Throwing caution to the wind with Sam Michlap.

Meet the Artist June 8, 2018

Artist Sam Michlap created some beautiful pieces for the Procreate Pocket 2 launch, and has also been painting some stunning artworks in Procreate for iPad. We asked Sam to tell us a bit about his style, his methods, and what it's like working in the film industry.

Hi Sam! Tell us a little about your style of work.

My work is representational in style. I am naturally drawn to the impressionists for their loose, yet accurate, brush work and vibrant colors. I studied classic Glass Matte painting early in my career and consider that to be my favorite style of painting. Additionally, having been trained by Walt Disney Feature Animation during the “Lion King”, I have adopted the attitude of many different styles for my personal and professional work.

Walk us through your process for creating a piece.

Being able to tell a story and having a point of view is vital. However, the truly unique quality for success in the film industry is the ability to dream. The ability to never settle for what has been done before. Finally, one must have tenacity! If you don’t have the stomach for rejection, or run out of energy for the next iteration, this job is not for you.

'Organic' is the best word to describe my workflow or evolution, both for a specific piece, and for how it’s grown over the years. Sometimes I start linearly - I develop a sketch, then a tonal composition, color composition, and then a final - but I have very little patience for going through all the steps. I like to spontaneously create the emotion all at once! If it doesn’t work, I do it again. Having developed the instincts for what works and what doesn't, I prefer the energy that happens when I jump in, as opposed to carefully planning things out.

I wish I could say it’s all in my mind before hand, but that is not the case. I find the artwork as I go. Early in my career, I did not enjoy the journey of creating the piece. I just wanted to be done. Today, I am more interested in the journey than the final result.

Do you need something happening in the background while you paint, like music? Or do you prefer to work without distraction?

Students and other pros ask this. If I have silence, my work really suffers. Music is essential for the success of my work. But I think I use music as a steady pulse by which to work. Without that pulse, there is no life, so to speak.

'Sentinel' and 'Oriental Harbour Spires', made in Procreate Pocket by Sam Michlap.

Are there any artists, events or public figures that have inspired your work?

There are too many artists to mention who have inspired me over the years. The people who initially come to mind are Norman Rockwell, John Singer Sergent, most of the Golden Age American Illustrators, and the easel painters including Zorn, Repin, and Sorolla. I am also inspired by Hokusai and Hiroshi’s wood blocks. I'm in awe of Peter Ellenshaw, the master glass Matte Painter from motion pictures since I first discovered him back in ’89, and of course Ralph McQuarrie! Russian painters have influenced my use of thick oil paint. I also admire Bill Sienkiewicz, the master comic book illustrator! I am inspired by his use of materials and mixed techniques. Bernie Fuchs' pioneering illustrative style was eye-opening! He changed editorial and picture making for everyone. I also appreciate Walt Disney and Miyazaki for their genius of animation and story-telling.

What would you say is your strongest skill as an artist?

At this point in my journey, I consider myself more a painter than a draughtsman. I started out as a layout artist, having drawn background at Disney for five years, but once I shifted over to DreamWorks as a Visual Development artist, I decided to draw with paint instead of a pencil or pen. For me, paint has so many more dimensions as a means of expression. My ability to create a moment that captures emotion is also an asset. I have developed the skill of searching for my voice amongst all the other voices fighting to be heard. Lastly, I enjoy composition and lighting design. These are trademarks for my art today.

Your resume is going to look familiar to just about anyone who has watched a movie in the last two decades. What’s it like working with companies like Disney and DreamWorks?

Both companies have given me so much since I began in 1992. Disney took the time to invest in my training, which has served me well ever since. DreamWorks gave me the opportunity to grow from a designer to a Creative Manager/Production Designer.

How have you seen things change for artists working in film with the rise of digital art technology?

I have seen more experimentation due to the new toolsets such as ZBrush, Modo, or Adobe® Photoshop®. Paper art is my training, but digital allows me to push my art into new places I never could before. I personally enjoy technology. In fact, learning how to light a CG shot has taught me how to create better lighting scenarios for my paintings. Classic art and technology work very well together.

You’re currently doing the 365 day drawing challenge. How are things going so far?

As of this writing, we are 144 days into 2018, and I have 120 paintings. I’m dedicated to sticking with it, and it’s been very rewarding to push myself.

'Haunted Mansion', by Sam Michlap in Procreate with iPad Pro and Apple Pencil.

What are your favourite things about Procreate?

I love the simple interface. It’s so easy to find what is needed. The brush system is the best I have used to date! I can literally replicate traditional media to a very close degree with the brushes. The charcoal brushes are fantastic for drawing and painting. I created a square shaped brush which is very fun to use because it has almost no special attributes. It’s just a simple shape with little transparency control. I love it for this simplicity, and the ease of use. I can literally create whatever I want on a mobile device. That is huge! And because of the brushes, I am using more traditional based techniques, digitally. It’s amazing it has become my regular go to for sketching, at home or in the field.

What would you like to see in future Procreate updates?

I would like a free form Pen tool. I use it in Photoshop® and it’s the best way to sketch ideas very quickly. Marquee tool, rectangular selections, more channel controls, and real-time video exporting would also be useful.

When you’re teaching, are there any lessons that you see as applicable to every student?

In terms of skills needed, learn to draw well. Spend the time up front mastering this skill and you will not regret it. Be true to yourself, and find your voice. Take the time to figure out who you are and what you want to say with your art. Above all else, have fun!

For more of Sam's work, check out his Instagram page or his Procreate Portfolio.

Related articles