Junkyard Sam, Eclectix Interview 57

junkyard sam, eclectix artist interview



Junkyard Sam, An Eclectix Artist Interview

Junkyard Sam creates delightful worlds, images of  frolicking, happy light-hearted creatures with carrot noses and fairy tale dreams. Occasional robots may menace or engage the viewer with their Tin Man charm and golden bluffs tower over peaceful river valleys with strolling “Quaggles” (Sam’s duck characters). Now living in Washington, Sam formerly lived here in the SF Bay Area and showed numerous times with Eclectix.  A super friendly guy, full of family love and enthusiasm for life – his wonderful works reflect true to his soul, infecting the viewer with their magical ambiance.



Junkyard Sam with his children

Junkyard Sam with his children



My favorite art memory from my childhood is …

I liked painting graffiti, not that I was ever good at it. In fact, I went to jail for spray painting on the police department once. Several times, actually. I wasn’t guilty, of course (!), but the police kept dropping the charges and then refiling them. Repeatedly. I was thrown in jail over and over again, and my parents had to bail me out each time. They weren’t impressed. I was in jail enough times that I earned a nickname. They called me “Li’l Peewee” for some reason. (But I usually leave that part out of the story.)

On high school scholarship applications I listed these “community beautification projects” as part of my extracurricular activities. I didn’t go into much detail about them, of course, but I ended up getting a full scholarship to the Art Institute of Dallas. That was great! Now and then they would randomly call me into the office and just give me extra cash for no reason! Amazing! The Art Institute of Dallas pretty much saved my life and gave me hopes for a bigger future. Prior to that I really specialized in pencil drawing. Paint is expensive, and I figured if I ended up homeless I could always draw with those free lottery pencils at the gas station. But after graduating from the Art Institute I was immediately employed and I’ve been working as an artist in games ever since. Whew, glad that worked out! A lot of my other friends either ended up dead, lost to drugs, or caught up scamming the government for self-induced “disability,” etc.

One of my old friends used to say, “Yeah the problem with jobs is they expect you to get up early and come in every morning.” I’m glad I didn’t turn out like that. You have to work incredibly hard to accomplish anything in this world, and stick with it even when everything seems to be going against you. But it’s totally worth it.

I have a beautiful stay-at-home wife and 3 amazing kids now, and we’re thinking about adding another one! What’s cool is – my whole life is paid for with art. I feel lucky for that, even if I’m not always drawing exactly what I want to draw. But that’s why I created Junkyard Sam. Matthew Cox is that corporate guy, making art, getting paid. As Junkyard Sam I can draw wieners on things while giggling. But my real goal is to loosen up with my work and have the kind of fun my kids do with art.






My interest in art started …

I was always into horror movies from a young age, and I loved to draw scenes from the movies during classes. Other kids were drawing flowers and stuff, but I always had lots of blood, gore, witches, Satan, and dead people walking around with black souls floating up into the clouds or into the ground. The counselors were amazed by what I was creating and would pull me out of class to interview me with all kinds of weird questions. Then they would call my parents for special conferences to talk about my work, so I kept drawing more and more, figuring the art I was creating must be very important. It caused so much adult discussion!






An interesting bit of history surrounding one of my distant relatives is …

My great-great-great(?) grandfather worked on railroads and secretly had two families in different parts of the state. He’d go away “for work” and then come back, alternating between each. I’m sure he liked one family better than the other. (I always figured I came from the bad one.)

His dual-family thing was a really cool idea, though, and it must have been a lot of fun! When I learned of this I discussed the possibility with my wife. However, she didn’t feel it was a “really cool idea” and made it clear it wouldn’t be “a lot of fun” if I was to ever try such a thing.






Do you work full-time on your art or do you also have another job/interest? 

I’ve been a full-time game industry art slave for over 20 years now. My game art is produced under my birth name, “Matthew Cox.” I know of at least 10 other professional artists named “Matthew Cox,” which is just as well because when it comes to working as an artist – people are pretty much interchangeable. Artists are slaves to the vision of art directors, who are slaves to the visions of producers & directors, who are slaves to the whims of publishers, who are slaves to Money People.

