Sam Heimer is an illustrator and toy maker working out of Philadelphia, PA. His incredible and detailed work is focused on weird fiction, horror, and ghoulish entities that walk among us in a world where every night is Halloween. Sam has had artwork published in Weird Tales (originally responsible for publishing a great deal of H.P. Lovecraft's work), has designed album covers and beer labels, helps curate The Order Of The Thinned Veil (a tiered Halloween-themed subscription service) and even makes spooky toys. He was gracious enough to take some time and talk with us about his work, inspiration, accomplishments, and of course, how coffee helps fuel the wonderful nightmares he creates.
Hi Sam, thanks for taking some time to Spill The Beans. Could you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?
My pleasure. I’m a freelance illustrator and toy maker working out of Philadelphia, PA. I don’t really have a specific market I work in, but my art tends to lean toward Halloween, Horror and the Macabre. I work in pen and ink with occasional digital color. Current clients include Cadabra Records, Abomination Brewing and other various breweries and distilleries, and a smattering of Halloween merchandisers, just to rattle off a few. I also run a micro toy company, HH Toy and Novelty. We do several releases a year in both resin and PVC, and the toys tend to stick to Horror and Folklore themes.
You’ve been creating amazing spooky illustrations for years now. When did you get started and what inspired you to do so?
Awww shucks, thank you. I was a doodler all through school. When it was clear I’d never be captain of the football team, my parents started signing me up for Saturday art classes and pre-college art classes. My brother, three years my senior and also a freelance illustrator went to college for illustration, and I followed, graduating with a BFA that serves me about as well as a waiter with no appendages. Inspiration… I really couldn’t tell you. I really saw no other option. I didn’t think I could be happy going to a traditional college and having a 9 to 5 in a non-creative field. I was getting freelance work right out of college, but it took several years to brush off the shackles of an hourly job and go full freelance illustrator. It took all the longer because I’ve been very stubborn about what I create. If I pushed my work lighter, less detail driven, made it more approachable, I probably would have been doing this full-time much sooner, but I would have been less happy with my work.
Lantern Jack, by Sam Heimer.
What would you consider the biggest influences on your work, and how have you seen these evolve over time?
Memories of Halloween growing up in any-town America in a Philly suburb. Every year I try to capture that magic and I think I’m getting closer. Short horror fiction definitely played a part. My favorite artists growing up were Edward Gorey, Posada, Dore and Guy Davis. All artists with an engravers line quality and a great sense of humor. I’m not sure why I never went into engraving. I’d probably really enjoy it. Beyond that, vintage graphic design, older architecture, folklore and mythology all rear their head in my work.
What’s your artistic process like?
Everything starts with a little rough thumbnail. From there I do a tighter sketch to scale and ink. The rest is built as if it was analog photoshop, where all the shadows, highlights and colors are inked (in black) on separate pieces of semi-transparent layout comp. While I never have a physical 'finished’ piece, rather a stack of bristol and paper, working in these layers affords me maximum control of the outcome without having to touch a computer till the very end. When all of these layers are finished, it’s all scanned, collated and tightened up. Also, I always work to scale. I hate blowing up or shrinking down my work, it tends to distort the fine detail I use, so I always try to have a firm grasp of the output and final product.
Can you give us some examples of your work that you are particularly fond of, or have an interesting story about?
Fond of? All the firsts. My first spot illos in Weird Tales magazine so I could brag about being published in the same magazine as Lovecraft. My first beer can because my very first target marketing campaign out of art school was to Craft Beer Companies, and it took 10 years for me to get a job doing a beer label. The first album I did the art for. I appeal to a niche market within a niche market, so any time I have a first within a new market, it’s pretty cool. These are the jobs I have a soft spot for.
As far as interesting story; for a while I was carving illustrations into the seats of antique chairs. A special effects makeup artist commissioned me to do four for him. A year or so later he hit me up with illustration work designing a Satanic full-back tattoo for the main bad guy in the final season of the show Banshee. The first glimpse of it, he’s cutting out a woman’s heart. While you never really get to see the full design in the show, which was a bummer, it was a ton of fun to do, and Frederick Weller, Peter Weller (Robocop)’s son, was the one sporting it. They were supposed to send me one of the SFX tattoo’s as part of payment but never did. I had planned on slapping it on my Dad and having him walk around the beach wearing it. Would have been a hoot.
