South African Illustrator: Sam van Riet

Sam van Riet

Sam van Riet is a South African illustrator, with 20 years of experience. She chats to us about how things have changed since she started, and her latest projects.

Celeste: Hi Sam, and welcome to the blog. Thanks for taking time out to answer my questions. I thought it would be nice to have a local (South African) artist interview on my blog.  First of all, can you just tell us a little about yourself and your experience?

Sam: I studied graphic design and then Illustration at Stellenbosch university. I was lucky to have Niki Daly and Paddy Bouma as lecturers, so studying was a great experience for me. Since then I have worked as a freelance illustrator for about 20 years.

Birds with Clouds
Birds with Clouds

Celeste: Different marketing strategies work for different regions all over the world. In USA and the UK they use a lot of agencies. What has worked for you in terms of getting a publisher’s notice to use you as their illustrator?

Sam: Since we don’t have agents here, I find personal contact worked best for me. Going to events, meeting people in person. The SCBWI is great for that. Also for meeting other writers and illustrators. it is so nice to have colleagues, because freelance work can feel lonely sometimes.Our industry is small, so it is worth getting to know people. Later most of the communication is done by e-mail. It is also easy now to send work samples by e-mail. I regularly send new work out to publishers. Many artist don’t like that part of freelancing, but it is really important. When I started out there was no email, so we had to physically post colour photostats. I remember my first time seeing publishers, I flew up to Johannesburg with my friend Annette van Zyl. We phoned, made meetings and then went to see people together with our huge arts school portfolios. Things have become much easier since then. Although the timing was perfect for us, because the school curriculum had just changed and there was a lot of work around.

Celeste: Can you tell us a little about the books that you have illustrated and the educational resources?

Sam: I have illustrated many schoolbooks, some more fun than others. The readers are usually fun to do. I always try and make the most of a story. I try to do one trade book a year at least, so that my portfolio keeps growing. In 2013 I published my book as an author. Roots, shoots and muddy boots is a vegetable gardening book for children. Recently I have also had 10 of my poems for young children published in Rympies vir Pikkies en peuters. I also did some of the illustrations for Rympies. I love writing and illustrating poems and I hope to more of that type of work.


Celeste: You’ve also been in the industry for over ten years. How has social media affected the way you do your work and would you say it is helped or made things more difficult?

Sam:  I love the way social media has made it easier to connect with other artist all over the world. Having a good website is important too. Luckily my brother is a web designer. I was contacted by an international client through my website for the first time this year. Locally I think publishers use it more to see new portfolio pieces.

Celeste: A lot of illustrators also say that it is good to have a few personal projects on the go at all times. Do you have any personal projects that you can share with us?

Sam: Sometimes the deadlines and workload make it difficult to do personal projects as well, but it is so important to try. That is where I can try out new things and styles without having to worry about following briefs. I always have some writing going on and ideas for picture books.


Celeste: Do you have any plans for future projects? Is there anything exciting for us to out for?

Sam: At the moment I am planning a trip to the UK to see publishers there, so I work on my portfolio every chance that I have in between projects. Luckily I have a nice story project at the moment so I can try out new things. I am using photoshop more, but mostly to assemble my illustrations. I still prefer to paint and draw by hand. I am launching an online store soon where my pictures, books and cards will be availble for sale.

Celeste: You are also the Author of”Roots, Shoots and Muddy Boots.” What was it like being on the writing side of things, instead of the visual?

Sam: Writing will always be more difficult for me than illustrating. The main advantage is that I can work on my projects instead of waiting for things to come to me. On the other hand it is easier in the way that I am not so hard on myself when writing, because I see it as a fun extra. Most artist are so critical of their own work that it is difficult to be completely happy with it. With writing I don’t feel that sort of pressure.

Celeste: Once again, thank you so much for taking time out for us. Where can people find you on the internet?

Sam:  My website is and my online store is

I also like connecting on facebook on my business page Samantha van Riet illustrator.

I was a pleasure, thank you for asking me!

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