I've known Sam for a couple of years now. She worked at Red Arrow and was part my little New Orleans team. She is crazy talented and super adorable. I highly suggest stalking her Instagram feed because it is so beautiful and colorful and filled with her lovely illustrations alongside snapshots of New Orleans buildings. We did this interview inside her home which is filled with thrifted treasures and her loving cat, Potato.
Let’s start from the beginning - where are you from?
I was born outside of Chicago and I moved to Houston when I was 4 - my Dad got a new job so we moved down and I was there through the end of High School. And then when you’re a teenager and you’re really angsty you want to get really far away so I moved to Michigan for College - the upper peninsula. And then I went to like a two month stint in Grad School in the middle of Illinois and the program wasn’t right so I dropped out and then I came here (New Orleans) to live with my sister and I’ve been here since.
What did you go to school for?
I went to Northern Michigan University for Graphic Design. Went in with that program and stuck with it and then for Grad School it was the same thing for those 2-3 months I was there.
What wasn’t right about the program?
So I picked that school because one they were paying me to be there which was really nice - I didn’t have to pay a dime and then they gave me money on top of it and they promised oh really cool interdisciplinary studies. So you go and you get your masters and essentially get like a bachelors in another field of study on top of that and I wanted to do computer science cause I was really into generative programing art kind of stuff at the time. I showed up and they were like oh you can only take upper level classes and I was like but how do I get a basis and they were like oh maybe you should do psychology or something and I was like um that is not what I signed up for bye and then I left. It was just like this is not what I was promised.
When you moved to New Orleans were you able to find a job right away in Graphic Design?
No, I was working in coffee shops for a long time. My sister worked in coffee shops and then got me a job in one.
What was your first real Graphic Design job?
I did some freelancing for this guy named Skeet. I don't remember his last name but he did a lot of work around town and I freelanced for him for a few months and then I got the job at the Advocate doing their graphic design for like ads and that sort of thing. And then from there I was like I want to do design but I don’t want to do shitty design...I’m gonna go work at Red Arrow (YAY)
That seems to be a common problem with graphic design for newspapers and magazines
Yeah, it’s just not creative and everyone who I worked with there was fantastic, they were great people. It’s just they let the clients pushed them around a lot.
It was a steady job, there were a lot of perks that came with it. Like we got to go to all the events in town for free which was awesome. They were like were really bad at the work/life divide. They kind of expected you to always be on call. At that point I had already started doing Little History stuff and I really wanted to focus on making things and I don’t want to do be doing this. So that’s why I got the job at Red Arrow so I could learn more about products, and sales, and making things and that kind of stuff. And now the job that I have is amazing and my boss is very much like I understand that your life is more important than this, I don’t want to hear from you when you're out of here unless it’s an emergency. If something comes up and your gone I’m gonna take care of it - which is really nice.
Tell me more about the company you work for now - you guys just opened a new store, right?
It's called HNDRD ACR. We just opened a little shop front on Wilkinson Street a block off of Jackson Square in the Quarter. So we’re still the full service design firm - we do standard graphic design, print, web branding, and we have a lot of really cool clients. Like we do a lot of internal stuff for Gap and Ross and Oracle and a bunch of Drag Queens. And starting to pick up more local business because he’s from San Francisco so he brought over his client base with him. It was only like a year ago that he started staffing up and making it more than just him but we’re up to like 5 people and he’s always wanted to open a shop and I was like I have some shop experience and I like doing that.
I’m the shop manager so I’m like 50/50 managing the shop and doing design work so I get to help buy, I get to help merchandise out the shop, work on the floor, and ya know when I get bored I go in the back and sit at my computer and do some design work. It’s kind of perfect. It’s a really good setup.
Lets rewind a little bit. When you were going to school for Graphic Design what was your goal for a job - did you want to do freelance work or did you always kind of have in mind owning your own business?
Um I never really wanted to have my own business cause it’s a lot of work and even now that I have my own small business I don’t really want to expand it a huge amount because there is so much little stuff that just goes into it. I kind of like having it as I have this thing that I do but I don’t expect to make all my money from it but also it’s a fun escape I can get to when I want to. So in college I was always like oh I’ll go work at an agency or something because that’s really the only thing they tell you is stuff you can do. That’s all you know so you’re like I’m gonna go do that.
What made you decide to start Little Histories?
