When Sam Rolfes first contacted us in February, we were instantly taken by his work. We knew we wanted to collaborate with him but no assignment seemed to match the uniquely strange quality of his compositions. Until the Cyborgoisie Issue. We asked him to make the cover for the issue, and he immediately got it. He described trying to capture something “cradled, nursed, suffocated, drained, and distracted by binary noise.” The result brings to mind a faceless and replicable prototype, like one of those sentient robot-maids, and yet, a being channeling our agony and stress.
We decided to ask Sam some questions to figure out what goes on inside his head, and his answers surprised us. Sam Rolfes works almost entirely in digital media, but rejects the classification of “digital art”. He thinks the fetishization of teenage taste is stupid, has a background in stenciling and wheat-pasting, and encourages people trying to do what he does to first find interests outside of the art world and not be distracted by ephemeral fads.
How did you get started making digital art?
At a young age, year 2000 or so, I started designing background stories for various imaginary art studios I daydreamed about running. These were precursors to some of the stuff I’ve done with Join The Studio since, and all of it was rendered in Corel Photo Paint and Flash. Hell, I only started using Photoshop extensively last year, before that it was almost all Corel. I think one make-believe collective was named Skymountain Studio or something equally unimaginative haha, the logo a Chinese character I copied from the Chinese-to-English dictionary I obsessively carried around with me.
When I was 9 or 10, I sketched out a plan for an online art role-playing game on Manila construction paper — something for my friends and I to play, design rooms and probably trigger explosions in, considering my age.
I would skim my Mom’s 3ds Max [3D computer graphics program for 3D animations —ed] or web coding books and get all these wild ideas. But I'd lose interest when it came to writing code or anything I didn’t think was fun, haha. Coding makes my soul weep to this day so I guess that hasn’t changed.
As a tween, I got into Blender [3D computer graphics software —ed] and took a few Summer 3D classes at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. I was shuffling around vertices and giggling at the stupid way I made my rigged models dance, but ended up abandoning 3D for a long time — until last year — because it was just too cold and inexpressive a medium. Nevertheless I continued in Corel and began reducing my images to bands of 3 or 4 colors for stenciling or wheat-pasting, then printing them out on sheets of computer paper, stitching them in my garage as my mom slept, and sneaking out at midnight to go paint and paste them around town with my Join The Studio friends.
I've never really thought of myself as a digital artist, even though that’s always been the backbone of my practice. We’re getting to the point that saying “digital artist” is a bit redundant, I think.
You're very prolific. How and where do you work? What is your workflow?
ROLFES’ WORKSPACE MASTER KEY
1. Portal to Social Media Self-Flagellation
2. Hovering Critique Djinn
4. Modular Saddle of Compounded Neuroticism Packets
5. Fire (Nearly) under My Ass
6. Foreboding Haze of Past-Due Projects
7. Caffeine Valve
8. All Seeing Eye of Retrospection
(Not pictured: Work/Life Balance)
My life is fluid right now —I don’t have weekends or set hours. My days off are when my mind or body refuse to cooperate and will accept only intense bouts of anime and tech reading as tribute.