The big games I’ve worked on include: G-NOME, Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3, John Romero’s Daikatana, Dinotopia, Saints Row, NBA2k7, NBA2k8, Sony’s Free Realms, Zynga’s Coasterville, and I currently work in Seattle Area at ArenaNet on a game called Guild Wars 2. These are large projects that took a lot of people to make. I was just part of a team, on each. That’s Matthew Cox.

I like making my own small games, too. As Junkyard Sam. I partnered with a programmer friend from Google and made a little game called ScamperGhost that was played by over 4 million people. ScamperGhost was directly copied by King.com, the company that made Candy Crush Saga (a HUGE Facebook & Mobile hit.) When that company started suing people for copying their game, the hypocrisy of this exploded on the internet. Suddenly I was getting phone calls from Forbes, Business Insider, and all the big game publications. Eventually King.com responded to so much negative press, apologizing with a very corporate non-apology. Haha!






As an artist, do you think there is outside pressure to stick with a successful style?

If you want to work professionally and get easy money & stability – you have to adapt to the style of whatever company you can trick into hiring you. To work on their product.

To succeed as an artist on your own, you have to make YOURSELF a product, and sell THAT. Part of “that” is defining a unique style and working in it consistently. Otherwise there’s no way to build up a fan base. Without your own unique style, there’s no way for people to recognize your work. They’ll never remember your name, or what you stand for, because you don’t stand for anything. It’s easy to get caught up in commercial work and become just another corporate-employed artist that nobody knows or cares about. It’s harder to make a name for yourself, and it usually doesn’t pay as well. But it’s so worth it if you can stick to the dream and make it work.


I am often inspired and motivated by …

I’m often inspired and motivated by watching my kids make art. They have so much more fun with it than I do. For me, art is stressful & difficult. I’m fully aware of the inadequacies if something I’m working on is less than perfect. But my kids just have a blast creating these imaginative worlds with no obsession over composition, lighting, or commercial appeal. I’d love to experience that!






If I could spend the day with any artist (dead or alive) it would be …

I would hang out with Mattias Adolffson! That guy is the most prolific artist in history. He’s a “compulsive drawer,” and people love his work because the fun he has while making it totally comes across. I’d love to learn from that guy how to get rid of that evil invisible art director over my shoulder taking all the fun out of my work.



The art technique that has helped me the most is ….

I’d love to work on paper or canvas like traditional artists but after discovering digital – I just can’t go back. Wacom makes tablets & screens you can draw on with special pens to create art on the computer using Adobe Photoshop & Corel Painter. Once an artist gets used to working this way – traditional mediums feel incredibly limiting.

This isn’t about having the computer do the work. You still do all the work with your hands – just with the ability to undo mistakes, experiment more, and generally arrive at what you want instead of what the paper wants. After working in digital, paper or canvas feels like working under an evil tyrant or abusive spouse.



If I could own one piece of art, out of the world’s collections, it would be …

I’d love to own Deth P. Sun‘s Beer & Coffee paintings! Everything that guy makes is awesome, and I’d own it all if I could.






My current favorite piece of my own art is …

I’m having a good time creating new worlds with my recent art, such as in my “Terrarium 9” piece. (above)  When I draw I always imagine it as a smaller piece of a bigger world, and my Terrariums are full of life, with lots of happy animals and fun foliage!



The most memorable thing anyone has ever said to me about my art is …

“Oh, is that a spider? (uncomfortable pause) I like that. That’s a nice spider.” It was my life drawing instructor in art school trying to say something nice about the life drawing I was turning in. But she was looking at my signature, not a “spider!” Embarrassing and motivating.






My ultimate project or fantasy is …

I wouldn’t encourage my kids to pursue a creative career because it so often leads to creating for others rather than creating for yourself. BUT… If they do… I would love to collaborate with them on something amazing – a collaborative art, animation, or game. I just want to work with them when they grow up in some way.



I am currently working on …. 

I’m currently working on an unannounced indie game where I’m bringing my drawn worlds to life in a fun platform game inspired by classic games like Super Mario & Donkey Kong. All the environments and characters are animated with a TV level of production quality. It’s amazing!!! It’s a huge project, though, and it will be a couple of years before I can really show anything for it.






A specific event in my life that sparked a number of my works was …. 

When I moved to the San Francisco Bay area – it was such a creative environment that it really inspired me to start making my own art again. Prior to that I got too caught up in working on art for others, but the San Francisco art scene is inspiring because art is just something you do there. It’s accepted and respected even if what you’re making isn’t commercially successful. Art is just part of life there!



