Everyday Icons: The Artist

Need an inspiring kick in the pants? Check out our Samantha Hahn interview and hear her advice for fellow artists.

Image Credit: Kristin Gladney

We first met Samantha Hahn over brunch in Los Angeles, oh - five years ago? A budding illustrator then, it's been such a pleasure to watch her grow into a powerhouse artist creating content for and collaborating with brands like J. Crew, Elle, Daily Candy and Anthropologie - and so many more. From Brooklyn to Hong Kong, Samantha is in high demand indeed.

But what we love about her most is her hard-working nature. There's not an ounce of her success that can be attributed to sheer luck, and below, she shares her secrets for maintaining her sanity as an artist, mother and wife juggling a busy, multi-faceted career:

An artist/illustrator/designer/author is such an insanely creative mix of jobs and sounds incredibly glamorous (but gosh, daunting!) What does your life as an artist really look like - the day to day details that make up your career and livelihood?

I kick start the day with my family, getting my son ready for school and having coffee with my husband while Henry has breakfast. Then one of us takes him to school. I generally use the morning as a time to meet with inspiring friends, as I find it essential to surround myself with women doing exciting things in the arts, media, the blogosphere, the literary world...you name it. It's a time to exchange ideas and kick start the day with a laugh and more coffee than is considered good for you. (By the way, I have a few favorite spots in NYC: Peels, Maialino and The Breslin are all perfect for breakfast!) Then I head back to my home studio and jump back into the projects on my drawing table and desk. I pick Henry up in the afternoon, take him to the park with friends and then home for dinner. If I have a lot on my plate I work again at night. I love working from home for this reason.

Yep, still sounds a bit glamorous (ha!). So how do you rise above a creative block where you're stuck on a particular piece or project?

As a commercial artist I'm not allowed to have creative block. Working within the constraints of a project means that I have deadlines to meet so if something is just not working I keep hammering away at it until I figure out how to make it work. Commercial projects are like problems to solve and working with watercolor requires doing lots of drafts until the final product has an effortless, flowing feeling.

When I'm working on a personal project or collaboration I tend to impose my own deadlines so that I don't get too stuck.

I will say this: my book just came out and I felt a bit of sadness and creative block after that. Working on something for so long (over a year) and then seeing it come to fruition is really exciting but then you get a kind of a post-project depression. But the blues ebb and flow and I'm coming out of it now. I just needed to give myself a little time to kind of refresh and recover from such a consuming project. Currently, I'm thinking about what I want to spend my time doing and picking up new collaborations and commercial clients I'm excited about so that I can kick back into a flow mode.

Post-project depression! That makes so much sense. So did you always know you wanted to be an artist? What has your creative path looked like thus far, with all of its twists and turns along the way?

Yes, I've always known. I grew up in a creative house with parents in creative professions so it was completely natural to pursue an artistic path academically and then professionally myself.

That being said, there were so many curves in my path. There's no straight line to living out your dream. I studied illustration in college, graduated with no idea how to translate my art education into real world work. I spent a year working at a magazine and hating office life. So I went to graduate school and studied art education, receiving my masters degree, and started teaching art. While teaching, I did figurative oil painting and had some small gallery shows, but I was not happy with that path and not that excited by that whole scene. Eventually, I decided to start my blog Maquette. That was a real turning point for me. I started connecting with like-minded people and sharing projects, ideas and inspirations. I wound up getting back into illustration with little jobs from jewelry designers and indie magazines and then made my way to mainstream magazines like Glamour and Conde Nast Traveler. Then I got an illustration agency who still represents me today in the US and Asia. My client list grew and I now work with a range of clients and show my work in fine art contexts in various places from Brooklyn to Hong Kong.

We love hearing that your blog was a turning point - we feel the same way! Let's talk a bit about your darling son, Henry. What are some values you'd like to instill in his life? How do you want him to remember his mother? And can you talk a bit about what your work/life balance looks like?

Henry is a darling! Just saying his name makes me grin. One of the most important values that I'd love to be able to instill in him even though it's something I struggle with myself, is to find happiness and joy in the small things. Right now, he's truly one of the most happy people I've ever know. He relishes new experiences and takes pleasure in drawing a picture and reading a book and I just adore that about him. To Henry every single day is an adventure. What a way to live life! I hope that as things get more complicated which they inevitably will as he grows, he can maintain that joie de vivre.

I'd like him to remember me as a whole person who 'gets' him and enjoys him so much. I want him to always feel that I'm deeply loving and supportive of him.

Work/life balance is something I'm always thinking about and talking about with friends. Showing Henry my passion for what I do is important but at the end of the day he's a little guy and needs me to be tuned into him and his needs. When he's at school and sleeping I'm deeply focused on my work. I have to make choices about how I want my life to look so I structure it around the two things I love: work and family. I am at the point in my career where I turn down certain projects. My agency lays out my working style for clients in terms of how many rounds of revisions can be made and other details. My portfolio is almost entirely professional work so clients really come to me for exactly what they see that I can do which makes for an efficient working process leaving me time to do personal work in addition to commercial. When I'm not working, I'm spending time with family and friends and refilling my well so to speak.

Speaking of refilling that well, Clementine Daily is a space for women who believe in embracing simple pleasures, setting realistic expectations and bettering their lives to better the lives around them. In your eyes, how do you fit in with that mission?

Clementine Daily's goals are mine as well. Early in my career I was working so hard and striving to do everything, I felt like I was in a constant race. Now that my work is paying off, I am working on perpetuating the career I've built around a lifestyle that's full of love, laughter and joy. I'm working on taking more pauses to look at the world around me instead of keeping my head buried in work and you know what? It's actually leading to more inspiration. I'm learning to relish the little things like the first cuddle of the day with my son, a movie night, a long walk around the city I love with my husband, an inspirational chat with a friend and sharing my knowledge and experience with an artist just starting out or a mom struggling with how she'll achieve her own work/life balance.

Beautiful, Samantha! Tell us, what are five everyday items you can't bear to live without?

I love objects and surround myself with pretty art on the walls, good books on the shelves, sweet perfume to wear and delicious treats to eat, but honestly I can't name any items I can't bear to live without. As long as I have my family and my ability to create, I have everything.

What is your personal motto or mantra?

Choose happiness.

Any advice for budding artists/illustrators/designers?

My advice to any artist starting out is: Work hard, make lots of work, become comfortable with failure, look for places where you can get feedback, submit work to places where you can see your work fitting in, collaborate with friends, build a portfolio of work that looks like it's done by the same person with the same hand, look at the work of artists you admire and think about why you like it and what makes it special, look at that artist's client list and aim to work for them, ask to work for them, make your work good enough that you'd hire yourself, take your work from being pretty good to excellent, carve out your niche in the market and don't give up, mistakes are par for the course. If this is your passion you can make it happen with diligence and willingness to learn from your mistakes. The cream rises to the top.

Whew! Did you write that down, ladies? If you love Samantha as much as we do, check out her latest book (just released in August!), Well-Read Women.

p.s. Care to learn from another hard-working creative? Meet Bonnie Tsang, a soul-filled photographer with a heart of gold.