Sam Mathews – Graphic Designer & Illustrator

Sam Mathews

“…Oh! And never work for less than you are worth. It is OK to politely decline.” – wise words from Sam Mathews, the subject of our latest interview.

Did you formally study some form of design or are you self-taught?

I studied Contemporary Art at Nottingham Trent University – my work and theory centred around film installations, performance and contemporary painting. After leaving it quickly became apparent I needed to change tact if I wanted to get paid sometime over the next decade. I did a number of jobs polishing furniture, serving teas on trains packing boxes among many others…

Finally I got a part time job driving proofs and making teas for a company that produced catalogues. I ended up working in the design department when all the designers simultaneously went on maternity leave. They needed someone who knew their way around a Mac and I volunteered to give it a go.

15 catalogues, 20,000 products, 100’s of product shots, many hand drawn instruction manuals and 1000’s of page layouts later I got the job to print. It was a steep learning curve discovering how to use the Adobe Suite and (the now mostly obsolete) Quark but got me a career as a Graphic Designer and Illustrator.

Was university worthwhile for you?

I loved my time at University and while it failed to provide a direct career path I learnt some fantastic skills that have proved invaluable as a Freelance Graphic Designer and Illustrator. Budgeting, research, analytics, working to briefs, creative thinking, critical analyse, working with public bodies and selling your concept were all needed to see projects through to completion.

What projects have you worked on as a graphic designer and illustrator?

As a freelancer I have worked on a wide range of projects for some great teams and organisations like Cath Kidston, Disney, The Discovery Channel, BBC Worldwide and many other smaller start ups and one offs.

As well as more traditional jobs in Brand Design, Print Design, Digital Design and Illustration I have worked alongside many other photographers, editors, re-touchers, web designers, copywriters, composers and I really enjoy what can be done with a great team behind you.

Sam Mathews


The Deadliest Catch

How would you describe what you do?

I sell myself as a visual designer specialising in 2D graphics, text and images. I work for both print and digital medias and try to keep on top of new software and techniques so I can retain a good all round approach. I really like the variety of work you can get freelancing and work hard to keep trying new elements in my job.

How would you describe your personality, do these characteristics help you when you meet clients and when you’re designing?

What I like in others is an ability to share knowledge and time. Although this can be difficult under tight deadlines I try to share what I know and listen to better ways of working from others. My whole career has been self-taught and the people I have worked with have been my best teachers. Now 10 years in I try to offer this back when I can so the job gets done quickly and to the best of the teams ability. I don’t like ego – the work comes first.

What kind of projects are your favourite?

I love any job where I get to do some drawing. Different jobs require different ways of thinking and this can be a real buzz. Simplifying a logo to its bare essentials or spending hours construction complex infographics are equally enjoyable when you succeed in making it engaging and accurate.

How do you typically start a new project?

Any project starts with a conversation with the client. It is a good chance to read what they are like as a person so you can accurately interpret their requirements later down the line. Some people approach you with a very clear idea and some are struggling to articulate what they are hoping for… I think working this out and agreeing an accurate brief is crucial to a good working relationship.

After that it’s research, research and more research. Not just visual research but reading up on what they do. Who are their competitors? What do their costumers/cosumers expect? The more you know the better off you are when presenting the final idea.

What are your favourite techniques, tools, books?

The Adobe Creative suite is crucial to my day-to-day work but I try not to get bogged down in pixels and Google searches. I’m pretty old school in that I often begin with a trip to the book shelf and my pencil case. Anything created here can be scanned in and built upon digitally at a later date.

Mono Print





Are there tools you couldn’t live without?

Tracing Paper and the “live trace” feature in Illustrator. Tracing is heavily underrated – just don’t steal! Anything I trace has been collected from the world outside or generated from my own painting, drawing, photography and film.

I also heavily rate thinking time away from your computer – I can get bogged down in making a “finished product” straight off the bat. When budgets and clients are breathing down your neck it can be hard to generate ideas. It took me a long time to realise it will be cheaper for the client and quicker for you if you only work on “good” ideas.

How would you describe your design and illustration style?

As a freelancer I am approached by a wide range of clients and I think it’s important you can move to meet them in the middle. Getting paid to be a Creative person means you are constantly balancing your opinions and the clients requirements. When this goes well you get work better than the sum of the parts.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I paint and play the drums. I love doing these outside of work and exhibit and perform regularly. Its great to get paid for being creative but its also great to make things “just because…” sometimes.

Have you any advice for aspiring designers and illustrators?

You will not always work on projects you love. Do them to the best of your ability, be active in the process and listen to how it is received. Learn what you can as these clients might be the ones to recommend you to the most exciting opportunity of next week/month/year…

Get in touch with Sam at and