Sam Price is a San Francisco based collage artist who specializes in pet portraits. Learn more about his process and the satisfaction he gets from capturing the gleam in a dog's eye.
Artist Sam Price and his faithful dog Buster.
Do you make pet portraits full-time? I've been an artist my whole life and have worked at surgery centers since I was 19 to support myself. Both my parents are nurses so I grew up with a strong interest in medicine and health care. I recently started nursing school in the evenings so I can have a more flexible schedule and more time to live my dream and make my art.
Why collage? I'm a self-taught artist and have always used accessible materials as part of my instinctive process of creating art. When I was young and couldn't afford to buy paints, I began cutting up the magazines and newspapers I had lying around in my studio and gluing them to a canvas.
Why pets? I love art. I love animals. That was the bridge. Many years ago, I was commissioned to do my first piece by a coworker. One day I was listening to her critique a panting of her dog Floyd and she didn't like how it was turning out. I offered to try my hand at creating a portrait. It was a complete leap of faith. The original photo I worked from was slightly blurry and the collage came out with a similar soft, just-out-of-focus quality. To this day, it's still one of my favorites.
How do you begin a portrait? I start with a photograph. I typically ask my clients to provide a series of images rather than shooting them myself because they know their pets best. Then I choose the one I think will translate most successfully into a collage.
What's your process? I have been honing my technique for nearly 10 years now. First, I study the image, focusing on the nuances of the mouth and eyes. Then I make a detailed grid on the canvas to act as a blueprint for the image. I recycle a lot of the old magazines in hospital lobbies and subscribe to a ton of magazines. I spend a lot of time just digging for the materials that best fit the canvas, searching for the perfect color match. I usually have about 10 to 15 magazines open at once and cut the images into one or one-and-a-half-inch squares. I sit on a yoga mat and go square-by-square, beginning with the eyes. I can usually tell within the first hour if the portrait is taking shape based on if I'm able to get the likeness in the eyes right.
Sam works on a dog collage in his San Francisco studio.
Do you gravitate towards certain magazines? Fashion and design magazines are some of my favorites because of their vivid colors. I get a good deal of my greens from National Geographic and Sports Illlustrated and my blues from surf magazines. I also buy a lot of black and white photography magazines to get the gray-scale I need. There's just not much black in Martha Stewart, you know?
What do you like best about your work? Each canvas contains 1000 or more squares. The closer you get to the image the more it disappears, a bit a la Chuck Close. Sometimes I like to use hidden imagery. For example, in my own self-portrait I included about 20 pieces from a photo John Lennon, just because I felt like it.
Do you typically meet with your subjects before starting a portrait? If it's possible to meet them, I will. But as long as I can get a good sense of the relationship between person and pet, I usually prefer to work from photos. I love doing portraits of animals because people have such a strong connection to their pets and I do my best to mirror this affection in my work.
How do your clients find you and what do you charge? Most people find me through word of mouth. In terms of size, 18" x 24" is about the smallest collage I've ever made and 4' x 4' is the biggest. Prices range between $800 and $6000. To see more of his work or to contact Sam, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org