Graphic Tee Club Artist Feature: Sam Flores on Upper Playground

Welcome to the meeting of the Graphic Tee Club! If this is your first time around, please do not remove your clothing out of excitement upon reading unless you are in a safe, secure place. If you didn’t wear a graphic tee, that’s okay, there is a pile of Sharpies by the door and we’ll wait for you to draw something on your boring, stupid t-shirt.

Graffiti, street art, urban art, can art… whatever you want to call it, it’s undeniable that the streets of the cities near you hold some of the most interesting, creative, and out-of-the-box art of present times. This is also where you’ll find some of the greatest visual artists of our generation. 

I grew up idolizing street artists. Certainly not because I was near any kind of arts-rich neighborhoods, though Seattle had its own fair share of talent (and still does). I loved it because it didn’t have to be perfect and, in fact, it was better when it wasn’t. There was a rawness present in street art that indicated the lack of interest in rules – a trait that I also possess.

It was on the side of a building! A tunnel wall! An overpass! Not all graffiti is created equal, obviously, and much of it hardly falls under the heading of “art” (I’m talking to you, “lesbian ninjas“), but that made the truly prodigious artists stand out all the more.

Despite my interest, application to study, and subsequent rejection from graphic design, I have always been drawn to heavy-handed, non-digital art styles; images and techniques that require skills and materials above and beyond paint and a brush.

Poplar Street, SF - Sam Flores Street Art

Sam Flores street art on Poplar St. in San Francisco. (Source)

In my teens, I discovered Sam Flores, an artist from California via New Mexico who began his career creating images for skateboards and clothing. I fell in love with his use of animal and nature imagery in his designs, and the clean but exaggerated qualities of his zen-like figures. His brand, 12 Grain, has beautiful pieces of artwork that focus on the hybridization of people, music, nature and urban life.

Sam Flores Judgement Art Upper Playground

Judgement by Sam Flores.

These days, art is almost always at least partially digital – whether it’s color correction in Photoshop, or turning a drawing into a vector image in Illustrator (yikes, outing myself as an unintentional Adobe loyalist), art and technology are now bound – likely forever.

…And that’s fine. No, it’s really fine. We get to experience an art that was born on brick buildings in other mediums that we can take with us on a daily basis and decorate our lives with. More than that, street artists now have  a way to directly support themselves with their talents. (Read: they can finally make some money for their art instead of getting arrested because of it!)

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These days, Sam Flores is a part of Upper Playground, a collective of artists based in San Francisco that have offered a rich and beautiful online store for us to support our favorite street artists, and discover new ones.

Finally, all the Sam Flores t-shirts I could dream of! (And even a really rad pair of socks.)

Sam Flores x Upper Playground Street Art Graphic Tee Club


Left to right: Sleeping Girl ($24), Everglade ($26), Tiger Castle ($50)

Need a favorite artist? Browse Upper Playground’s roster or see if you can pop in to one of their stores and just ogle the pretty.

Do you have a favorite graffiti artist?

Tell me about them below! If they’re on Upper Playground, definitely let me know! And, as usual, support independent artists!