Sam Lee is a pen and ink illustrator and production potter based in San Francisco. Along with creative and production work, she also runs her own ceramics studio, Dusted and Blue.
Sam’s creative work is sparse in its color palette, but rich in texture and detail. Even working across different mediums with starkly different processes, her collective work feels cohesive in mood.
From the yellowed paper of an old envelope with black pen detail, to natural clay carved and dipped in flecked white glaze—it all tells a story of discovery.
Striving to do more with less, Sam strips landscapes and ceramic forms down to a formulated simplicity, and she devotes deep attention and care to her craft.
Your illustrations are so incredibly detailed. What motivates you to show landscapes in such fine detail?
I always feel like when I draw in great detail it’s kind of meditative. You can just really take your time. And in a way, for me, it’s like mapping out a place.
When I draw, I never really sketch—which is something that’s interesting about my process. I work from one corner of the page and draw in great detail and work towards the other side of the page. While I’m drawing, it kind of unveils itself along the way.
There was a point after I’d gotten big into drawing landscapes again, mainly from photos that other people had taken, when I realized: If I draw something, it should have meaning. So I started doing more travel and mini-trips so I could draw from my actual experiences.
Let’s talk about your color palette. You mainly work in black and white and shades between. What draws you to those tones?
Where I started with pen illustration, I started working with architect pens with the default ink: black.
I took it as a challenge to figure out the best ways to block in light and depict texture without color. I find more beauty in the black and white. You get great depth. It gives me more of a challenge when there’s less to work with.
With ceramics, I love earth tones. It makes you feel grounded. It’s just a color palette I’ve always kind of fixated on.
With my glazes, I also challenge myself to do more with less. Let’s say you only have white glaze. Then that asks the question: how do you make a piece interesting in white alone? I’ll add a pattern or I’ll play with the clay and make texture, or I’ll experiment with wax resist and layering absence and presence of white, or creating waves inside the clay body so you can see the white break and the clay body come through.
It’s all about playing with what you have, and taking it to the furthest that you can take it.
It gives me more of a challenge when there’s less to work with.
You work in two very different mediums — clay and pen. What do you like about expressing in each of those different mediums? And how do they inform each other?
What’s nice about drawing is that it’s instantaneous. I feel reward even after just one sitting. You can see things change so quickly within your drawing.
As far as pottery goes, it’s a slow build. Usually it takes like six weeks from start to finish. More importantly with pottery, it’s just so many steps that are different. That’s what I like about it compared to drawing: it’s not just one thing to get tired of. It’s multi-faceted.
You throw, which is wonderful, you get your hands dirty, and you get to play with shape. Then you have all the other parts where it gets kind of scientific—whether that’s mixing glazes or firing the kiln and playing with the color and texture you can get out of a piece itself.
I like being able to play with both 2D and 3D. A mug can even bring the same feeling as a drawing, but it gives you more of an experience that you can have every day drinking coffee, instead of just when you look at it.
Both mediums work together really well, though. I can pair a drawing with a vase or a planter and it gives more of a whole idea. I enjoy pulling pieces together to build a story.
Photos courtesy of Sam Lee