GRINtroducing: Sam Pierpoint

Skilled with a scalpel, the ultimate paper-cutting expert lets us into her wonderfully crafted world

How did you decide that you wanted to work with paper and how did you get started?

I started working with paper whilst I was in my last year of university, simply because I’d discovered a beautiful range of printed / patterned papers at my university shop. I bought them and gradually introduced them into my work – first by cutting out shapes and placing them onto my illustrations, then by lifting the paper layers off the page through to building full-on 3d  / sculptures so it happened pretty naturally I guess. 

I got to a point around 2010 where I could see that half of my work was hand drawn and half was paper. I felt like I had to pick one because the portfolio looked a bit confusing and I wanted to have full focus in perfecting one thing. Many illustrators have the amazing ability to juggle a few different styles / methods of working, whilst still keeping a really good finish to their work but I would definitely struggle with that. 

I chose paper because I love being able to create mini immersive worlds. I loved lego as a kid and building stuff comes more naturally to me 🙂 


What was your first commissioned piece? How did you land it?

My first commissioned work was a vinyl sleeve illustration for a record label based in America. After I finished university I emailed a crazy amount of small electronic record labels which I admired, with some self initiated pieces. Two of them got back to me and they were my first projects where I think I received about £100 for each one. Everyones got to start somewhere and I learned that music is a great starting point for illustrators because there is a lot of it, there isn’t much pressure and record labels usually let illustrators free with their ideas and designs… the only downside is that good money is hard to find in music unless it’s a really well known label.


You’ve created so many wonderful pieces – what has been your favourite thing to make that you still look at and think ’I’m bloody proud of that!’?

Thank you! It would have to be my Paper Bristol piece. 

I loved making this one surreal with the giant animals popping out the top of it. I’m also really happy that the time it took to make the self initiated piece paid off. Visit Bristol spotted it and wanted to license it for their summer campaign and the physical piece is now being licensed for display use on a mini tour around Bristol. It’s been in the Tourist Information Centre, a lovely boutique hotel and it’s now currently in McCann Bristol’s offices. 

Your work is precision perfection! What’s been the most challenging thing you’ve had to create and how did you overcome any obstacles? 

The most challenging sculpture to create was definitely my Strasbourg piece which was used as a part of Strasbourgs #CapitaledeNoel campaign. It measured 1.5m sq, had to come apart so that it could be transported from place to place and it had lights wired into it so each of the buildings would light up. This was a really fun project and I loved the making process. 

Many obstacles were eliminated by having a really detailed sketch which showed what the sculpture was going to look like. I always get the design signed off before I start the build because it’s much more difficult to change the sculpture during the building process. It’s much more efficient to be able to get on with making the final piece without lots of back and forth to the client. 

Transporting it to Strasbourg was slightly difficult as at the time I didn’t have a van and it had to fit in the back of my car. It was like a game of Tetris but we just about managed to fit everything in before the long journey. The same sculpture has since been delivered to Paris this year so I enjoyed re-uniting with it and piecing it back together in BHV Marais’ window just the other week 🙂 


Have you ever had an idea but just couldn’t quite bring it to fruition?

Most things with a bit of extra time problem solving, simplifying or changing the paper thickness are achievable. I like to build difficult objects in self initiated projects mainly because it improves my skills and it doesn’t matter if I don’t get it right the first time round. It also makes me feel like I can take on anything which is thrown at me. But yes, there have been difficult objects to make, some of which wouldn’t look out of place on a bad taxidermy instagram page lol! 

My paper sloth took two attempts, the first one looked like it had been punched in the face but after some adjustments to its overall shape I managed to nail it the second time around. 

It’s always good to make mistakes and learn from them, one of the things that holds me back from creating sometimes is that I’m worried it isn’t going to look as good as the last project so I keep having to tell myself to stop over thinking and just get on with it. 

How involved does your gorgeous doggo get? Has he ever gotten too attached to any of your models?!

He’s like a gentle deer, prances around the place when he has lots of energy but gracefully jumps around my work without touching it, so I’m quite trusting of him when he’s in the studio. On the other hand he has a thing for eating any offcuts he can find off the floor so I have to make sure I regularly give everything a sweep so he doesn’t go overboard with eating paper! 


