First tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m Sam Mestas and I’m a freelance graphic artist/ illustrator as well as an HD editor with over a decade’s worth of experience. It all began for me when my college advisor called me into her office to remind me that if I didn’t start taking some math and chemistry classes I was never going to become a geologist. I knew that as much as I liked the sciences I was never going to advance past the “Math for Poets” class. As I walked past the Multi Media department I heard an instructor yelling in one of the classrooms. I took up residence in the doorway of this dimly lit room as he proceeded to put a student’s Photoshop project up on a big screen in front of the classroom and destroy this guy in front of everyone. Then he did it again. And again. I must have stood there for 45 minutes and when it was all over I knew that I was going to do whatever I had to do to get into that class. That next semester I was in that Photoshop class getting yelled at like everyone else. It was the best! As crazy as it sounds you kinda wanted to get yelled at. It became a competition to see who wasn’t going to get yelled at and after a while the screaming subsided because we were getting better. Then, it became a competition to see who was the best. He really was a great instructor and he taught me a lot.
Two years later I was teaching in that exact same classroom that I used to get yelled at in. Funny how life dovetails. The real game changing moment came in the form of a Bert Monroy class that I took in Denver. After seeing what he was doing I knew I had to follow in those footsteps. Now I’m a digital fine artist specializing in photorealistic paintings and I’m a two time winner of the Photoshop World GURU award for illustration. I’m so lucky I found my muse and that I had great mentors setting great examples for me. This is what I do. Painting is my passion and the thing I enjoy doing the most. :)
You recently won a Guru award, what was that like?
At the past Photoshop World in Las Vegas I was fortunate enough to win my second “GURU” award for illustration. I have to say that the pressure was really on this time because the painting I submitted was a race to the finish line to get it completed on time. It’s really important to me that I’m on the right track and hopefully that I’m doing quality work.
What made you decide to enter?
There’s really no rhyme or reason why I compete for the Guru. The first time I competed it honestly just seeming like a good idea or something to try. I couldn’t have imagined I was going to win the first time out. To win twice in front of your peers is really something special. I’m the only artist I really know. I don’t run in circles with with other artists so Photoshop World has become a destination for me to mix and mingle with like minded people who enjoy doing what I do. To put a finer point on it, when I go to Photoshop World I hear people say things like, “I’m painting this…” or “I’ designing that…” or “we’re developing tools that let you do xyz…”. In my day to day existence I never hear or see “creatives” trying to be better than they were the day before. That’s not what television is about. That’s why I go to Photoshop World…to be inspired.
Tell me about the image. How and why you created it.
The ‘Bridge To Babylon” painting is the type of painting that you wage war against. Over the course of its life I’ve abandoned this painting over a dozen times as it became nearly impossible to manage its parts thus turning it into a three year project. In reality it should really have only taken me about nine weeks to complete. It’s the amalgamation of over 19 different PSD files adding up to nearly 3000 layers. Truth be told I was actually working on a completely different painting that I was going to submit for the GURU until I realized it was going absolutely nowhere and had zero chance of placing, much less winning. With only two weeks left to come up with something to submit I scoured several hard drives and once again came across the Bridge painting, which I had by then dubbed “the widow maker”. I finally had to commit to finishing this painting. At that point I had no choice. It had been a full year since I had last opened this project and It took me a full day of unwrapping an onion to figuring out where I had left off and what needed to be cleaned up, painted, redone and in some cases out-right scrapped. Over the next 13 days everything was finally starting to come together. As the end approached I tasked a coworker to come up with a name for the painting. He returned 10 minutes later with “Bridge To Babylon” and just like that the painting was done. Well at least as far as I was concerned. I could have never imagined that painting that light bulb as a simple case study was going to turn into an award winning painting. Because of the way it came into the world I surprisingly don’t have an affection for this painting. It was such a bazar journey that I don’t think I ever got a chance to enjoy the process of painting while I was painting it. Maybe that’s how it has to go sometimes. I have no doubt thought that once I get it on canvas and see it hanging on a wall I’ll have a better appreciation for it. I’m very much looking forward to that.
Are there any special techniques you used in creating this image that our members might find interesting?
I‘m not a traditionally trained artist in the sense that I went to art school and studied the masters. I just started doing it. The up side of not knowing the rules is that I’m not subject to them. I really don’t care about the the rules of thirds or stress too much about composition because I’ve really learned to trust my eye. When people ask me what my process is I often tell them that it’s a hand full of philosophies that are not mine and eight to ten different tutorials that I’ve honed over the years. So what’s my secret? Well I do have a few tricks that I use all the time. Here we go.
When I look for projects that I might want to paint they have to have three elements.
First, it has to have a strong foreground element. This will be the most detailed element in the painting. The secondary elements are a little less detailed and are more of a supporting cast member to the foreground element. Finally the background elements are really just for scene and usually blurred but just as important. For the most part I’m using Photoshop off the shelf with a several custom brushes. In fact most of the “Bridge to Babylon” painting was done in CS3. I often reference the Bert Monroy books especially if I need to create something very specific like tree bark and things like that. In addition to that I have about a dozen or so of Corey Barkers tutorials book marked for mostly layer style settings and things of that nature. Finally, I use a ton of dirt and grime hi-res texture maps from 3dtotal.com. They come in all kinds of flavors from stressed metal, peeling paint, brick, and dirt. I either use them to create selections sets or custom bevels which again are some nice little tricks I’ve picked up from Bert Monroy. Either way they really speed things along.
Where would you like your work to take you in the future? Vocationally or Artistically.
I just wrapped up a long-term project and I’m looking for new and interesting opportunities in illustration, the graphic arts or video. It’s also time to pay it forward and maybe pass on to others what I’ve learned and has been passed on to me and get back into the teaching environment again. It goes without saying that it would be a real exciting experience to work for Kelby Media as a teacher. But while I wait I’m going to continue to keep chugging along, creating paintings and hopefully bringing people together through art, with Adobe’s help, while continuing to push the envelope of design.
Best Wishes to all. Keep Photoshopping My Friends.