The Big Reveal: What in the Sam Hill?

Category : For fun, Lettering

The Big Reveal: What in the Sam Hill?

And the Winner is…

Larraine Fairbanks (who also happens to be my mother and the daughter of the man who inspired this hand-lettered illustration)! And NO, the contest wasn’t rigged; she just wanted it really badly and was relentless in hounding friends to subscribe. In fact, she was neck-in-neck last night with another contestant. But amazingly, with only about an hour left in the competition, a massive group of people began signing up for her, and she was cannon-blasted well into the lead. Congrats, Mom

So What Happens Next?

As some of you know, last December my family pooled together around 30 phrases commonly uttered by my grandparents. We all voted on our top five favorites, and I have been working to hand-letter the phrases throughout the year. This particular phrase is the fourth in the series, and I will complete the fifth next month. At that time, I will reveal to all of you the entire, completed series. And at Christmas, I will present the illustrations as framed prints to my Grandparents (who are, I think, completely unaware)!

Thank you to all who participated, and WELCOME to my new blog subscribers! …and Happy Halloween!

What in the Sam Hill hand-lettered phrase

Win the Print!-What in the Sam Hill?

Category : For fun, Lettering

Win the Print!-What in the Sam Hill?

Current design phase of What in the Sam Hill?

This is the current phase of the print
(before color & texture are added)

The Story Behind the Design

Now’s the time to give you all a little background on why this hand-lettered phrase is looking the way it does. First, let me start with the history of “What in the Sam Hill?”. I researched its origin, and it dates back to the 1800’s. As the story goes, Sam Hill was a mercantile store owner in Prescott, Arizona (where the store still stands today). Sam Hill’s Warehouse carried just about everything, from hardware to ranching equipment, to household goodies and more! Hence, the saying “What in the Sam Hill?” was used to indicate something surprising, like you’d find in the store, and it quickly evolved to take on a number of different meanings. (It was even a great way for men to disguise their swearing around the womenfolk!) For these reasons, my typography references American wood type specimens of the 19th Century, and my layout is based on those of advertisements that you might have seen hanging in the store at that time.

In order to tie in my grandfather (who inspires this illustration), I incorporated sweet treats and hardware elements within the frame, as well as drafting paper for the background. Although time has slowed his ambitious endeavors, back in the day, he was a designer and carpenter, and damn, he was good at it! As a kid, I remember sitting mesmerized at the kitchen table while watching my grandfather draw out house plans on gridded paper. Typically, he’d have a soda in a see-through, barrel-like mug on one side of his drawing, and a treat on the other side. In my teen years, I had the tremendous opportunity (though I didn’t see it as such at the time) to help him build a couple houses in exchange for some summer spending money. I became handy with a tape measure, learned the purpose of a chalk line, and always helped myself to a sweet treat (oatmeal cream pies were my favorite) when break time arrived. Oh, and I almost forgot the most important part!–My grandfather uttered “What in the Sam Hill?!” frequently when something puzzled him on the job…and with apprentices like me, there were numerous reasons for puzzlement.

I’m excited for the final phase of “What in the Sam Hill?”, because it will incorporate more color and texture, which will really make it zing! By the end of this month, I will reveal the final print. My hope is that I will also announce a recipient of the print at that time as well. So, one more time, here are the instructions on how to win it:

How to Win the Finished 8 X 10 Print:

Tell folks to subscribe to my blog by emailing me at and mentioning YOUR NAME as the person who referred them!