Autodidact: self-taught


An Interview with Artist Sam Guin

by V. L. Craven
The Faces of Humanity by Sam Guin

“The Face of Humanity” Left to right, Top Row “Slave II”, “Slave” Bottom Row “Matriarch”, “Savage”

Sam Guin is a North Carolina-based artist who works with a variety a media including pen and ink, paint and even bone. I recently had the opportunity to talk to him about his art. See more of his work on  his website.

The first thing of yours I saw was the ‘Savage’ mask, which incorporates bones and hemp. What was your inspiration for the series of masks and what were your favourite materials that you used?

The series itself was a result of the creation of the first mask, “Savage”. I wanted to create a mask that really showcased the animalistic nature of humanity, but in making the mask I came to the realization that it would be impossible to represent the many facets of such a complex animal in one piece (or several hundred for that matter) so I knew, even before the first one was completed, that this was just the beginning of a much larger undertaking.

Being at the place that I was at in my life the first mask ended up focusing on a more primal, aggressive side of humanity, a general representation of the “savage” that we spend so much effort trying to oppress. Subsequent masks have been representative of a sort of social hierarchy with themes such as “Matriarch” and “Slave”. I’m currently working on “Patriarch” and “Priest”.

As far as favorite materials, each mask has individual bones and pieces that I connect to in different ways, but I think that my favorite thing about them is that they are made of bones of animals that I have found and cleaned myself, therefore they are a direct representation of the environment in which they are made. Whitetail deer, Oppossum, Raccoon, Red Fox, and other native wildlife make up the bulk of the bones used in the mask, so whereas one might look at an African mask and see warthog tusks or antelope horns, my masks are full of fauna from the southeastern United States, and therefore have a sort of “Southern Primitive” look, invoking the woods and swamps that I grew up loving as a child, and am still fascinated by as an adult.

Sam Guin Tattoo

This is a woman’s elbow. A woman who could kick your ass.

You’re also a tattoo artist. How long have you been doing that? Where are you working now? If people want to schedule an appointment with you, what’s the best way to get into contact?

I’m working at a shop in Clayton, NC called Fair Trade Tattooers . people can see some of my work on that page. Or my Facebook page as well. I’m also on Instagram @samguinart.

I’ve been tattooing for 11 years, and if people would like to schedule an appointment with me the best way to contact me is through or to call me (919) 359-2444 or come by the shop. Don’t try to contact me through Facebook for tattoo work, because unless you’re willing to make the effort to call the shop or contact me through my email I’m going to have hard time believing that you’re serious about it. About 90% of the communications that I get through Facebook regarding tattoos are people that are just messing around on Facebook and want to have a conversation about a tattoo. It completely ruins it for that other 10%, but if someone is serious about getting tattooed it takes less effort to pick up a phone and dial a number that someone has to answer than it does to type out a message that I may or may not receive in a timely manner.

The Sick Walk Among Us

The Sick Walk Among Us

You work in so many media, when you have an idea for something, how do you decide if it’s going to be a painting or a pen and ink or a tattoo?

It really just depends on the piece. My art generally tends to explore the same themes, but different media allow me to express it in a different way, for example “Grown Together” and “Slave I” and “Slave II” are all explorations of not only our places in nature, but our relationships with each other and different dynamics within those relationships, but each piece has a different impact upon the viewer, and I think working in different media allows me to further explore these themes and more effectively express the different sides of them.

Tattooing is different, it’s the medium with which I have the least control over the subject because it is a collaboration between artist and collector. For the most part people come to me with an idea and then I kinda go from there and create a design for both of us, but there are some people who feel the need to have complete control over their tattoo design, and are just looking for someone to replicate their vision of a tattoo. this can make the process especially difficult, and if you’re one of those people that knows exactly what you want and how you want it then I’m probably not the tattoo artist for you.

"Autumn Undressing" Acrylic on canvas

“Autumn Undressing” Acrylic on canvas

Speaking of many types of media–how did you get started in each one? Did one lead into another organically or were some types not allowing you to fully express what you were trying to with certain pieces, etc?

I’ve been drawing since I can remember, which is what eventually led me to explore other mediums. All mediums are limited in their own ways and I am always looking for new ways to express myself. As technology progresses there will always be new ways and products for the artist to use, but when I look back it it can all be brought back to a little kid with a pencil in his hand.

Your pen and ink drawings and masks are very based in the natural world (literally in the case of the masks). How does nature inspire your work, what’s your philosophy on that?

We are all a part of nature. As a society we try our hardest to distance ourselves from our natural origins. We would rather defy science and reason than admit that we evolved from “lesser” lifeforms. And we would rather seal ourselves in concrete vaults than face the idea of rotting and returning to nature. When I was kid I found solace in the woods, and to this day all the answers that I seek can be answered in nature. There is so much much beauty and wonder to be found in the natural world, and no matter how much concrete and steel we surround ourselves with we will always be animals, interacting with other animals. I could really ramble on and on about this one, so for the sake of keeping it simple I’ll just leave it at that.

Garden Song

Garden Song

While on the subject of you pen and ink, which are mind-blowing in their detail–how long can they take? The time-lapse of Grown Together was eye-popping.  And what materials do you use? Types of paper, favoured pens and inks and so forth.

When I’m drawing I become so engrossed in the process that I lose track of time. One of the reasons I starting time lapsing myself working was so that I could have some sort of representation of the time that goes into each piece. I’m starting to increase the sizes of the pen and ink stuff now, so I can’t even begin to estimate the amount of time that will be involved with the larger stuff. The time lapse of “Grown Together II” starts with about a third to a half of the drawing finished (not including the underdrawing) and the time lapse itself represents about 8 hours of drawing time. All in all there’s probably about 20-30 hours in that one 16″x 20″ drawing.

Years ago when I first started really falling in love with pen and ink I used to use Pilot V5 and V7 ball point pens, but in subsequent years I’ve come to favor Illustration pens and pigment liners by brands such as Prismacolor and Micron. The variety of sizes and the consistency of the inks really appeals to me especially the smaller sizes like 01 and 005 for fine detail work. I’ve also been playing with using different colors of ink such as the Sepia tones in the first “Grown Together” and ink washes on top of some of the drawing as seen in “Garden Song”. Paper-wise I’ve been using Canson Illustration Board for the larger pen and ink stuff, and Watercolor Paper for some of the stuff that involves the washes. “Grown Together II” was originally going to have a series of washes over it, so I was drawn on watercolor paper.

Grown Together II Time lapse from Sam Guin on Vimeo .

You owned a gallery in Wilmington, NC called Wicked. What was the philosophy behind the gallery and why did it close?

My ex-wife and I started Wicked with the goal of helping emerging artists gain representation in a largely conservative art scene. What followed was definitely a two year learning experience in dealing with artists and attitudes towards art. There were several factors that led to its closing, but in the end I think we both just needed to move on. For the better part of the last year I was minimally involved in the gallery focusing instead on making art and more personal matters.

The Grand Facade

The Grand Facade

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me–your work is incredible!

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