There was this thing in town called Dinner Lab which was just like rich people would pay a lot of money to go to secret locations and eat ridiculous food. But anyway once a year Brooklyn Brewery would do this tour around the country that they called the Brooklyn Brewery Mash and they would team up with Dinner Labs around the country and do some events. So they hired me to do like a t-shirt design for the event and I couldn’t figure out what to do so I just started drawing the old Dixie Brewery. Just because I was like I don’t know what else to do maybe I’ll do like a New Orleans Brewery and then Brooklyn Brewery and do something cool with that but I don’t even remember what the shirt ended up being but it wasn’t that. But I posted it on my Instagram and everyone was like this is so cool, man this is awesome, can I buy this, and I was like oh this might be a thing. So I just started drawing other buildings that I thought were cool and pretty and people really liked it so I kept doing it and it was fun to do. It’s such a tedious process it’s kind of meditative to do and it was enjoyable.
Have you always been interested in architecture or is it something that just kind of happened?
It kind of just happened. I’ve always loved looking up at buildings and seeing all the different features and especially in this town where everything is just so beautiful and ornate and so many different styles all coming together I just really like that. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever studied Architecture or know that much about it but I like looking at it.
Do you feel like you’ve learned a lot about Architecture since you’ve started Little Histories?
Definitely, especially since I write the little blurbs on the back. You have to do a bit of research and then when I did the series of houses, i did like an 8 pack of house cards, I tried to get all the iconic styles of New Orleans houses so that was a lot of research in there.
How do you decide what building is going to become a Little Histories card?
People send me some suggestions and I try to do those. I have a long list of things that people have sent me and I’m never going to get to all of them. But I also do places I really like or just if I see something pretty I’ll take note of it and try to do it but there’s not that much rhyme or reason. I am trying to be a little more strategic and like do the major wedding venues in New Orleans cause people will want to buy those for like invitations and that kind of thing. Try to kind of pick out ones that I know people can have use for in the future. Also do the ones that have a lot of memories attached to it like Charity Hospital, Dixie Brewery, some of the things that used to be around and aren’t around anymore. Like Snake and Jake's is my highest selling card not because it’s a good looking building but because everyone has memories attached to it. That’s always the best like oh I remember when I got drunk here with Kathleen I have to send her a card ya know.
Have you ever run into any problems from the owners of any of the buildings you’ve created? Like is there any kind of copyright issue from using their name on a piece of art and selling it?
I had one where Loyola made me take down the card I had of their front. Universities are weird and I tried to message them like hey I’ve looked into copyright law and if it’s the facade of a building it’s public domain, here’s the court case ruling that has established this and they never responded and I’m just like I don’t want to fuck with this so I just stopped printing that one.
That’s interesting that that law is in place
Yeah I looked into it and people have challenged it because for a while I think it was like the Empire State Building or something would always get mad when people would do that because they wanted to produce all the stuff and get the money off of it but it’s in the public space or else they’d be going after people that photograph it and tried to sell it and stuff like that which is kind of weird. But mostly people don’t care in my experience. I’ve had a few people like oh I live in that house that’s really cool can I get a print. So generally I haven’t had any issues except the one.
Do you have any new things planned for Little Histories?
I have plans to do some packs of cards - I’m working on 8 planetariums around the world so I’m gonna have like a planetarium pack and I want to have a pretty churches pack and one for New York, one for Austin, and I need to finish off my Lafayette. So I want to do kind of things like that where it can have bigger sales beyond just the region because it’s very, very regional right now. I have a few from other places but not that many right now. But it’s gonna maintain pretty small - just selling it online. I have no plans of opening my own shop with it or ya know establishing a big business and hiring people. I do plan on making a few more things to make it a bit less regionally focused.
Do you get inspiration when you travel to different cities or are you doing mostly online research?
Mostly online but the few times I’ve been out I’ve taken pictures and kept an eye out and found some cute buildings. Cause it’s like you can find the landmarks online but that random house on one street that’s just really pretty ya know you’re not gonna find that as much.
Since you have that day job how much time are you able to dedicate to Little Histories?
Right now I’m probably only doing like 2-3 hours a week and that might be just packing up Etsy orders, posting on Instagram, things like that
Do you try to post on social media everyday?
Yeah I try to do a post daily for Little Histories just to keep it in peoples minds. I do a lot of just Architecture photos and cute little things like that when I don’t have a new building to post or drawing and people seem to like that. Keeps a nice colorful feed.
