Where did you grow up and when did you decide to become an artist?
I grew up in Montreal, Canada. I officially decided to follow a career path as an artist when I applied to college. However, growing up I had always been drawing when I could in my own time and am told by my family that even when I was three years old I would ask them to pause the Disney films (that I would watch obsessively) on the video player so I could redraw the frames and characters.
I can’t remember not loving animation or anything related to it, so I can’t identify a moment that I fell in love with the art form because it was always such an inspiration in my life. I collected every art of book I could find, and growing up in Montreal we were always exposed to the European graphic novel culture as well. I loved collecting any books that had character artwork, especially where the designs were more stylized or feature animation oriented.
If I had to say that there was a moment, it was the decision to pursue it as a career. As silly as this may sound, I didn’t know that I could do that. I thought Disney artists were just a team of people that worked in a magical world of their own from another generation or circle that I didn’t quite have insight to. I had a very academic education growing up, my parents were surgeons and expected something similar from me, so I was not made aware that art as a career was an option. Ballet was my creative outlet and passion, and drawing was something I did in every free moment I could spare. All my classmates from school became doctors, engineers, lawyers… Art options in my high school were learning an additional language!
I found out from someone in a bookstore I frequented (where I got all my art of Disney books) that there was a college in Ontario that trained people for Disney. That’s where I found out about studying animation, and once I discovered that, I went for it. I didn’t have internet like we do now, so everything was a bit more of a manual process and that information was harder to find in my world at that time.
Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? How did you develop your skills?
Up until college I was drawing on my own and "self-taught". However I did go to study animation and art at Sheridan college, and afterwards working at Disney we were constantly trained by an internal academy as well as having the feedback of other artists at the studio.
Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
It has been a bit of both. I think sometimes people don’t always support you in the way that you feel is supportive at the time, but looking back, passed on valuable support in different ways.
Deciding to go to college for animation was a transition, and it was difficult to get the encouragement or support I wanted at that time. I don’t think my decisions were always understood, even though people in my life always knew I loved to draw. I realize now that the concern was mainly that they just didn't want me to risk my future by becoming an artist. But I can say that at this time right now I have been very supported by friends and family and I am grateful for that!
What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
Definitely Disney films. They were magic to me! However comics, graphic novels, anime, video games, illustrated worlds and characters in any fashion always inspired me. Ballet was also a huge influence, for visual aesthetic, movement, performance, characters and narrative.
Did you have a favourite subject to draw when you were a child and do you still have one today? If you do, what makes it so special?
Always characters! :) I love stories and characters, if I’m inspired by a great character or story, I love to draw them and figure out how I would put them into the world. I’m really enjoying creature design as well these days and working with anthropomorphic designs.
How did your ballet dancing background influence your art?
Ballet has been a huge influence. Mostly in the animation I do and understanding movement and body mechanics at a level that we were never taught in art school or at Disney. As well, understanding functional anatomy and the physio work I learned as a dancer really helps me understand how to place a pose and get the most out of it.
But it also has a big influence on how I like to design characters. The characters, stories, costumes and sets in ballet are some of my biggest inspirations. I love how shapes and details are used to create the visual worlds in the productions. Also, as dancers, we were trained to understand how to present a character visually with only our body language, I feel that a pose is as equally important to conveying who the character is as their shape design and graphic communication.
What type of tools and media do you use?
I still use a lot of pencil and paper. Especially for my life drawing, sketching and thumbnailing. To be really specific about it, I love Derwent Drawing Pencils and newsprint when I do my studio drawing, my sketchbook is usually Sharpie Markers and Uniballs, and I use col-erase pencils a lot as well. I work digitally also, especially for Character Design once my thumbnails are worked out on paper, though the transition was only possible for me with a Cintiq, I never integrated well using a separate drawing tablet.
What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
I think the execution is always the easiest part, though it took a lot of drawing practice to get to a place where I feel I can say that now. The challenging part, for myself, is the ideas and concept. Though that is also where it is super fun, to explore and discover your character and ideas. That being said, I do really enjoy the final work as well, once you know who your character is and you just have fun drawing and rendering the artwork. Now that I’ve answered this question, I realize I basically love every part of the process!
