Halloween may just be one day a year (well, more like one month a year), but the Halloween spirit cannot be contained to a mere 24 hours. Because Halloween isn’t just a holiday – it’s a lifestyle. And artist Sam Heimer carries the October 31st vibes through every season with his spectacularly spooky art.
This Philadelphia-based illustrator and designer has carved out a uniquely dark style that perfectly encapsulates today’s fun Halloween imagery with a beautifully ‘archaic-Halloween’ art style. And now, his Artist Shop designs will let you keep the Hallow’s Eve spirit with you 365 days a year.
We talked to Sam about the ‘Phantom Hand’ exhibitions he puts on, where (and when in time) he would want to attend a drink and draw, and, of course, about his Artist Shop and style. Check out what he had to say!
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Your style is rad, it’s like Halloween all year ’round! What inspires you?
Thank you! Growing up I loved Edward Gorey, swooned over Guy Davis’s Marquis and have always had a steady diet of fine art, comics, and strange fiction; I’d like to think all of this has formed my mark-making, tone, and composition. Lately I’ve been drawing a lot of inspiration from vintage Halloween ephemera and antique advertising and packaging. I was also lucky enough recently to get to study, close-up, originals by Rockwell Kent, Posada, and Otto Dix, thanks to the Department of Prints, Drawing and Photographs at the PMA.
What movie/TV show/book/story has made the biggest lasting impact/been the biggest influence on you through your life?
My mother was buying me collections of short horror fiction at an early age. Finding H.P. Lovecraft in an Alfred Hitchcock Presents volume was a life-changing moment for me. The icing on the molding cake was that the book had an incredibly creepy cover, and a dozen years later, I had the illustrator, Tom Leonard, as an illustration professor.
How did you develop your Halloween-y style? What artists inspire you?
I’m a big believer in style occurring naturally, not through emulation. I lead with that because where I’m at isn’t premeditated, and I see a lot of up and coming artists ‘attempting style’. I’m really not trying to sound elitist, I swear. I have so much to learn, and I’m guilty of hating just about everything I put on paper. It spurs growth and annoys colleagues. My style is years of life drawing, studying and immersing myself in art, and keeping a wad of Field Notes sketch pads in my back pocket.
What gets you in the art zone?
Stormy, cool weather. Dark bars with just enough light to see my brush and paper. Bourbon. Do Make Say Think and Philip Glass.
What’s your favorite scary story or ghost story?
Robert E. Howards “Pigeons From Hell”, H.P. Lovecraft’s “Shadow Over Innsmouth”, and Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows.”
Do you have any characters you frequently revisit, or stories behind your pieces?
The pumpkin-headed ghoul makes his way into at least one
piece of mine every year, if not more. I won’t wax poetic about Halloween being the oldest holiday, starting with agrarian practices sans name, but that character to me lords over the holiday in its purest form.
I do love how Halloween has evolved over the years, but to me, the most important aspects are still the harvest and how it used to directly determine life and death. He (or she) is my icon for those thoughts, even if it doesn’t come across in the art.
If you could do a destination drink and draw anywhere and anyWHEN, where/when would you want it to be?
A really great Drink & Draw involves collaboration and crowd participation. Focusing on your own work at one is fine and dandy, but doing an Exquisite Corpse or Jam Comic with friends is a blast, and even more entertaining when you suck in strangers at the bar. I would have loved to have been around in the ’20s when the Dada greats like Man Ray and Miro were getting hammered and creating exquisite corpses.
What made you decide to open an Artist Shop!
I was invited to be one of the beta testers. The process was simple, easy, and I had great support the entire time. Screen-printing shirts is a huge burden and very costly, so being able to offer this to people who like my work is a huge plus. Instead of offering one design a year and ending up with a ton of odd sizes after the bulk sell, I can offer a whole catalog of work with almost no leg-work. Win win.
Would you recommend Artist Shops to other illustrators?
I would and I have.
How did you pick which designs to put in your Shop? Do you have a favorite?
I’ve designed a few specifically for my shop, but for the most part I look for art that has a composition that’ll work nicely on the chest of a shirt. “Don’t Touch Me, I’m Full of Maggots” has to be my favorite. The design was inspired by an awful night being jostled by fireball-chugging mutants at a college town bar.
What are the most fulfilling projects you get commissioned to do?
Any project where the Art Director and I have a similar vision, no revisions, and the finish – be it print, clothing, or album art – is really high quality. I got to do a special effects tattoo for a show called Banshee and it was a blast, start to finish. I recently did art for a vinyl release of Poe’s The Raven, and the finished 7” and packaging are stunning. Any project I want to buy for myself is about as fulfilling as I could ever ask for.
What kinds of exhibitions do you organize with Phantom Hand? How’s the art scene in Philly?
They tend to run dark, but we pride ourselves on themed exhibitions that don’t involve pop culture, fan art and, rampant intellectual property theft, which seems to be all the rage lately. A few examples; ‘Exes’, a show about ex-lovers, ‘My Epic Death’, artists illustrating how they plan on/want to/think they’ll buy the farm, and ‘Last Meal’, use your imagination. The bulk of our group are working illustrators, designers and cartoonists, so we like giving our participating artists something they’ll really have to think about, but also enjoy the hell out of making.
The Philly art scene is starting to be affected by the spreading of an overdue trend (low-brow and illustration being celebrated in high-end galleries) that kinda hopped from the West Coast to New York and now here. As far as I’m concerned, the Philly art scene has two sides, with newly blurring lines; low-brow and high-brow. The low-brow is thriving, there are a few galleries and spaces doing pop-up shows, and new ones opening every month, that are mind-meltingly amazing. The problem is, unless you’re well connected on social media or a friend of the artists, you probably don’t know these shows are even happening. It’s a blessing and a curse. Promotion money is slim if not nil for a lot of these spaces, and they tend to be off the beaten path, but they beat the hell out of the crap they’re showing in old-city lately (the most dense area of high-brow/institutional galleries).
What’s the best Halloween experience you’ve ever had?
I proposed to my wife on Halloween. We were at my brothers handing out candy to Trick-or-Treaters. When dusk faded to night I asked her to light a small jack o’ lantern I had carved, and inside was the ring.
Content & Strategy Manager at Threadless by day, dad joke aficionado, cartoonist, & contributor for sites like HelloGiggles and The Mary Sue by night. When I’m not writing or drawing, you can find me in my cave of a room hanging out with my boyfriend, Netflix.