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Designer and illustrator Jhonatan Silva: ‘I’m a guy that’s always looking for something to learn’

Jhonatan S. Silva is a games artist, illustrator and 2D animator from Brazil. In his free time, he shares easy techniques and best practices​ for creating great content in Affinity Designer for iPad on his YouTube channel. We spoke to Jhonatan to find out how his career first started, more about his YouTube channel and what inspires him.
Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I work with visual graphic arts at my home studio in a small town in Brazil called Lins. I started my career in an internship as a graphic designer in 2015, and currently, I work as a freelancer creating 2D illustrations mainly for games—creating colourful worlds, fun characters and playful animations.

I run a YouTube channel where I teach people my workflow and methods that I use to create illustrations. I’m also responsible for a self-taught community called ‘Vectorize’, where I share tutorials and easy techniques for creating amazing content in Affinity Designer for iPad and desktop.

You are a self-taught designer. What originally made you want to become a designer?

I truly believe that everything started when I was a kid—I played a lot of games and watched many cartoons, and I believe that this sort of contact with entertainment when I was younger has guided me to be what I am now.

When I was young, I still hadn’t decided what I wanted to do. My world was too little to imagine what I would do in my future. It wasn’t until I was at the end of my degree in 2015 while studying in a public college doing a programming course, that I officially wanted to become a designer. At that time, I wasn’t happy creating codes, but it wasn’t in my reach to have access to a design and art school. At this point I needed to learn by myself using the internet, I then did a portfolio and I got my first job as an intern graphic designer, and later on I started to work in a small games studio in São Paulo.

What is your advice on becoming self-taught?

There are hundreds of free tutorials on the internet and I think the internet allows everyone to be self-taught somehow. However, as we have access to so much content/information every day, the most difficult thing about being self-taught is really to be focused on one topic that you need to learn deeply.

We have many distractions nowadays; social media is the most time consuming if you don’t discipline yourself. Also, being self-taught nobody will tell you the disciplines that you need to have like you have in a traditional school.

How would you describe your work?

My work is quite playful; I like to bring colourful and soft elements together. I get inspired by cartoons/children content, and I use a philosophy about minimalism to keep things simple. I also like to make outstanding and appealing designs.

Other than that my work always changes as all civilisation does. The industry influences your work and you need to adapt to some changes, it requires you to be very flexible in order to make different genres and art styles.

I think YouTube is my personal brand about what I like to do.

Is there anything you wish you would have known at the start of your career?

I believe in cause and effect. Without a cause to fight, we don’t have any motivation.

If I could know everything at the start, how would I ever have the challenge of finding out the answers? I think this is the real spirit about being self-taught, where we never know all and we are always looking to know more.

This isn’t all about self-knowledge as being an artist/writer/designer/musician and so many others fields requires creativity and innovation too.

“I believe in cause and effect. Without a cause to fight, we don’t have any motivation.”

Do you always use references for your designs, or do you sometimes draw from imagination?

Most of my creations are from my imagination. Reference is the script that will help you to understand visually instead of words the idea that the client is looking for.

I like to call references ‘trigger points for the mind’. First, our brains use their own photo memories to bring images that we’ve seen before. If the brain can’t bring any photo memories due to the lack of visual library, we call this feeling a lack of inspiration or a creative block by mental stress.

When we face a blank page and we don’t know what to create or where to start, we feel very frustrated by these empty ideas, and this is why it’s good to offer a reference to the brain, in other words, a break and moment to think more.

Creativity is just the tip of the iceberg. If we dig a bit more about a topic, our brain is capable to create and imagine things by itself.

For me, creative moments happen very often when I’m calm, peaceful and enjoying something. I truly give a lot of value to well-being in order to stay creative.

2D background for ‘The Pirate Island’ game created in Affinity Designer for iPad.

During my design of “The Pirate Island” game, I took a look at the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean” to understand this universe. My job as a Designer is to translate the client’s idea and bring a playful and mysterious experience to the player.