What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work/collaborate with?
I balance a lot of things in my day. It can always change, no day is typical for me.
Because I do a lot of workshops at different studios, as well as hands on consulting on projects where I come in and help create a stronger language between concept artists, character artists, technical animators and animators, along with masterclasses I teach, life drawing, freelance character design and 2D animation work, my schedule can change on a daily basis.
I travel a lot around the world to do consulting, workshops, and masterclasses at different studios, so that affects my routine a lot and between it I’m freelancing or sometimes both. What is consistent is that I’m always working within a world of characters and creatures. I think my only consistent routine is my daily ballet class! That, and my coffee intake. Luckily all the things I love in my life are accessible in most cities!
What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
First and foremost to love and be passionate for what you do. But I also learned a lot about perseverance and good life balance as well. Artistic lessons I’ve learned, after technique oriented feedback, is that when it comes to the work we do, ideas and story are the most important things that drive our decisions, before technical execution.
Is there something that you have designed that you are most proud of?
Not yet! I guess I see myself as the work, not the pieces I create, I’m always trying to get better. Everything is part of my life long process. Each design or character is unique to themselves and I try to figure out who they are and what the best graphic interpretation of them would be… It’s probably easier for me to point out the designs I’m least proud of! I’m so critical of myself, I never feel that my work is good enough. But I do love the process and I love to draw and that keeps me going!
Studio Technique is one of the most appreciated artistic training studio worldwide. Can you tell us a bit more about the studio? Where can artists and companies find all the info for the courses and the masterclass workshops?
Thank you so much! That is so kind of you to say! That means a lot to me, I work hard and put so much into it, because I am coaching some of the most amazing artists in the industry, I try really hard to make sure that the artists are challenged and benefit from the training.
This is the link for studios that want Artistic Training:
And for everyone else, I will always post any masterclasses/courses/workshops on my mailing list:
What is your longterm career goal and what would your dream project be?
My dream project would be to work again on 2D feature animated films as they were done in the golden age of Disney. That would really be the dream. I had always hoped to spend my life bringing characters to life through these amazing stories. I love to draw, and I loved the animation that was happening in the late 90s and early 2000s. I wanted so much to spend every day doing that with the 2D artists at Disney and Dreamworks. That being said, I’m still happy that I get to live my life as an artists and be part of this industry. It’s just amazing.
What advise would you give to an artist who is dealing with an art-block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
This is always a hard challenge I think. For myself personally, I find that with the other demands of my work, sometimes I’m not always in a creative head (or work) space each day. I find that I try to keep my skills up during those block times, to work on improving draughtsmanship or techniques I still need to advance. But as far as stimulating my imagination, I take time away from drawing. I enjoy seeing things that are creative, but outside of the visual page. I love the ballet and theatre. I get so many ideas for environments from the sets, or character ideas from the narratives and costumes. Going to museums, sketching people in the streets, drawing as much from life helps bring something fresh and innovative. Otherwise I feel your work can get stuck or feel recycled.
Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, there are lots of choices. When you’re young, sometimes you know only one thing: you love to draw. What should a young artist take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
I know for myself I’ve had to make a few career changes. When I started out on a professional path, I wanted to be a hand drawn animator at Disney for the entirety of my career. Everything I did and invested in was towards this goal. I did so much life drawing, more than what anyone would expect in the industry now, but for a feature hand drawn animator, that had to be mastered.
I have found that drawing has been the most valuable tool for me. It has allowed me to understand posing, silhouette, design and also be able to do Visual Development and Character Design work. Having that has made me adaptable, which I think is important. But I still feel specialized in character animation, posing, expressions and drawing.
I think as an artist, you have to be adaptable now, but also not be a “Jack of all trades and master of none.”