Tell us about the Order Of The Thinned Veil…
The Order of the Thinned Veil is a side-project Jason McKittrick (@the_cryptocurium) and I do annually. It’s both a love letter to Halloween, and a way for us to celebrate and create Halloween art all year long. This is the third year we’ve done it and we’re still growing it and making changes as we go. Basically it’s a tiered membership, where each tier gets resin pieces from Jason, art prints from me, and other membership items like an enamel pin, certificate, local pumpkin seeds, etc. In addition to getting cool Halloween art throughout the year, there’s contests, events, member’s only items, and a big annual Halloween party/art show here in Philly. Spend a few minutes looking at my art and it’s pretty obvious my “happy place” is decked out in black and orange streamers and Jack-o-lanterns, so starting OTV was kind of a no-brainer for Jason and I.
You’ve essentially always been based in or around Philadelphia. How do you feel that region has affected your work?
I’ve never really thought about that. The Northeastern weather, specifically how I remember autumn as a child, definitely plays a part in a lot of my more personal work. Philadelphians are known to have self-depricating humor so that probably shows up in my art. And the settings I rely on are largely based on PA farmland and smaller towns outside the city. As a whole, I don’t think were I physically am plays a conscious role, but over the years has definitely had an impact.
What are some upcoming projects of yours that we can look forward to?
I was asked by a real-deal art toy company to design them some toys. I’m not sure if I can openly talk about it because it’s behind schedule and they have yet to announce it, but holy fuck these things are going to be cool. My toy company has Mythos In My Pocket series 2 coming out in a few weeks. 6 new sculpts based on the writing of H.P. Lovecraft. We’ve also got a few more figures in the pipeline. I’m also working on a handful of personal pieces for the Halloween season, as well as a little comic of sorts about Halloween. OTV has a liquor in the works with Rowhouse Spirits that’ll be coming out in time for the Holiday. Last year we collaborated with Rowhouse on a release that was a Pumpkin Spice Whiskey so this will be volume 2 in the series. And I’ve got art on several new upcoming beers with Abomination coming out over the next few months. And for the Philly natives, I’m showing work around the city AND tabling at a few events between now and October.
Mythos In My Pocket series 1, from HH Toy and Novelty.
What are you listening to these days?
In the studio, mostly all of Do Make Say Think’s albums on repeat and a mixed playlist of Philip Glass. I can’t do music with vocals while working. It makes the passing of time more obvious and when you’re inking shingles on a roof or a pile of intestines for several hours you don’t want to have a clock on the mind. Outside the studio: Built to Spill, Archers of Loaf, Andrew Bird, Tom Waits, Hot Snakes, Budos Band, a mix of dusty Jazz and Blues.
Ok, it’s coffee time. Do you like that stuff?
What do you look for in a good cup of coffee?
Life giving sustenance. Flavor wise, dark and roasty. I can’t handle the acidic, citrusy, tea-like ones all the kids are raving about lately.
How do you make coffee at home?
I buy whole beans, grind myself, and brew with a 4 cup French Press. If it wasn’t so cumbersome, I’d drink right from the press like it was a 7-11 Big Gulp cup.
If you are grabbing a coffee at a cafe, what is your go-to?
Small hot. I don’t do large because the small makes me stretch my legs and get out of the studio for a few minutes. I’ve got the baristas at my local spot trained pretty damn well, and they spread the word to new employees. I don’t have to say anything beyond ‘Good Morning’ and it’s there waiting for me. The next time they see me, they know it’s a refill. The next time it’s a cold brew. I highly value silence, not having to talk if not necessary, and them being able to read me like a large-print book. And yes, on days when I don’t brew my own out of time constraints or laziness, I will go there 2-3 times a day. I’ve never asked, but I’m sure I’m their best customer by leaps and bounds. And their drip brew is my local favorite; La Colombe Corsica.
Are there coffees from particular regions that you are particularly fond of?
South America… I think… but I’m honestly not sure. I’m not the most adventurous when it comes to coffee. Yes, I love the flavor, but it’s higher purpose is dragging my ass through the day. I should probably start making a mental note of the roasts and regions I enjoy.
How do you feel that coffee intersects with your creativity?
It definitely drives it. I mean, yes, it’s an addiction I rely on to get through my day, but if I’m not bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with a cup of coffee in hand, I’m not working at full potential.
Also coffee and art related; I recycle all the to-go cups and use them to pour resin when making toys. So if you own any HH Toys stuff, know that I indirectly had my mouth on it, in that the resin was poured from a cup I drank from. Don’t you feel closer to me now?
Thanks so much, Sam. Lastly, have you heard any good jokes lately?