Welcome to our Little Artist Series, a little blog where we take a deeper dive into the art and artists we love dearly.
Next up: Brazilian-based artist, Ryan Smallman!
We had the pleasure of meeting Ryan through Instagram. We wanted to create a Baby Yoda pin once we saw how adorable the child was in the Mandalorian. Within about a week of the episode airing, everyone and their mother began taking pre-orders for Baby Yoda products. While sketching out some ideas, we decided to hold off until we could create a pin that stood out from the oversaturation of what was already being released. While casually surfing through Instagram, we stumbled across Ryan’s unique image. It was brilliant and exactly what we were looking for. Since working with Ryan, we’ve also released a Joker pin inspired by M.C. Escher’s “Rind.” We’re looking forward to working with him on more amazing designs.
LSoP: Hey Ryan! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. For those who are being introduced to you for the first time, can you give a little background on you?
Ryan: Hey, thank you! Yeah, my name is Ryan Smallman, an independent illustrator, designer and comic book artist based in São Paulo, Brasil. Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, but my family moved over here as missionaries when I was 6 years old and have lived here ever since! Today I’m married to my beautiful wife Beatriz and work as a full time freelance illustrator.
LSoP: You’re somewhat of a chameleon with your art style. You have hard black linework on some of your pieces and then you have some pencil-y illustrations like Joker on others. How do you decide the direction you want your piece to go?
Ryan: I like to feel out what the piece is asking for, what technique will fit the mood best, but even in my penciled pieces, there is still a defining line contour, so that is definitely the vein that runs through all my work. I love a strong, defining line, but I’ll mix it up once in a while.
LSoP: Like the US, Brazil was hit really hard with COVID-19 cases and was forced into a crazy lockdown. Did you find yourself more creative or did you suffer from artist block like some others?
Ryan: Actually, as terrible as it sounds, the lockdown has had quite the silver lining for me personally. I was art directing for 3 years at a large entertainment website here (Omelete) that runs the biggest comic-con in the world (CCXP) and in march, when we switched to home office, all that extra time at home helped me wind down and really think about my ambitions, eventually leading me to the decision of quitting my job there and going into freelance, which has been working out spectacularly! As far as creativity, the gaps between highs and lows are bigger than ever, especially with the state of the world, but I’ve been able to balance it reasonably well. Can’t wait for things to get better though.
LSoP: What’s your process like? Do you tend to power through a piece and get it done ASAP so you can move to the next or do you like to take your time and step away here and there until you’re finally like, “There’s nothing else I can do to improve this piece?”
Ryan: I’m pretty laser focussed on getting pieces finished. I tend to have a pretty clear vision of what I’m going for when I begin, so once I get that figured out in the initial sketch, the rest is mostly legwork. I’ve streamlined my process pretty well, so if I let a piece go too long, I just lose interest and it’s hard to get back in it, so I’m as objective as possible. Usually I’m able to finish a piece without too much doubt as well, which is nice, but that confidence comes with experience. But deadlines are our friends, I always need them.
LSoP: What’s going on around you while you create? Do you listen to music? Put on a movie or tv show? What are you viewing/listening to these days?
Ryan: Honestly, I create in silence for the most part, and it’s not even voluntary, I’ll be wearing my headphones for hours without listening to anything because I’m so dialed in haha. But I definitely listen to podcasts more than music, sometimes music can stress me out if I’m not specifically in the mood. Been listening to 500 Greatest Films Podcast, The Weekly Planet and The Illustration Hour, and as for music, a heavy rotation of Kanye, The Weeknd, Daft Punk, Gorillaz, Kendrick Lamar, Run the Jewels and a great artist I just discovered, Benjamin Clementine. But with no prior notice, I’ll shift into a folk or rock phase again, it’s always changing.
LSoP: What tools do you use to help create your artwork? Digital? Traditional? Mixture of both?
Ryan: My favorite is to mix both, do traditional work on paper, either ink or pencil, and color digitally. That is how I created the Joker and Baby Yoda pieces for you guys. The cool thing about traditional is that the textures are all there, in their most organic form, plus the artwork is much more demanding, less tricks and shortcuts, so you’re obligated to put more care into it. But I do a lot of just digital as well, ends up being easier most of the time. I have a Cintiq 12wx that my parents and grandparents bought for me in 2008! It’s still going strong.
LSoP: You’re like us and did comic conventions last year, but due to COVID-19 there are no more large gatherings happening. Do you find yourself missing these events or have you been able to adapt enough to where you can make a comfortable living from your home?
Ryan: I only ever participated in CCXP, which has the largest Artists’ Alley in the world, so that is always an exciting convention. My plan was to participate in more this year, but since they all got cancelled, it actually freed me up to focus on shifting my career to freelance. But I’ve been able to sell well through instagram, so I’m focussing on getting my website a store soon!
LSoP: What’s next? Is there anything lined up for you in the near future? What’s your dream project?
Ryan: The big thing I’m working on now is my personal branding and website. Since I don’t have an agent now, I’m representing myself, so I’m focussing on strengthening my online presence, which is extremely important for freelancers.
As far as a dream project, my career goal is to create a poster for Mondo! The work they put out and the artists they work with have inspired me for years. The quality of their work is an awesome bar to strive towards, so hopefully I will get that opportunity in the future. I also dream of doing covers for Marvel (specifically Spider-man) and creating gig posters and merch for some bands I love.
LSoP: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us and allow us to check out your process. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the near future. Stay safe out there!