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SFTI: Samuel Berry

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Date Added: 11th August 2017

Illustrator and animator Samuel Berry explains how his martial arts training helps him create his art, plus some great tips on focusing and finding the best frame of mind...



I'm a Montréal raised artist and martial artist, both of these things started with a very passionate interest with the Ninja Turtles and Spider-man (oh, and Power Rangers too). So I drew them while I trained to become them (as much as a five year old can) and then I discovered Dragon Ball and my fate was sealed.

A loose sketch and colouring method experiment. Funny story, I hated the colour version and now I really like it

I studied art education and studio arts at Concordia University in Montréal prior to finally deciding on film animation at Concordia's Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. Afterwards, I pursued a career as a freelance illustrator/animator. I live a dual life of sorts, splitting my time between art and martial arts. Both of these worlds have fed off each other throughout my life and have been the core of my work ethic (not as boring as it sounds, I promise).

Sketch/study of clouds to try out and get an idea of a painting style

Sketching is the most important thing that I do as an artist. Sketching is how I learned the fundamentals of drawing and art in general. It still serves as a training ground for me to hone my skills and perfect my craft. A sketch is where I explore ideas, techniques and subjects with no limitations. It is the foundation of any final piece I create. It is where I have the most fun but also where I show the most discipline, much like practising judo throws. The freedom to make mistakes and learn from them is what makes it so essential to my process. For this reason, most of my sketching in the last few years has been in the form of studies (drawings or paintings).

Figure painting study where I focused on the forms and flow of the body rather than rendering

Top tip: Be present

When I teach martial arts, I often tell my students to appreciate every rep they do when practising because it's the only time they'll ever do that rep and it contributes to the rep right after it. The same principle applies to art. When you're sketching, make sure you're not doing it mindlessly and just going through the motions. Think critically about what you're drawing; ask yourself why you like it, or what could make it better. Be present and be aware of what you're drawing so you can get more than just pretty lines out of your sketch.

Inspiration & ideas

The biggest inspiration for my art, and even for some of the fashion illustration I've done, is storytelling. I always try to imply a sense of storytelling in my art. Even if I'm painting a landscape I design it so the audience can infer a sort of story or at least a character from it. I generally explore my ideas by sketching small thumbnails or even just an element from the "scene” I want to draw. Or in the case of a portrait, I'll do multiple sketches using different colour palettes before moving on.

This sketch started as a lot of squiggly lines and then I just drew over them


The mediums I use range from traditional pencils and ink to digital painting and drawing (Photoshop, mainly) often combining both. It really depends on my mood, the idea or even the medium itself is the inspiration of a piece. I don't concern myself too much with what kind of tools I'm using to sketch ideas, whatever is the most convenient at the time usually wins. I can't say the same when it comes to final pieces though, especially in the age of digital art; I could write you an essay but maybe another time.

Thumbnail made by overlapping two scanned thumbnails and digitally drawing over the composite to create a new one

Sketching techniques

When it comes to traditional media I like to keep the pencil on the page as much as possible, even if it means drawing over things, it keep the drawing loose and helps not getting caught up in details. I do the same digitally but I like to use layers for different parts or to try something out. Another thing I like to do is sketch in Photoshop using oversized brushes and just slap and blend colours together, it's a good way to train your eyes for colour and you get to keep it for later as colour palette inspiration.

Top tip: Learn to chill

Tip text: This seems counter intuitive to my previous tip, but you can't do one without the other. It's important to understand that it's ok to need a break and even to have a bad day. The mind needs rest in between creative bouts, if you create non-stop you'll either become stale or burn out or both. Take breaks and explore life around you, it's how you'll get your best ideas.

Related links

Check out more of Samuel Berry's great art at his portfolio
Grab a copy of Sketching for the Imagination: Characters
Improve your technique and gain inspiration from Masters of Sketching


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