If I could time travel – the era or historical date I would like to drop in on is … 

Weird things are happening today and I’d love to see where they go in the future. I was at the Occupy rallies in LA and I realized we have freedom of speech until we want to use it to demand real representation in government. Police have become militarized. The gap between the rich and the poor is enormous and getting bigger. We’re all strangely addicted to smartphones. I’d love to jump ahead to 2030 or 2040 and see where all this is headed!






The last song I choose to listen to was …

The “Baby’s On Fire” music video by Die Antwoord. Really all their videos… As artists it took like 20 years to evolve into a product with wide appeal, and there’s a great lesson to be learned there. Success in pop music at age 40? A 20 year adaptation and evolution toward something that finally worked, the whole time with everyone around watching with sad eyes, “Oh, look at Ninja. Still holding on to that dream.” Shaking their heads with a smug but sympathetic look of doubt… And finally, BAM! They stuck with it, kept trying something new, and it all worked out. Oddly, Die Antwoord’s story reads like a sort of gross and profane personal development book!



The last book I couldn’t put down was …

I most recently read The Strain series by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. (The books are better than the TV series, of course.) It was refreshing to read some hardcore vampire stuff to kind of wash away what was done to us with the Twilight series!






My favorite character in a work of fiction is …

The Road is an end-of-the-world post-apocalyptic book. It’s also a movie. They’re both good. It’s about this boy and his dad, and my favorite character is The Dad because it was that book that really made me realize the importance of my role in life to my three boys. I have to do right by them no matter what, because they are my future.



One of my favorite words is …

Sixty-five and thirty-five. I guess those are really numbers, but I use them for everything. Since I work digitally, I enter a lot of values for colors, brightness, saturation, opacity, brush texture, etc… For some reason I tend to really obsess over the numbers 65 and 35 and try to use either wherever possible.






One of my favorite smells is …

Old Spice made a collection of AXE style deodorants with neat modern scents. They have labels like “For Nocturnal Creatures.” “For Cunning Gentlemen.” “For Guys With Swift Minds.” “For The Commanding Man.” I have the entire collection on display in my bathroom, to impress people that come over to my house. Every morning I pick out just the right one to transform.

Another Old Spice collection I have has labels like “Smells Like Wilderness & Open Air.” “Smells Like Sunshine & Freedom.” I always imagine they have one labeled “Smells Like Smoke & Unemployment,” but I hope I never have to wear that one. (It sounds horrible.)



One of my (recently) favorite movies/TV shows is …

Breaking Bad. It’s the network series that made movies seem short, shallow and lame in comparison. Breaking Bad set a new standard of serial shows that so many others now try to replicate. Walking Dead, too! The character development in these shows is closer to what you get in a book.

You can really fall in love with the characters. In fact, my dad recently told me, “Son. You should really try to be more like Rick Grimes.”



I can’t live without …

I can’t live without technology. Technology has a horrible dark side, of course… but it makes so much possible in terms of interactive art. The best and most important art these days is happening in video games. Game development is so collaborative and impersonal these days I don’t really enjoy it so much as a maker, but for the consumer – the experiences can be rich, diverse, and incredibly artful.






It’s not hip, but I really love …

I like all beer, but I love cheap American beer the most. There’s something light and fun about it. I always buy it in cans because it reminds me of where I come from.



My favorite part in/of my home is … 

I love our living room because it’s where we live. Literally, it’s a hybrid office/play area. I make art there. My wife writes there. My boys play there. It’s not much to look at, and it’s absolute chaos… But it’s life!






If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be…

I don’t care where it is – I just don’t want it to end. Time is going by way too quickly. My children changed from baby bumps to infants to toddlers to boys. My wife & I are now eight years older from when we met, and someday one of us will expire before the other. I’ll turn 40 in 2015 and I realize there’s an end in sight… I don’t ever want to be away from these people I love. I want to be with them, wherever that is.



My favorite motto (or quote) is …

I don’t know if he was the first to say it, but a great art director I worked with named Jerry O’Flaherty said,

“When money ends, creativity begins.”

That was his response to having to compete with people or projects with a lot more money and resources. Really, it means an artist should never give up on something just because someone else could do it better. Rather, take your own unique approach and do it anyway. Do it your way.






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