Are there any other skills you’re interested in and would love to master?

Yes! Digital 3D modelling would be really cool to learn for those difficult geometric shapes which are very time consuming to make by hand. I’ve heard that the software for 3d modelling is really difficult to use but it would be worth having a play about with it.

I’d also love to get more into the animation side of things too. I’ve done bits here and there but I’d love to kit my studio out so that I can play a bit more with making my own mini animations 🙂 

What happens to your commissions once they’re completed? Does the client get to keep them or do you have a dedicated paper cave where you keep them all?!

It depends on the project. With every project the artist owns the original unless the client purchases it. Most of my commissioned city pieces are purchased by the client so that they can use them for display purposes in a window or their offices or for an event etc. I would retain copyright so if they wanted to use it for digital / print I would still give them a license for that later down the line. 

If I know the piece is going to be used just for print and not to be shown in its physical form I will approach making it in a different way so that it can be flat packed or pulled apart to separate the materials so I can reuse the materials.  

It’s always lovely to see the sculpture go on to live longer than just the photographed piece for print though. I will approach making these pieces so that they look good from all angles, are strong and easy to transport. This takes longer in making time but it’s worth it so that my clients will get to hold on to the piece and enjoy it as a piece of artwork for many years to come.


Is there a company/client that you would absolutely love to create something for?

To be a part of a WWF or Greenpeace awareness campaign would be a dream project for me! I’d love to create a paper island which can animate to tell a story or show information in a fun and engaging way.

You clearly have a big passion for making a positive change on the planet, mainly by reducing single use plastic. Have you found it challenging to cut down on plastic use within your business?

Yes it has been a challenge but I’m really enjoying it. After making changes to lower my waste at home, I realised that I wasn’t applying those new habits to my work so recently I’ve been on a bit of a journey to try to ‘green’ my illustration business. I’ve learned a lot from other freelancers, businesses and charities through attending sustainable talks, meet-ups and clean-ups. When Bristol Waste opened their doors to the public that really opened my eyes as to the scale of the problem and the issues we’re facing. I’m still very much at the start but I’m really excited to see how it all develops. 

Changing most of the materials I use to recyclable alternatives is one of the small adjustments I’m making to try to reduce my business waste. I found the easiest way to figure out what materials to change was by looking in my studio bins – paying close attention to the non-recyclable landfill bin. In my studio, I currently have one recycling bin for paper and one jar for blunt blades. Then one land-fill bin for non-recyclables.

In my bin that goes to landfill I found lots of foam-board offcuts, non-recyclable coated or glittery papers, glue, sticky foam pads, sticker backing paper and polystyrene offcuts. I’m still using a lot of my existing materials until they run out but here are the best alternatives I’ve found so far:

– Swapped foam board which is plastic and non-recyclable to Dispa Board which is 100% paper and recyclable

– Started using more – G.F Smiths Extract paper made from coffee cups, Colorset Paper which is 100% recycled and I’ve heard Favini Crush paper is great which is made with fruits to give beautiful natural colours! 

– I’ve stopped using polystyrene to create my models and have replaced that with paper strips instead. 

– I have stopped buying foil coated / laminated non-recyclable papers unless it’s been specifically requested. 

– Stickers are a great way of tacking structural pieces together before glueing and solidifying everything with a glue gun but they contain a mix of plastics and paper. If anyone knows of recyclable stickers and backing paper, I’d love to hear from you!

It’s an ongoing process, I’m really enjoying learning as I go! I love working with clients who are doing amazing things for the planet and I hope I can do this more through pushing my work in this direction.


Plan B – If you weren’t creating gorgeous paper structures and awesome sloths, what job would you be doing?

This answer changes constantly depending on what mood I’m in haha! Either something outdoorsy to do with wildlife conservation or I’d love to work with an environmental charity on exciting campaigns for change 🙂 

Photo credits:

Visit Bristol 2017 Summer Campaign: Michael Foyle Photography

Soho House Christmas Issue: Michael Foyle Photography

Strasbourg: Edd Fury

Instagram: @sampierpoint