Bedford-based artist commissioned to create His Dark Materials artwork

Clarke Peters as Jordan College’s Dr. Carne

If you’re one of the 7.65 million people who sat down on Sunday night to watch the BBC adaptation of His Dark Materials, you will recognise Bedford-based Sam Gilbey’s latest illustrations.

The artist has created the visuals for a Spotify podcast based on the latest BBC adaptation of His Dark Materials, featuring Dafne Keen as Lyra Belaqua and Clarke Peters as Jordan College’s Dr. Carne.

The podcast, His Darker Materials, is a must-listen for fans of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy who want to get the lowdown on the new BBC/HBO TV adaptation.

We spoke to Sam to find out how he came to work on the project.

“I had got to chatting with someone who’d bought some of my work from my online store,” Sam told the Bedford Independent.

“That person, Kobi Omenaka, is amongst other things, a podcast producer. Myself and my studio buddy David Litchfield recently guested on the Flixwatcher podcast he co-hosts, where we discussed John Carpenter’s The Thing, being a movie that’s currently on Netflix, as the theme of that podcast demands.

“Not long after that, Kobi asked me if I’d be interested in creating artwork for a Spotify-commissioned podcast hosted by David Corkey and Helen O’Hara, centred around the new HBO and BBC adaptation of His Dark Materials. Naturally I said yes!”

Sam describes his style as ‘painterly and generally also observational’ and despite coming from a fine art background, he mostly works digitally now.

“Over the last ten years or so my style has certainly distilled into something recognisable – not unlike a daemon settling on its final form I guess.

“Of course, as an artist you’re always looking to explore and evolve too, but it tends to be a gradual thing, especially when you’re working commercially and a certain style is expected of you.”

In order to create the imagery for His Darker Materials, Sam was given an early glimpse of the series, but had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to prevent him spoiling the big reveal when the first episode aired last Sunday.

So, who is his favourite character?

“The next one I’m going to paint will always be my favourite,” said Sam. “So far it’s probably been Dafne Keen as Lyra, though that’s partly because she’s such a contrast to Clarke Peters as Dr. Carne.

“Each week I’m painting a new portrait of a character (with their accompanying dæmon) to help promote, and be the artwork for, the new podcast episode.

“I just love to capture likeness, so I can get lost in whichever one I’m working on.”

One of the unique things about the Northern Lights books is the presence of dæmons – an external physical manifestation of a person’s ‘inner-self’ that takes the form of an animal.

“If I had a dæmon, I’d hope it would be somewhere between say, a hamster and a unicorn,” said Sam.  “But alas no doubt probably closer to the hamster end of that spectrum. Gerbil?”

Much of Sam’s work features characters from popular culture, and he was recently asked to contribute to an official art book licensed by Netflix and Stranger Things.

“I was very fortunate to contribute a piece of artwork to the book curated by Printed in Blood and published by Del Rey Books.

“In fact there are over 200 artists in the book, but best of all, we are each able to sell 200 copies of our work as an official print.

Stranger Things
80s hair a-go-go at the Hawkins’ High Snow Ball…

“As a huge fan of the show, and a child of the 80s, Stranger Things is a very special series to me, so that has meant a lot.  My dream commission? It would be amazing to create the key art for a film from the get-go someday.”

Sam works in the heart of Bedford town centre, sharing a studio with fellow artist, David Litchfield. What’s it like working alongside the award-winning children’s author and illustrator?

“Absolutely awful. I jest of course! We’ve been sharing a studio for a year and a half now, and it’s been great.

“Whilst we illustrate very different things, we both paint digitally and like to incorporate lots of detail in our work.

“Being able to share the upsides and downsides of the industry has really been valuable. As has being able to share work in progress with each other and get fresh eyes on the thing you’ve been painting forever and can’t ’see it’ anymore.

“Thankfully we share the same taste in music, being of a similar vintage, so if you were walking past the window you might hear some Bruce Springsteen, 90s grunge, or the occasional Def Leppard ballad floating out!”

You can check out more of Sam’s work on his Instagram page and website. Or you might follow the sounds of The Boss near Mill Street and find him and Mr Litchfield hard at work in their studio…

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