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I want to introduce you to Shayna Silverman, an American illustrator who lives in Amsterdam, and to her beautiful watercolor portraits that capture the moment. You can find her online under the name of The Grand Sketch. I asked her to tell us about how she started drawing and how she turned her passion for watercolors into a full-time job.
Shayna is a friend of mine and when I discovered her talent I was amazed because her portraits not only have an extraordinary resemblance but they are also able to perfectly reproduce expressions and characters!
But let’s hear her story: from New York to Amsterdam through Paris on a journey that took her to become a professional illustrator!
When did you start drawing?
Since I was big enough to pick up a crayon! I remember being really little and drawing on the linoleum floor in our basement while my sister warned me not to do it! When I was older, I would draw all over my school notebooks when I was supposed to be paying attention in class.
Did you attend any school of art?
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. I wish that I had been able to study art in school!
When did your passion for watercolors begin?
When I was working in consulting, I started painting in watercolors because they were portable and inexpensive. Then I fell in love with them for their ability to capture light and express movement.
When did you understand that your art could become your full-time job?
A couple of years ago, I transferred from the New York office of my consulting firm to the Paris one. Although it was my lifelong dream to work abroad, I found that I was working even more in Paris than in New York and I wasn’t enjoying my work anymore. Then almost a year after my transfer, my fiancé found a job in Amsterdam and I started to research my visa options in the Netherlands (I am American). I discovered that a Dutch visa exists for American entrepreneurs and that I might meet its qualifications. I thought that this might be the push that I needed to try pursuing my dream of being a freelance illustrator. I applied for the visa and the rest is history!
What are your favourite subjects to draw?
I love drawing dogs and horses! It is so much fun to capture their movement and personality. I haven’t had many opportunities to paint cats, but they can be great subjects, too. I also adore painting humorous scenes from Amsterdam and New York. For example, I am currently working on a series of typical Dutch cyclists “seen in Amsterdam” – everything from someone biking in the pouring rain while holding an umbrella in one hand, to someone biking while texting with both hands and not holding onto the handlebars, to a father biking on a bakfiets (a bike with a huge front bucket) loaded with three kids.
You are from New York and you live in Amsterdam, do you like it? Is it a good place for an artist?
I love Amsterdam! It has a very different vibe from New York; it is more of a metropolitan village. In other words, it has all of the cosmopolitan perks of a big city – good restaurants, good shopping, a big expat community – but it is small and approachable – you can bike across it in 30 minutes! Plus I have found the Dutch to be quite friendly and relaxed. It is also a good place to be an artist due to the wonderful museums and the high concentration of talent. New York will always be my first love, though!
Where do you find inspiration?
Our new Lagotto Romagnolo puppy Otto! He is a ball of love and energy and fun. He kept us super busy when he first arrived, but now that he has settled in, I am hoping to sketch him more. I would love to write and illustrate a children’s book about him! I am also endlessly inspired by the craziness and charm of life in Amsterdam and New York.
If you are in love with the beautiful portraits of The Grand Sketch, I have great news for you: Shayna also realizes custom portraits, a special gift idea… Christmas is coming, this is a great idea! You have just to send her some photos and she will take care of the magic!
Photo Shayna Silverman