Shayna Silverman is currently based in Amsterdam, but she hails from New York. She got her artistic start by drawing on the kitchen floor with crayons, but today her preferred mediums are watercolors and pen and ink on cold press paper. She is inspired by sunny destinations, the craziness of city life, and all subjects equine or canine. She attended New York University, from which she received a Bachelor of Arts in French with a minor in Economics. For the past nine years, she worked as a strategy consultant in New York and Paris, but she recently decided to take a break from consulting to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an illustrator.
I think a lot of artists got their start by doodling with crayons as a kid! Did you have the jumbo box with 120 colors? I loved that. How did you continue to develop your drawing and painting skills growing up? Did you take classes independently or are you more self-taught? Were you still dedicating a fair amount of time to making art even during your early career in strategy consulting?
We had everything at home growing up! Crayons, markers, colored pencils, pastels, the Sculpey polymer clay you bake in the oven, and more. My mom was an artist who did decorative painting with acrylics – first on furniture and later on textiles – so our house was always filled with art supplies. Ironically, I never painted that much when I was little and now I wish that I had let my mom teach me.
My preferred technique was drawing and I had a huge set of Prismacolor colored pencils. Many years later when I was a management consultant, one of my clients was the company who owns the Prismacolor brand and I got the chance to shop in the company store. It was a dream come true!
Aside from one watercolor painting class that I took at The New York Studio School when I was a consultant, I am pretty much self-taught, though. While I was a consultant, I would sneak in time to do travel sketches on vacation (or okay, maybe the occasional doodle in the margins of my work notebooks), but otherwise my creativity was limited to the confines of PowerPoint!
Tell us a bit about the transition to illustrating. What was the turning point that made you decide to go after your lifelong dream full-time?
I have always loved art, but I guess that I always felt a little bit of pressure to follow a more traditional career path. When I graduated from college I had student loans and I wanted to stay in New York (but it’s expensive!), so consulting seemed like a responsible choice. The further I progressed on the consulting career track, the riskier it seemed to leave.
That all changed when I transferred to the Paris office of my consulting firm. One of my lifelong dreams was to work abroad. However, once in France, I was working even more grueling hours than I had in the US and I didn’t even have enough time to visit Paris! Although, I must admit that I was still able to eat my fair share of croissants. Then my boyfriend found a job in Amsterdam and while I was researching my visa options in the Netherlands, I discovered the Dutch American Friendship Treaty visa for American entrepreneurs and I realized that I might have a shot at obtaining it as a freelance artist. I said to myself that it was now or never!
Where did the name 'The Grand Sketch" come from? Did you consider using your name?
I did consider using my name, but I decided that I wanted to have a little flexibility with branding until I decided on the style I wanted to use. I chose the name “The Grand Sketch” because I wanted the name to immediately convey the product being sold. I also liked the juxtaposition of the word “grand”, which suggests an elaborate, impressive work, with the word “sketch”, which implies a rough or unfinished product. One of my goals in my painting is to have an economy of line that expresses the same emotion as an elaborate painting but without all of the fuss. Finally and most importantly, though, the domain name and instagram handle were available!
Describe a few of your sources of inspiration and how or why they influence your work.
I have always found the craziness of city life endlessly inspirational, if not exhausting! In New York there are so many eccentric characters everywhere, and so much energy! Amsterdam is wonderful in different ways – the beautiful canals and quiet streets, the take no prisoner cyclists, and the moody weather. I also love painting horses and dogs. It is a real pleasure to capture their movement and expressions.
What is your process like to create a work from start to finish? Feel free to talk about materials here too. How long does one piece usually take and do you work on more than one at a time?
I tend to start out by taking a lot of reference photos of the subject that I want to paint. Then I move to a pencil sketch (with lots of erasing)! When I am checking proportions, I tend to take a photo of the drawing and crop it to the same size as the reference photo and then flip back and forth between the two. This allows me to spot errors in the proportions. Once I think that I have finished the drawing, I always leave it alone for a day and come back to it to make final corrections before I start to paint. It’s like that dress that you wanted to buy in a store – it’s always easier to have perspective on what you truly need when you look at things with a fresh eye!
For the painting, I often do landscapes on cold press watercolor paper, and more detailed paintings or portraits on hot press paper. When I am painting horses or dogs, I first do an underpainting of ultramarine blue and van dyke brown to set the values. Then I layer color on top.
While portraits tend to take eight or more hours, I find that lately I have been spending more time on detailed city scapes that require a little bit more ruler work.
I prefer to work on multiple pieces at a time and switch between them to prevent myself from getting bored, but when I have a commission, that takes priority.
Are you working on any upcoming projects, collaborations or exhibitions?
I am currently preparing for an exhibition at the coworking space The Thinking Hut in Amsterdam. The theme of the exhibition is Holland and I am painting everything from the canals of Amsterdam to modern – and humorous – takes on the cultural trademarks of Holland (Delft pottery, cows, stroopwafel). I also have a few commissions in the works, which are all dog portraits.
What are your goals in the coming year? 5 years?
In the next five years, I would like to eventually find representation with the right gallery, as well as with an illustration agency. It would be great to do illustrations for luxury brands or editorial work. I would also like to write and illustrate a children’s book, but I think that is more on the five-year horizon.