As a young artist, it’s important to develop your technical skill set. Make sure that you are not restricted. But I also think it’s important to listen to your voice about what you're passionate about. For example, many artists lean towards either character work or environment work. As someone that is character oriented, it’s still important that I master perspective drawing and understand environments for visual development or even for moving my character through space or drawing complex angles on a character. But my heart is in character work, and because of that, I will never be as passionate about environments, so I wont compete in the same way as someone that is passionate about them and puts everything they have into environments. However I would be like that about characters (even though I know many great environment artists who see the environments as a personality and story, which is also really cool and something I should see as well!). So my advice is, master the techniques, but also know what your strengths are and where your passions lie, because you will be much more passionate and innovative with your work.
Recently you have released your first book: ''The Youssef Drawing Syllabus - Volume 1: Movement & Form''. Can you tell us where the idea of creating this book came from and how it came to be?
I had been working with studios for several years, teaching this thesis that I developed that integrated my background from academic drawing, hand drawn animation techniques and classical ballet. A lot of artists started asking if I would publish it in book form as it was a lot of information to take in during the masterclasses I offered and they wanted something to review and follow up. It was something that started coming up often with the teams I worked with. Through the feedback I received, I realized my thesis that I created as a training program for professional artists was quite unique, so I also decided it was important to publish it. This would also make it accessible to more artists as I can’t physically teach them all the time.
What’s your point of view about the industry today: what are the expectation for someone who wants to make a living with an artistic career?
I think you have to be more adaptable now. But you have to find that balance of being adaptable but also not water yourself down. I think that’s the tricky part of it.
The industry is also an industry. It allows you an opportunity to be in a studio or place that can really cultivate you as an artist. You can be with amazing talent that helps push you, and work on incredible productions. But its also a business and I think as artists it’s important to be smart, especially as a collective, because it’s easy to be taken advantage of because we love what we do.
Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favourite designs out there?
John Singer Sargent, Cory Loftis, Byron Howard, Dean Dubois, Svetlana Zakarova. For designs, I love Cory Loftis’ work, though who doesn’t? I just really enjoy that he has amazing and fun ideas, and has a wonderful balance of design and drawing. Some artists draw well but the designs aren’t strong and a lot of designers are great at design but the drawing is weaker. Cory is amazing at both, and I’m really inspired by his work.
What is your opinion about the future of hand drawn animation?
I think there is always going to be a place for hand drawn animation, in that it will exist in independent work or smaller production projects. There are still hand drawn features now in Europe and Asia, and hand drawn TV commercials, music videos and TV series.
However what comes to my mind when I am asked this question is that it is of hand drawn animation in the Disney tradition, and the level of character animation and performance that was done at Disney and Dreamworks in what we referred to as their golden age, which is not the same as how drawn animation is done anywhere else. Even at amazing studios like Ghibli, it’s a very different type of hand drawn character animation. To me, that “Disney tradition” may not be seen on the screen for a while, it requires stories and characters and teams of artists with a lifetime of experience to bring that animation to life. Those stories and performances are still there however, just in CG now.
But to build a production where it would be drawn at that level, I fear might not be in the cards for the future. It breaks my heart, because it is such a beautiful medium, and I think that the great hand drawn films hold up to the great CG films. The artistry of the medium risks being lost, because it took generations of mentors to maintain it. Though I have to say, I think Disney and other studios are doing wonderful work, integrating draw-overs with the animation and using CG in such an artistic way, instead of being limited by it.
Social networks, crowd funding websites, print on demand online service, you name it. New media on the internet are connecting the artists directly with their fans like never before. In your opinion, how is this affecting the industry and what are the pros and cons?
I think it's a wonderful thing that the world has become more democratic for artists. Obviously this is a transition that we are seeing in many industries, publishing, media, entertainment. Huge corporate establishments that used to dictate whether or not your work would be seen are not as influential as they had been a generation ago. This is a wonderful opportunity for artists. Likewise, I think the cons are the lack of filters and the obsession with being an online celebrity.
Finally, Where can we see your art online and get in touch with you?
You can find my work on my Blog ( samanthasketches.blogspot.com ), Tumblr ( samanthasketches.tumblr.com ), Twitter ( twitter.com/Samanthasketch ), Instagram ( instagram.com/samanthasketches ), and Society6 Store ( society6.com/samanthasketches ).
The best way to get in touch is via the Studio Technique site ( studio-technique.com ).
Thank you Samantha :)