Last week the team at Perth Fashion Festival paid a visit to the cosy studio of local artist Sharma Heylen-Silvia, who will be exhibiting a series of her watercolour works entitled 'Smokin' Hot Babes' at Hatch from Thursday, December 13.
Upon arrival at Sharma's studio we were greeted with a mix tape playing in the background entitled '50's Goodness': an appropriate fit to the plethora of film photographs, surfing paraphernalia and coastal inspired art throughout her apartment.
In terms of local inspired art, you couldn't get more raw than this if you tried. We got chatting to the very friendly Miss Heylen-Silvia, to find out about her influences, inspirations, processes, and artistic journeys. Enjoy!
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I'm a graphic designer and illustrator from Perth. I grew up in Geraldton, but moved to Perth in 2008 to study graphic design and illustration at Curtin. I graduated in 2010 top of my year, and have been working for a funky little design studio in Subiaco called Red Tiki, while doing freelance illustration after hours.
When did you discover your love for creating?
I guess my love for creating may have started back when I was about four, when my family was living in New Hampshire, USA. While my mum would go outside and ride horses all day, my dad and I would sit inside and watch 'The Sound of Music' pretty much daily, and draw what we watched. My poor dad.
How did your decision to study Graphic Design at Curtin University come about?
When the time came to choose what I wanted to study at uni, I was torn between something in the creative field, or something in the health field. I loved human biology at high school, and really got into anatomical illustration. That was how I learnt. If I could draw what I was learning about, I understood it. My art teacher, Matt Grigsby encouraged me to study Graphic Design at uni, and I did. I haven't looked back since.
How would you summarise your artistic styles?
I have two quite different styles. One is very fluid and organic, using watercolours and inks. I love the fluidity of the medium, and the spontaneity. You don't know when you splash the water on the page, where it's going to go, or what it's going to do, and I love that.
Watercolours are such a beautiful, fun, enjoyable medium to work with. I'm always happy when I’m painting. Because of the fluidity of the medium, I tend to embrace that aspect and really run with it. Everything always looks a little warped, and nothing is perfect, but that's the beauty of it.
And the other style?
My other style is a lot more detailed and refined. I work with fineliners (microns) and I love the detail I’m able to create. Using fineliners, I create an image of various elements all merged together, kind of like a dream.
Through this illustrative style, I discovered my love for song illustration. People will give me their favourite song, I'll listen to it on repeat until I almost throw my computer out the window, then I research the hell out of it, so by the time I start illustrating, I feel like I know the song, and the artist, inside out. I'll pick out lyrics that are rich in imagery, and merge them together into some sort of nonsensical combination of lines and shapes.
Merging lyrics into a “nonsensical combination of lines and shapes”… sounds challenging!
Yeh, I stress when I illustrate in this style; it's always a challenge, trying to interpret a song through a visual format but, because I put so much time, brain power, and hand cramps into it, by the end I’m pretty stoked with the outcome, regardless of how many stripy fish I may have loathed over previously.
Is there a common theme that you try to capture or express in your work?
When I was growing up, and all through uni, I mostly created surf art. Surfing, surf life saving, and the ocean in general has always been a massive part of my life, especially growing up in Geraldton. This is a theme that I still work with today. It always makes me happy to create surf inspired art. Most recently, I've just discovered a love for fashion illustration! I absolutely adore it! I never had any interest previously, but now I can't get enough of it!
How about the Smokin’ Hot Babes? Where do they fit into your artistic process?
My girls that I illustrate at the moment, are reminiscent of a combination of the tall, elegant, sweeping style of fashion illustration, with the curves and attitude of 50's pinup style illustration. One of my favourite parts of the illustration process, is creating a personality for the girls. I love coming up with a whole story for them. Then again, maybe I'm just living vicariously through my babes. Who knows!
Which artist or artists in particular inspire you?
I love a lot of different artists and designers with quite varying styles- both traditional, and digital:
I love Harry Daily. He is one of my major influences. He creates beautiful, beautiful surf art that has a certain sense of whimsy about it. His pieces are all quite nostalgic.
I love Sarah Blake, (ZSO), based in New York. She has really created her own unique style and I think it's amazing. She works both digitally, and traditionally, combining various techniques to create these amazing illustrations that are rich in colour, pattern, and texture.
I love Kelly Thompson, based in Melbourne, with her gorgeous girls.
I love the way she can create such character and form, with just a few strokes of a pencil.
I adore Pip McManus's work. Her girls are so sultry and have so much attitude- I love the grittiness she achieves, while still maintaining a crazy level of detail.
I love street artist Bridge Stehli. I love that she is a girl, creating awesome street art in her own style of mischievous cartoon characters. I really like the way she personalises her work. She looks like she has a lot of fun :)
I love Karl Kwansy (Monaux). His ink work is positively astonishing, and he manages to create the most incredible atmosphere in any illustration he creates.
Jon Contino in the states, is crazy awesome. Again, I love his unique, nautical style- especially his typography.
Other typographers that I adore are Jessica Hische, and Simon Alander. I have a real soft spot for lettering, and these guys are my favourites.
Lastly, some of my fav designers would have to be Dan Kuhlken and Nathan Goldman from DKNG. These guys create insane work, and I still can't fathom hey they create such incredible screen prints.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
I draw a lot of my inspiration from nature- particularly the ocean. I also get a lot of inspiration from older eras when life was a bit a little slower, and people appreciated the simpler things. I have a fascination of the surfing lifestyle in the 60's (mainly because that's when my dad grew up).
I think that whole era of long boarding is really special. I would have loved to grow up then. I also take a lot of inspiration from photographers. I think these people are so clever- I can't take photos to save my life, so I really appreciate the skill it takes to create an awesome photo. Most recently, I’ve started gaining a lot of inspiration from amazing fashion photographers. Tim Walker is my all time favourite.
How do you feel about your upcoming exhibition at Hatch?
I'm so excited for my exhibition of ‘Smokin’ Hot Babes’ in Hatch. I couldn't have asked for a better venue! I've been following hatch for a while through social media, and always thought it was out of my reach. When I found out Hatch actually liked my stuff, and wanted to exhibit me, I was totally stoked. I think Hatch and PFF are doing amazing things for WA creatives, and I can't express how grateful I am for these kinds of organisations.
Where do you hope your art will take you in the future?
In the future, I really want to do a lot more fashion illustration. I'm hooked! I want to explore different techniques and different ways of illustrating my girls. I'll also try and draw some babes with clothes on in the future, just to keep my dad happy.