How did you discover your passion for art? I’ve had a passion for art since I was a kid back home in Nigeria. I remember watching cartoons, action movies and reading comics all the time, which motivated me to make my own creations and design my characters based on the world around me and my imagination. My decision to become an illustrator comes from my hunger to tell stories and create beautiful work. There is something special about bringing an idea to life and also watching how much impact that idea or creation has on people.
What media do you like to work in, and why? Honestly, it depends on what I’m trying to achieve. Overall, I love working traditionally on canvas, paper or panel. It’s nice to see and feel the textures, marks and even flaws that exist when using traditional media. On the other hand, working digitally is also nice. I use Procreate for my digital work, which is so convenient to draw and paint on, especially because I love to make a lot of adjustments when I work.
One influence you incorporate in your work is afrofuturism, an art style that combines Black identity and freedom with sci-fi aesthetics. What sparked your interest in this genre, and what does it represent for you? I would say my early introduction into afrofuturism comes from my love of sci-fi movies, action figures and comics. Later on, after taking the time to study and really understand what the concept stands for and looks to achieve, I got immersed. It’s so cool creating characters that look like me and command a strong presence. The most important thing for me is to create an image that brings hope for the future for people of color in our ever-changing world.
Having moved to the United States from Nigeria, how does your background influence your art? I always say that growing up in Nigeria and then moving to the United States was the best thing that happened to help my art grow. At first, I struggled with finding a way to mesh my experiences from both worlds but later on found a way to make it work. My use of color and the way I sometimes exaggerate forms or shape language comes from my experience with Nigerian art. I would say the swagger in my style comes form being in the United States, which can be found in music, fashion and everyday life.
What have some of your favorite client-focused projects been like, and what have you learned from them? My favorite client-focused projects have been mostly illustrating covers and design. It could be an album, book or magazine cover. I enjoy listening to people’s stories, visions and dreams, and then bringing those to life. For instance, when music artists send me songs for an upcoming album, listening to them helps me get in the flow when designing a cover. I just love being a part of the journey.
I would say I’ve learned a great deal from working with different clients, from being able to deliver work before deadlines to making quick turnarounds if need be. I’ve also learned how to listen, which helps to understand expectations and give constructive criticisms and well-thought-out ideas.
Tell us about your book SOGO: The Art of Sam Onche and your upcoming title The Art of Black. What inspired you to put these books together? SOGO: The Art of Sam Onche is my first art book. My goal was to introduce the world to my work and thought process and put together selected works inspired by a variety of things to show my diversity and reach.
The Art of Black is my upcoming book that I’ve been working on for four years now. I want to create a new visual experience with this book, which I hope will inspire many people visually and emotionally.
You’ve also illustrated the children’s book The Beat in My Head by authors Ariel and Brandon Blackwell. What are some of the unique opportunities and challenges of illustrating children’s books? Illustrating children’s books opened my eyes to a different world. Working with children brings a certain kind of joy and purpose. Watching kids listen and look at imagery I created for the book made me emotional. The greatest challenge for me when I worked on the book was to made sure my illustrations were relatable and visually stimulating to grab the attention of kids.
Additionally, you also show your work in galleries, having participated in The Great State of Illustration in Maine exhibition earlier this year. What do you like about participating in exhibitions? Being able to show work in galleries is a dream come true for me. Showing work alongside legends and greats in the illustration world in The Great State of Illustration in Maine exhibition was a blessing. I love everything about participating in the exhibit. Most of all, I see the exhibit as my way of giving back to the state of Maine for all the opportunities it has provided me.
What is your dream assignment? Illustrating a cover for The New Yorker or Vogue. When the opportunity comes, I know I’ll design a cover that would stand the test of time.
What excites you about illustration right now, and where do you think the field is going? I’m excited about creating illustrations that are thought-provoking and fresh. My use of the word fresh is my best attempt at describing the creation of a new experience. I think the illustration field is going to greater heights. Looking back at covers designed by J. C. Leyendecker and covers now, I would say that the field is in safe hands.
Do you have any advice for illustrators just entering the profession today? Pull inspiration from your experiences rather than copying from someone else. Listen to your voice even when others might not seem to understand your vision. ca