The Value Of A Strong Mentor: Sam Baker

Picture this, a young boy and his grandma. She has a studio in her home where she paints the flowers she has picked from her garden. He is standing on his toes painting still life and landscapes. She frames every single drawing and painting her young grandson produces. He feels like a true artist. She was a tiny lady with a huge presence, and she was the beginning of Sam Baker’s awakening as an artist. Her nurturing encouragement was an early lesson for Sam. He was shown the powerful value of a positive influence in a creative’s life.

Image credit: Framed drawing produced by tutor Sam Baker, framed by his grandmother. 

Cut to school, A-levels, and college. Sam is now thinking big, so big in fact that he creates a huge installation of apples in their various stages of decay, preserved forever in a giant block of resin. 

Then came Loughborough University and yet another inspiring presence. A tutor who brought Sam’s work alive. He was studying Visual Communications and his tutor made him feel like he could do anything. A year later, that tutor was gone and for the first time, Sam came down to earth with a bang. He was frustrated with the replacement tutor and his work subsequently suffered. She just didn’t “get” him, and he felt completely disheartened.

Image credit: Graphic design project produced by Sam Baker for a sustainable urban neighbourhood.

Crestfallen and deflated Sam found himself back with his parents and searching for a new outlet.  Next time it was North Wales School of Art & Design where he moved into Graphic Design. It was here he would be reassured that great tutors are not such a rare breed and he again found himself supported and encouraged. He had firsthand experience of the benefits of a good tutor, and he knew how important that could be. 

Little did he know, he was in fact building his own emotional portfolio, as an educator. 

Image credit: Notepad project developed by graphic designer and tutor, Sam Baker. 

Design for life

After University, Sam began working as a freelancer. He created brochures, did some web development and video editing, anything, and everything creative.  He was also producing bespoke pen & ink wall art and paintings on the side but was constantly on the lookout for something steady and something interesting. 

Then came Egg bank, the first ever online bank and a lively, playful, cutting-edge environment to be creative. The creative director was so inspiring, they remain friends to this day. It was here that Sam found his creative flow and began to truly live and breathe the graphic designer’s mind. There were days when the ideas were just pouring from him, and he learned quickly what can happen when you put two idle creatives in a room together? When creative minds collide, boredom is obsolete, and magic can actually happen. Sam and his colleague would play a game that became known as the Scribble Challenge.  They would shut their eyes and scribble on a page, just a few swirls or dashes is all it took. The challenge was to take the scribble and from it, create something beautiful. An illustration, a logo, any sort of design. Pure mad science married with pure creative genius.

Egg bank was eventually bought by Citibank and soon the entire creative environment would change. As Sam describes it “Egg was green, but Citibank was blue”, so it was time to move on. 

Image credit: Several graphic design projects produced by tutor, Sam Baker. 

The language of learning

Sam was always creating and therefore always freelancing and with a very strong portfolio under his arm, work would come more easily. The University of Manchester offered him a role on the internal design team in the Centre for Educational Leadership. It was no accident he found himself in a university, he just didn’t know it yet.

During his tenure in Manchester, he was responsible for introducing their entire identity and essentially, creating their brand. Over time Sam found he had done as much as he could and with no scribble challenge partner, he had nowhere to channel his creative urges. So, after 5 years, he moved on.  

Image credit: Font sketches for a wedding project developed by Sam Baker.

For his whole life Sam’s family and close friends have been telling him he is a natural born teacher. He now looks back and sees with clarity, that a strong tutor can literally be a life-changing influence. He had spent time in retail design and that was where he was first drawn to taking young designers under his wing.  It was at The Getting Personal / card Factory that he ran a full in-house creative team that would put his leadership skills to the test. Everything he had done was building towards teaching and everything he had learned was another tool in his belt. He has an innate quality to educate and as an empath, he deeply understands the challenges of a new designer in a competitive world. He believes in honesty and communication and is acutely aware that no two students are the same. This and his life of design has informed his very human approach to teaching.  

To Sam, teaching new graphic designers is a bit like teaching a new language. His students already know the alphabet, he will just show them how to pronounce the letters; it is they who will make their own words. 

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Written by: Fiona Byrne

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