Bringing hours of thought, care, and sweat into the creation of every work of art.
I’m Swann Smith, a visual artist who works in classically realistic styles. Some of you may already know me as the illustrator of the Teen Wolf Bestiary for MTV (and if you don’t know, it’s a 32-page book where I drew a bunch of supernatural creatures in a style reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbooks).
- I earned a B.F.A. in Communication Design from Pratt Institute
- Although I was trained using traditional artist’s materials (i.e., pencils, pen and ink, pastels, oil paints, etc.), I’ve switched to recreating those techniques with a digital pen and tablet.
- I live and work in New York City’s Sunnyside neighborhood.
Now on to waxing philosophically about the value of time.
When creating artwork, I think of it not as a sprint, but as a marathon to diligently discover the essence of the subject at hand. For me, a sketch can easily equate to three hours of work; a simple iconic painting, sixty hours; and a full-blown concerto of visual wizardry, well beyond a hundred hours.
Now you may be asking, “Swann, why does it take you so long to create artwork?”
- I do my homework. Let’s say I’m working on a drawing involving the historical Hadrian’s Wall. I would take the time to thoroughly research the subject, so I can gather facts like: the wall being 17 to 20 feet tall, as much as 10 feet thick, with 80 milecastles and 158 turrets spaced approximately every 540 yards apart along the wall’s 73 mile length. Acquiring knowledge, I believe, adds authenticity to artwork.
- I give ideas time to germinate. I might want to paint a fantasy portrait of Medusa. Do I want viewers to fear or sympathize with the Gorgon whose look turned beholders to stone? What lighting and color palettes would help elicit these emotional responses? Should I depict a traditional Medusa or create a new spin on her mythology? What perspective would best show off her snake hair? What if the snakes were metallic robots? Or maybe they’re not snakes, but spaghetti? A lot of walking, thinking, sketching, and repeating is how I would build concepts and hopefully avoid cookie-cutter solutions.
- I pay attention to details. And I love the details! Whether it’s taking time to design the pattern of scales on a dragon; to gently blend light as it recedes into the shadow across a queen’s cheek; or to exaggerate the long, boney fingers of a wizard wrapped around a spoon as he stirs his brew, it’s all good to me.
Admittedly, greater time does not always equal greater quality. There’s a beauty and vitality found in the spontaneous strokes of Rembrandt, abstract expressionists, and today’s speed paintings. And if I can find a quicker technique that doesn’t sacrifice aesthetic quality, yeah, I’ll take it.
But when I think about enduring artistic achievements that resonate inside me, I remember that:
- Egypt’s Great Pyramid wasn’t built overnight;
- Fabergé eggs didn’t roll off assembly lines; and
- Michelangelo didn’t fling a coat of paint up on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling before wishing the pope, “Arrivederci!”
So, if you value time being taken to conscientiously craft original artwork,