Born in Portugal in 1983, Samuel Silva is a natural-born artist who is also a Jurist, working as a Solicitor since his graduation in 2007.
Samuel was always interested in drawing, sculpting, and painting since he was 2 years old. His style began developing itself back when he was in school; he would make sketches with his ballpoint pens in the back of his exercise books. Ballpoint pens are not only the material that he masters, since he also knows how to use chalk, pencil, colour pencil, pastels, oils, and acrylics, but, according to the artist, ”ballpoint pens are as underestimated as they are a powerful medium”, and by his own words, “it’s not about what you use, it’s about how you use it.”
It may be hard to believe but the pictures below are created using standard ballpoint pens bought from places like Staples, eBay, Amazon and, the artist says, any good office supply store. We had a little talk with the artist, and here is the final result of our conversation.
Why do you use ballpoint pens and not a brush or a charcoal pencil?
I’ve already used brushes, pencils and charcoals in a time, but the challenge wasn’t enough to keep me interested in those materials; so, I’ve decided to do what I do, something that can’t be erased or corrected, something that is extremely difficult through the high, challenging level that ballpoint pens represent.
How is Art a part of your life? Is it the main element or just a hobby?
It’s just a hobby. I never intended to exhibit or sell anything, I just did it to improve my techniques and my abilities — as a challenge to my own limits I always had my works in drawers before, until a year ago when I decided to share a small part of them on the Internet.
How long does a work take to be finished? Do you create more than one at the same time, or do you focus only on one project?
It depends on the size and complexity of every work, but typically I take 20 or 50 hours to finish each work. I always focus on one at a time, so all my resources and skills are centred on the goal of making the best possible job I can.
How is your working process? How can you create images so realistic only with ballpoint pens — do you carry some tricks?
There is no trick here, incidentally, it is quite simple. I use old methods and craft, make a grid in pencil on the photo reference and the other in a white sheet where I draw, thereby controlling the size, and the design will have the precision proportions. I can also draw merely by comparison, but it takes longer than drawing simple lines to guide me. Then, by looking and drawing, I slowly erase the pencil drawing as I go to the final work of the pen, once again looking and drawing.
The subjects of your works are many times masterpieces from Vermeer, or simple animals or portraits. Is there any kind of theme that you like to work more with?
There is no particular genre that I like better, but I admit that, as a fan of great artists of the past, I draw inspiration from their work and that gives me pride to be able to recreate what they did with oil with ballpoint pens. I am also very interested in science and scientific illustration, so it’s with great pleasure that I also draw animals. I think the natural world is very inspiring.
Solicitor and artist — how do you bring these two professions together?
I spend about an hour and a half drawing in the day, rarely more than that. It’s a hobby that occupies the same amount of time as my day job, but less than many other hobbies — it’s far from being a profession for me.
Do you ever think about quitting the legal profession to become a full time artist?
As a child, I’ve dreamt about that one day I could only be an artist. But a person becomes an adult and the reality reveals itself. Also, in Portugal it would be very difficult to survive as an artist exclusively; there is no population-wise, economic or cultural dimensions for that to happen, unfortunately.
Samuel Silva has drawn images of wildlife, recreated masterpieces like Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and copied iconic photos so accurately they’re almost indistinguishable from the original. For his Redhead Girl, based on a photograph by Russian photographer Kristina Taraina, as an example of his work process, the artist used six different coloured ballpoint pens which took some 30 hours to finish. To create such vibrant colours, Samuel Silva cross hatches in layers, to give off the illusion of additional hues and depth.
Let’s wait and see for what he will bring us in the future.