M&C Saatchi creatives Sam Rowlands and Jason Leigh talk about their personal creative pursuits, and how it informs their advertising. Then they decided that, as they hadn’t seen each other in a long time, they’d prefer to interview each other…
Sam Rowlands — art director/painter/sculptor/fashion designer (as interviewed by Jason Leigh)
Sam forgot about our interview because she lost herself in painting, in a state of flow. She paints most nights after closing the M&C Saatchi laptop and is gearing up for her first solo exhibition.
The background of her Zoom camera is filled with neatly arranged canvases, paints, sculpture tools, fashion mannequins, a half-eaten dinner and sketches of nude women.
It was life drawing classes that helped Sam find her painting style.
Sam says: “My drawing style used to be super photorealistic, but then I got bored of that and started exploring with outlines, or just the shadows. Then I focused on hands and weird body parts. It all just kind of morphed into a style when I started to see similarities between the human form and landforms, now I’m experimenting with merging them.”
“Every night, I have to paint. Yoga is boring, and I’m not much of a meditator, so this is my unwinding thing. But my sculpture work is the most fun.”
Sam’s light sculptures are beautiful, interactive and odd. She was recently commissioned to make eight of them for the Sydney Zoo. Her last one was built with water-filled condoms, strung and lit up like a chandelier.
“It was hilarious watching parents’ faces as their kids squeezed them. They weren’t sure how to feel about it but they had to embrace it, because it was beautiful.”
“I exhibit with a group of art misfits called Tortuga Studios who put on amazing shows. In the last exhibition we did — one of the guys built a fully functional fire breathing dragon out of a bus. They don’t care about guidelines. If they think of something cool and it lights up, they build it,” she says.
Here’s what I know about Sam — she grew up as a sixth-generation cattle farmer, moved to the city to be a fashion designer, bought a motorbike and got lots of tattoos. She illustrated storyboards to pay her way through uni and worked in a lot of cool bars, the type where everyone wear leather jackets. I try to casually drop that my rock and roll band played in a lot of those bars, but she’s not impressed. We continue.
She switched from fashion into User Experience/User Interface (UX/UI) web design, then saw what the Art Directors were doing and realised that was exactly what she wanted. So she made her way into the creative department, quickly.
Samd adds: “I have a pretty eclectic creative past which has definitely come in handy as an art director. My art and sculpture give me the space to test out weirder things. It also forces you to get your hands dirty through every single inch of the process. Plus, I don’t know a client who would let me make a light-up condom chandelier.
“My art and advertising kind’ve inform each other. Art encourages work I want to make, and my work fills me with inspiration and references to test out in my art. Anyway, what else am I going to do when I get home…watch The Block?”
There’s a brief lull in conversation and Sam eyes off her paintbrush.
“I’ve got a lot to do tonight. After I finish this painting I’m going to design an app game thing, which is complicated but it’s going to come out really cool.”
Of course. Building an app at 10 pm.
“Yeah. I just want to do everything.”
Jason Leigh — Copywriter/musician/comedian (as interviewed by Sam Rowlands).
I call Jason at 9pm expecting a nice catch up, but instead I’m greeted by the screech of scotch tape. Jase is putting up DIY posters that bait people into calling his home phone with weird voicemails. The best ones end up as TikTok videos. I wonder if this is payback for forgetting about last night’s interview. The poster Jase is strapping to poles across the inner west says “Is your name Neil? Tell me what that’s like.”
So what’s the point of these? “Not sure really, I guess that’s the point,” he says. “I just like to make things, try weird stuff and not care if it fails. We’ve all got a lot of fails in us and it’s good to get most of them out on your own time. This one seems to be working though, I’ve currently got an answering machine full of Neils.”
How many fails are you up to now?
“About a million. I thought I was funny until I started doing stand-up comedy for people outside the inner west and bombed 50 times in a row. I threw up in a lot of alleyways before finally figuring out what makes exhausted parents, tradies and coked up businessmen laugh.”
“My last poster was about a missing cat who had a gambling addiction and wore a fedora, but hardly anyone called because it was too complicated. I’m trying a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ poster next, which probably won’t work. And my first few music videos were awful, but they taught me how to edit.”
Jason is one of those annoying people who can write songs, tell jokes and play pretty much every instrument. He’s been in around eight bands, has been on too many rock and roll tours for me to count and has done about 400 stand up comedy shows.
He shows me a gross blood blister in the crease of his fingers from two hours of non-stop drumming,
“When I wasn’t wearing a suit, I wasted my twenties touring around in ridiculous rock and roll bands. It was fantastic. I learned as much about building brands from musicians as I have from advertising people — give a band a few grand and they’ll be all over the news in a week. Being broke makes people think better.”
So…do you just want to do everything too?
“Yeah. That’s why we’re in advertising. And doing your own thing after work makes you more resilient. If your ideas die, it doesn’t sting as much when you have a gig that night. You can make more stuff, without rules. No one should try to express themselves exclusively through advertising campaigns, it’s not your money.”
I hear giggling from the phone and a little smirk on Jase’s face. He flips the camera to show a couple pointing and laughing at one of the posters he’s just put up.
“You know what, I take my answer back from before. This is the point. It’s fun to see strangers laughing at my dumb posters on the street.”
Jase leaves me there, saying he needs to finish his poster taping… but I have a solid feeling it’s to get home to listen to the new voicemail.
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