Sam Guay is a freelance illustrator working and wandering in New England. Dreams, folktales, and bits of her woodland haunts weave themselves into the visuals and narratives of her watercolors. Between paintings she can be found fortune-telling, voraciously reading, and having tea parties with her corvid kin, the local flora, and her beloved feline companion. You can find her work at samguay.com.
First off I’d like to ask you a question in the spirit of Nightmare: What scares you the most?
Fragility of the human body. The way the wind howls during the winter. Cardiology offices. There was a cardiology center I used to clean at night and I had some very unsettling experiences taking the trash out, but that’s a story for another time.
A lot of your work centers on bold female forms. What is it about these strong women that appeals to you?
So many of my ideas stem from nature. Often people like to see it as beautiful, but it’s much more than that. It possesses frightening power; even small and lovely things can be dangerous, and despite our reign on this Earth, there is so much that we haven’t explored. Nature is something to be reckoned with, and I see these qualities reflected in the women that inspire me, the women that have shared their stories with me, and the women I’m lucky enough to call my friends. I want these figures to engage the viewer, to set that person on edge and make them wonder what that woman’s story might be.
What inspired “Spioraid,” the image appearing as the cover of this month’s Nightmare?
I spent a while going to school on the west coast of Ireland, where many dark faery stories take place. This piece was loosely based on the folktale Spioraid Na MBearnan (as I heard it from storyteller Eddie Lenihan). In this tale a woman murders her husband (hiding his chopped up bits all about) but is caught and sentenced to death. She is refused entrance to heaven and is made to go back to Barna as a spirit until some brave soul speaks to her and gets the better of her. After much strangling, shapeshifting, and holy water, her spirit is banished from Barna only to return after she completes three impossible tasks.
What do you envision the woman in “Spioraid” is thinking?
I imagine she’s waiting those two-hundred years for that brave soul, and she’s got a whole lot longer to ponder those three tasks.
One of my favorite pieces in your gallery is entitled “Oneironaut’s Box” [image #2 in the gallery]—the blue and yellow palette is very alluring, and the figures present a lot of depth. What inspired this image, and how does the concept of “Oneironautics” (dream navigation) fit into its world?
Somewhere in my vast collection of reference pictures I have these three images I took in a museum of an artifact that completely captivated me. Tucked away with the rest of the Arabic art was this curious metal box covered in all these little dials, knobs, and charts. The description said that it was used to divine the future by interpreting a pattern of dots produced by turning the dials. On this box is a poem, an excerpt reads: “I am the silent speaker . . . the judicious one hides his secret thoughts but I disclose them as if hearts were created as my parts.” How can you not be inspired by this instrument?
As for oneironautics, I’ve always been interested in dreams, and I taught myself how to lucid dream which has made for some wild experiences. The world that’s hinted at in this piece is still being developed, so I can’t give you a definitive answer, but you might be seeing more art about it in the future . . . and maybe even some stories.
When you illustrate, do you have any little rituals? For example, is there a certain kind of music you like to listen to, or certain type of beverage or food you like to have on hand?
There’s a little apothecary style tea shop in Portland, Maine, and the woman there makes the absolute best herbal brews. There’s a good chance I have a closet full of her tisanes that I make pots of to sip on while I work. And even better, I do a bit of beekeeping with my mother and have delicious honey to sweeten my drinks with.
What made you and your mother decide to become beekeepers?
Keeping bees is beneficial for several reasons: it aids the dwindling bee population, it aids the process of pollination for the surrounding gardens, farms, and ecosystems, plus you get honey! Personally, I enjoy when people ask me questions and I get a chance to educate them about these little insects. All the credit for beekeeping goes to my mother; she does all of the hard work.
What is your favorite medium to work with and why?
Watercolor is my favorite. For a long time I thought I would only work digitally, but during college I started experimenting with some watercolor I had and ended up converting to it because of its tactile nature. Having a big bowl of water (which I can collect from rain, rivers, the ocean, or the convenient tap) on my desk is calming, especially all the noise it makes when I swish my brush around in it. Of course, there’s something a bit unruly and challenging about the medium, and that makes it all the more fun.
You commonly use color palettes that are very soft and earthy. What is it about these colors that speaks to you?
I grew up spending a lot of time alone in the woods and napping in fields. The colors that surrounded me in the autumn and winter all veiled in mist were serene and eerie. I frequently tap into those visuals when deciding on my color palettes.
What made you want to become an artist? Can you remember a defining moment where you knew this was what you wanted to do?
There was no strong defining moment for me. I’d leaned towards the arts as a child and over time refined my goals. I’m glad that I’ve persisted and can do what I love.
Spread the word!