Arts & Theatre

USC student creates wearable stories

A Q&A with Sam Dewey, who decorates denim jackets for clients that show off their stories and style.

Sam Dewey is a senior art major with a design emphasis at USC’s Roski School of Art and Design. She created her business, Dewey Jackets, in 2017. She unites art with commercial design to create unique fashion pieces that reflect her clients’ interests, past or identity. Her artwork has led to several awards, including the 2016 American Vision Award. Chandra Ingram visited Dewey in the studio to learn more about her process and projects.

What is Dewey Jackets? What inspired this idea?

With Dewey Jackets, I tell/show the “stories” of my clients on the back of their personal denim jackets. Through a conversation that will start the inspiration process for what I’ll paint, I learn something personal about my client, some theme or image that they connect to that is very personal to them. I like the idea that I can give an old or unused jacket a new life with the paint. Then once the jacket is finished and handed off, it’s always so awesome to hear from other people that what I might have painted specifically for one person, another had identified with and might want a Dewey Jacket of their own! It just kinda proves we all have the ability to connect with one another and that those connections can typically happen pretty easily through art.

What inspires the design of the jacket?

The people the jacket is for!

How long does it take you to paint a design?

Usually, one to three hours, depending on the design I’m creating. Fabric binding paint dries quickly within a few minutes so there’s no time really to delay.

How many jackets have you painted so far?

I have painted 47 jackets.

What paints do you use? How do you pick the colors?

I use Golden Brand acrylic paint. You want to stay FAR away from acrylic paint if you’re wearing nice clothes because once it’s there it’s pretty much permanent, which is why I use it. With white, yellow red blue and black, you can make close to any color you can think of. I always mix the colors I want myself, that way I have more control and I’m not relying on paint out of the tube for my palette.

Where do you usually work?

I can work from anywhere, I have a portable baggie with my paints, bucket, a few brushes, and fabric binding medium. Then all I need is a jacket! My “studio” has ranged from my kitchen table in Philly to the soccer field at the camp I worked at to the Roski painting studio.

What do you do to get the studio ready and get into the mode?

Painting requires concentration, but the nice thing about it is that it’s all visual concentration. That being said, it’s difficult to commit to staring at the same thing for hours. I usually bring my speaker and light a candle to allow myself to settle into a space and commit to the process.

What is your painting process?

I always start by mapping out the design and filling up as much space as early on as possible. Then you can get into specific colors and details and by the end, you’ll have a cohesive image that all works together. That’s the trick, when you start out in one area of a painting and only focus on that area, chances are your image will look distorted or disproportional. I use tape to help with hard edges if I need them.

How do you feel when you’ve finished a new piece?

I mean by the point that I’ve finished it, I’ve been staring at the thing for so long I’m kind of excited to look away! The good, proud feelings come about a day later when I can look back and see what I’ve made. I like taking process pictures because then I can see how a rendering has changed over time.

What are some of your next ideas, or works in progress?

I’m creating a painting series of portraits of women. Depending on the clothing and positioning that the women wear in the painting, I’m hoping to give viewers a glimpse of who the person I’m painting is and what their personality might be like. I’m giving the women different uniforms and encouraging viewers to take note of their judgments of the depictions of the women based on their poses and appearance. I want to motivate skepticism of why, especially with women, we have so many judgments based on physical appearance without even speaking a sentence to the actual person.

What is your vision as an artist that you hope will set you apart?

I’m interested in how art can tell stories without words. Visuals evoke emotional responses within us which is an extremely powerful tool. I’m interested in telling the “stories” of the people in my life, with the hopes that others who may look at my art can relate to a certain emotion that I chose to depict. Emotion is a pretty loose word so my apologies if I’ve lost you, but what I mean is that feeling when you recognize or connect with something when you’re looking at an image, it’s kind of the best feeling ever. Being able to connect people and communities through these personal responses is my goal as an artist.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I don’t have a clue, and I’m happy about that! I try to not limit myself to one idea of what I want to be because I might miss out on other opportunities. If something comes my way I typically take it, so I’ve done a range of different jobs. So far, I’ve worked with creatives involved in sustainability which has been really eye-opening. I’ve always been interested in fashion design but have learned the intense environmental impact that the fashion industry has. Maybe I can help to find a way to solve that issue through design or painting? All I know is that I’m going to be an artist, and it’ll take time to shape for myself the correct space to make my work it. It’s just a matter of keeping up the work and continuing to learn for now. I have one more year of my masters of fine art to continue to play!