Posted 02 February 2023
Interview by Frankie Faccion
Mention Cam Portland

“Set goals and put in hours”: artist Cam Portland on hosting art workshops and illustrating for #Merky Books

For Cam Portland, setting defined goals and investing in yourself is integral to artistic success. His impressive body of work is a testament to what that looks like. The south London-based abstract artist landed his first commission with Stormzy’s #Merky Books after a rep reached out to him on social media – a tool he cites as having been essential to his work reaching the public. Since then, Cam has launched a creative workshop, Sip & Paint, where he hosts and guides participants along an evening of art-making and cocktail-sipping. Here, Cam discusses his latest body of work – influenced by the ancient Southern African San Bushmen tribe – and imparts some wisdom on the best ways to build a collection, exhibit your art and put on creative events.

Cam Portland

Cam Portland

Job Title

Artist and Events Coordinator



Place of Study

BA Interior Architecture, University of Bedfordshire (2014-2017)

Social Media

Portland + Pals Instagram

Cam Portland Store Instagram

What I do

How would you describe what you do?
I’m a visual artist and illustrator.

I express myself by doing whatever comes to mind. Whether it’s my artwork or the events I host, they’re all extensions of me as a person.

Can you tell us a little about what Sip & Paint is about, as well as why and how you set it up?
Sip & Paint is a fun-filled workshop that brings people together to bask in the joys of painting.

Lockdown occurred shortly after my first exhibition, so it wasn’t experienced as I intended. I thought, with restrictions being lifted, it’d be a great way to get people back into the space, connecting them to my art but also giving them a chance to make their own.

After I pitched the idea and got the green light from the venue, I set a budget and started researching materials. I reached out to Black-owned vendors to support the event through catering and including their products in prize giveaways.

“I researched budget and materials for Sip & Paint, contacting Black-owned vendors for support through catering and including products in giveaways.”

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
Art imitates life and I believe that. I stylised everyday people as San People [indigenous to Southern Africa]. The themes in my work are instances and scenarios my friends and family are either experiencing, or have experienced first hand.

I recall my dad seeing things in my paintings that sparked conversations between us; things I hadn’t said but felt comfortable putting on canvas.

Rio Grande’s cherubs, by Cam Portland

What’s your favourite thing in your workspace right now?
That would have to be my Graham mask (below). I like the feeling of freedom that comes with wearing it.

I often imagine how my characters would interact with the real world and Graham lets me emulate that. It’s my favourite creation.

Graham mask with customised denim jacket

Cam wearing his Graham mask

Graham mask with maj mask

Photography by Gabby Drew

Can you tell us about some of your favourite projects to date?
Working with #Merky Books was a big achievement for me; it was my first commissioned work. I illustrated a cover for the classic book, 1984 by George Orwell, and it was on display at their pop-up event. It was a really proud moment and I met some amazing people.

In 2020, I had the opportunity to work with SNS [Sneakersnstuff] again, this time creating a series of illustrations and animations, while also designing a family and friends t-shirt. That project allowed me to highlight what I take pride in and really care about, what really motivates me day-to-day.

My solo exhibition, The San People of London, really gave me the confidence to pursue what I do now. I didn’t think I could fill the space with art or people, but the turnout couldn’t have been better. I nurtured the relationships I formed during that time and kept building from that.

How I got here

Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
I don’t think training is necessary. I’ve found that being affable and a good communicator can work a lot of magic. Confidence, however, is key. I lacked that at first, but developed it through public speaking and hosting these [Sip & Paint] events.

“I lacked confidence at first, but developed it through public speaking and hosting these Sip & Paint events.”


Cam speaking at a Sip & Paint event

What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
I was in my uni accommodation a lot, drawing and painting whenever I found the time. It was my escape from uni and the long journeys back to London. At one point, I was keeping at it but wasn’t super impressed by my work and didn’t know which direction I wanted to go.

Lockdown gave me that downtime to experiment and rediscover, so by the time the world was opening back up, I had a clearer idea of what I wanted to do and how to execute it. Had I been trying to balance work with developing my creative practice and the distractions that come with life, it would’ve probably taken me longer.

How did you go about landing your first commission?
I was at work one day and received a message request from a rep at Penguin. They said they liked my work and wanted to put me forward to reimagine a book cover to display at a #Merky Books pop-up.

CP Where s Mike

Where’s Mike, by Cam Portland

CP we nuh ave dat burnt

We nuh ave dat burnt, by Cam Portland

CP What Endz You From

What Endz You From, by Cam Portland

CP Short Sighted

Short Sighted, by Cam Portland

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
Having the opportunity to travel. I’d be in Jamaica or Barbados, passing by all these colourful houses painted in shades of pink, blue and orange – that often got worked into a palette. But just being able to get away is good; it’s even better when I can take in different cultures and aesthetics.

Documentaries also play a part [in inspiring me]. I’m a visual learner and like to be clued up on different figures and subject matter. I like to study other artists, their journeys and outlook on life. Some of my favourite ones are The Bushman’s Secret (2006), Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, Stepping Razor: Red X (1992) and Hidden Colours (2011). I’m also currently listening to an audiobook of 50 Cent’s Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter.

Music just takes me somewhere; I’ll zone out the same way I do when I’m painting. It helps get me in the right mood and find my state of flow. In the studio right now is a lot of Japanese jazz; I’d also say two of my favourite artists to listen to are Beanie Sigel and Cleo Sol.

“Listening to music, I’ll zone out the same way I do when I’m painting. It helps get me in the right mood and find my state of flow.”

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
The algorithm…

How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work? Do you have any advice or learnings to share?
It’s everything [to my work], more or less.

[Instagram] is a platform where I’ve created an online community of people with shared interests and where I can keep them posted on new work and events, documenting my process and progress. I’ll chat with guests attending a workshop or club night [I hosted], ask them how they came to know of the event and they’ll often say, “one of my friends shared it on Instagram.”

But as important as self-promotion is, engagement and stats are not a true reflection of one’s creativity and the quality of work, hence the algorithm being the biggest challenge.

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
Save so that you can invest in yourself. I was working part-time and could’ve spent my earnings on clothes and dining out, but early on, I bought a scanner. That one bit of kit took my illustrations to the next level and contributed to half of my exhibition.

Also, remember to pay yourself. I’m still quite a penny pincher in that regard – I’ll pay everyone else but put it off when it comes to me. I think it’s important to do so though, especially if your creative practice is your bread and butter.

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Put goals down and hours in! There are projects I’ve put a lot of time into and released years ago that still benefit me today.

Ask yourself: what do you want to achieve, when and how? It sounds simple and a lot of people probably forget to do it for that reason, but it’s effective and makes your workload digestible.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar career?
Work towards building a collection first, then exhibit your work. You may not have enough for a solo exhibition, so group shows are a great way to start.

With events, I’d suggest starting small. Host a get-together with your friends – pay attention to the elements that make a good night, get honest feedback and do your research.

Interview by Frankie Faccion
Mention Cam Portland