Robert Sammelin

Article by Amie Wee

We talk to Swedish self-taught artists Robert Sammelin about how he turned a passion into a career that has seen his art in the hands of millions of people around the world.

drAwn to success: THE Robert sAmmelin Way

Robert Sammelin illustrations are an ode to exploitation horror posters, weapons, video games and shapely women who look like they could survive an apocalypse. The self-taught concept artist, illustrator, graphic designer and comic creator from Sweden has worked for Apple, Nike, The New York Times, Rob Zombie, Esquire, Entertainment Weekly and Dark Horse Comics, and designed the branding art for the popular Battlefield video games.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Kiruna, a mining town in the absolute north of Sweden, well above the Arctic Circle, where it’s near perpetually dark for the eight months of winter and conversely there’s around-the-clock sunlight during summer. I moved to Stockholm at 20, where I’ve remained for 22 years with my wife and son.

What’s your artistic background?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed drawing and making up stories. I’m self-taught, so what I’ve missed out in formal training I’ve gained a shorthand, or rather feeling, for how to depict things and convey what’s in my head.

I still don’t know much about anatomy, color theory or drawing structure, and I rather enjoy that. I let curiosity guide me and make up my own way of doing things.

Before I made art a career at 27, making video game concept art, I must’ve had ten or 12 different jobs; ranging from IT consultant and records store clerk to subway train driver.  In the end, only drawing the odd freelance gig on evenings and weekends had me feeling down, and my wife insisted I quit my job and give illustration a proper go. 

I spent two weeks drawing a wide range of things for a portfolio and landed my first video game work within a month, and I’ve remained in the industry since, currently at Embark Studios as a Concept Art Director.

How did you develop your signature style? 

I had surgery done to my drawing hand wrist due to a ganglion [cyst] which permanently limited its flexibility, just as I had started my first job doing concept art. Working digitally, as you do in concept art, wasn’t an issue thankfully, but I found that my favorite pastime of drawing in ink with pen on paper was limiting and cumbersome, so I started using a brush instead. 

Brushes have flexibility and allow for flowing varied lines that I could easily do without much wristwork and made me adopt a line economy, eliminating a lot of fine detail work. I found that flat and subtly textured coloring I’d see in the Euro comics I grew up with complemented that well.

What inspires your art? 

Music and films are major factors for me; I constantly play records when drawing and watch at least a couple of films per week. I have a particular soft spot for old campy exploitation horror and like to make movie posters of films that just exist in my head.

I’ve made a habit over the years to build a mental library of imagery and phrases I find cool, fun, odd or interesting and revisit them when free drawing. I never run out of ideas that way—the randomness of a single phrase in a song or an image onscreen can instantly bring up interesting connections to that library.

What drives Robert Sammelin to create art? 

I’m at my most content and happy inking a loose pencil drawing, letting myself get surprised at the outcome. Keeping the door open to those surprises means you have to combine safe things with risks.