are talking about lettering: 

  • ShoutBAM brushes are a must for me. I have all of their sets and I love them, but my absolute favourite brush is the Rippleizer 5 from the Slayout Lettering Masterclass. Whenever they release a new set, I get it as soon as I can since I know their sets are amazing. 
  • Ian Barnard’s Letter and Grid Builder are always super helpful when creating lettering compositions.
  • The Ink Affair’s Metallic Watercolor Kit for Procreate. I love to use the foil textures from this set for details.

If we are talking about textures, these are some of my most used ones but I tend to choose the one that fits the artwork the best:

  • Greta Ivy’s Prairie Girl Soft Grunge and Handmade Paper Textures
  • Lisa Glanz’s Playful Seamless Papers
  • ShoutBAM’s Ultimate Procreate Background Set

Thank you so much, Sam, for sharing your story with us. If you would like to explore more of her design work or show her some love, you can head to her Instagram!

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