Has Etsy been successful for you so far?
Pretty decent success on Etsy, I have like a sale a week. It’s not that exciting but winter season it picks up definitely around the holidays.
Do you try to look for new wholesale accounts or do they come to you or a mix of both?
When I first started I trucked out there and went to a bunch of shops and all that but because it’s so local there are only so many shops and you don’t want to have it in every shop next to each other so I have a good amount right now that I’m happy with. I love being in the Stacks, I love being in the Ogden, I love being in Color on Royal Street, got Bella and Harlow to cover Magazine Street now that Red Arrow is down. I’ve got my little shop (HNDRD ACR) which is great because I can easily restock it.
What are some of your creative goals outside of Little Histories?
I want to make more products because I really like that. I like dealing in wholesale. I guess that would expand my company but ya know we’ll cross that bridge if I have to. I want to make more things on my own that are not necessary New Orleans or building focused stuff and then I like illustrating so I’m trying to do more illustration work.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I’ve been doing a lot of pinteresting lately. There’s a lot of good inspiration on there especially old illustrations and that kind of thing. I like Instagram suggested stuff - there’s a lot of really cool stuff in that feed. Then just walking around and seeing things. I might see a cool color and that might give me an idea. If I see a cute puppy that might be an idea.
Where do you get your color scheme inspiration - is it from houses around New Orleans or do you steal color pallets from somewhere?
I totally steal color pallets. It used to be called Adobe Kuler and it was a cool adobe illustrator plugin that you could type in like dessert and it would give you thousands of pallets or I just find a picture I like online and color pick out ones that I like.
Outside of Art, what is something you love to do?
I like watching TV - I’m really into Korean Dramas because they’re the best. There’s a website called Drama Fever and I have a subscription. The one I’m watching right is called Goblin and it’s about this guy who was a warrior back like 900 years ago and he died in a shameful way so he becomes a goblin which means he just lives for all eternity and he doesn’t die until he meets his bride who is the only one who can like pull this sword out of his chest and give him rest finally. But then he ends up liking her and there’s always awkward kissing and he lives with the Grimm reaper who’s really cute and awkward and it’s just great.
Is it filmed super cheesy like soap operas?
No, the quality is pretty good. It’s just always really cheesy premises and tons of awkward kissing and just like really attractive guys who take their shirts off for no reason all the time and it’s so good.
The other one I was in love with was called You’re Beautiful so it’s about a nun in training who has a twin brother who was gonna join a band but he got botched plastic surgery so she has to pretend to be a boy and go in his place so then of course she has to live in the same housing complex as the rest of the boy band and they all fall in love with her but then they get really confused about their sexuality cause they think she’s a guy and it’s great. They’re so good.
So I’ve been doing that and I’ve also been doing a lot of thrifting lately. I hit up a really good estate sale last Friday and got a lot of stuff.
What advice do you have to creatives who want to start selling their own goods?
Start small and just try it. Stationary is cheap as hell like I had the idea and I printed four designs and invested less than $50 into it and just saw how it did. I guess it’s easier if you want to do something like paper goods but really just try it out regardless.
Do you listen to music or podcasts while you work?
I do a lot of podcasts. If I listen to music it’s mostly just oldies. I do like the NPR slew of podcasts - the standard run down. There’s also a Frasier podcast that I really like where they watch through episodes of Frasier and comment on it. Reply All from Gimlet is really good.
What is one thing about yourself that most people don't know?
I play the Oboe. I mean it depends what stage in my life you knew me at but I play the Oboe. I rarely have time to touch it now cause who’s got time for that. It’s more like every few months I’ll pick it up and play for a bit and put it away and forget about it. But that’s what I did in High School and I was gonna go to college for it. I also did the volunteer Symphony for a bit in New Orleans.
If you could go back 10 years, what would you tell your younger self - about life, career, anything?
Probably don’t take things as seriously. I used to be a lot more uptight about a lot of things and I mean I still am about a lot of things like organization and all of that but just like in general don’t worry about things as much.
What do you think the world needs more of?
Empathy. That would solve a lot of problems if people could just understand or even listen to other people and take other people’s concerns and problems seriously. Especially right now, that’s definitely what’s needed.
You can follow Sam on Instagram @little_histories
This was originally published on July 20, 2017