What do you think people enjoy most about your work?

I always get comments like “you make it look so easy” and “I Love your art style”, but to be honest I think they like the way that I turn my first simple idea into something appealing.

After I’ve done my rough sketch and ugly primary vector stage, I add small touches and then the final result becomes a nice design and they really like it.

You’ve been using Affinity Designer for some time now. What would you say is your favourite feature?

There are four features that I really enjoy and I use a lot…

  1. Symbols—I enjoy this tool a lot because it allows me to use and change objects at the same time. It also saves me tons of time.

  2. The Vector Brush for sure. I like to use it because I have full control over the line stroke, colours and textures, and mainly because I can repair the line forms.

  3. The export system. This helps to handle a big number of objects and to export continuously without saving all the time when a detail is changed!

  4. The Isometric Studio. I’m enjoying this so much—this is a huge game-changer for those that love to create isometric games like me.

‘Women’s day’ created in Affinity Designer for iPad using Symbols.
You spend a lot of time teaching people how to use Affinity Designer on your YouTube channel. How did you first get into this?

The company that I worked for had broken down due to the politics and economics here in Brazil. Once I lost my job, I then started to think more about getting a job outside of Brazil to be able to help more with family. At this point, there was no intention to start a YouTube channel or to use Affinity Designer. It was just “ok let’s grab an iPad and use Procreate, learn more and then get a job”. That was the goal.

In the middle of 2018, while studying hard at being self-taught, I came across the Affinity app announcement. After that, I downloaded it and loved it! Mainly because of the vector/raster in the same piece of software. This changed everything as I found features that I had always wanted to have. Since then I have been using it every day.

Here’s a quick look at my first ever setup from when I started recording myself designing. My budget only allowed me to start with just a piece of wood to hold my mobile phone camera and a mic which cost about $10.

Fortunately, I got more freelancing jobs, improved my portfolio, got people enjoying my packages, and put a lot of effort into creating new tutorials, all while freelancing. This is my new studio now…

If you had to choose, what project would you say you learned most from?

I worked solely on a game project which required visual elements for 12 different levels. I created around 1339 items (assets/elements) in just five months. These elements included many different types of objects, interfaces, icons and characters.

All of my projects give me new challenges. This is the cycle of learning and it never ends. I discover new things about myself every time and I still never know what I like most.

level selection screen
What percentage of your time is devoted to illustrating?

When the deadline is tight, I work the whole day and just stop to eat and stretch my skeleton. However, I am trying to take more care of my health than just work, and I also try to have a good posture whilst working long hours in front of a computer and iPad.

When I handle my social media, videos and helping people, the time I spend on illustrating gets very low.

What inspires you these days?

My inspiration comes from things that are happening in my life. I usually find inspiration by listening to music, looking at nature, or watching a movie. However, at this exact moment, what inspires me most is to grab challenges and complete them…

Another thing that I love is to know that people are enjoying my content/tutorials. It’s very inspiring when they show what they have done by following what I guided them.

“My inspiration comes from things that are happening in my life. I usually find inspiration by listening to music, looking at nature, or watching a movie.”

Do you feel that social media is important for your practice?

If you want to show people your work, I think it provides good motivation to keep practising. However, there is also another side to this coin that can be quite negative at times. As you are dealing with ‘social things’ you can get people that potentially don’t like your work, so you need to learn how to deal with negative comments as this is crucial for your mental health and you also don’t want to destroy your day because of a social comment.

Last, of all, tell us something we don’t know about you.

I’m a guy that’s always looking for something to learn. I’ve already learned a bit about 3D, electronic music (techno), web design and coding.

Behind all my work and the small cameras, I start my day by waking up early and going for a run. Sometimes I have big anxious moments, but to beat this feeling I usually take a nap while listening to meditation music. This helps a lot and I usually wake up with a clean mind.

At the end of the day after I’ve finished a big project, I like to relax and have some beers. I also like to have a little laugh at myself because I’m always doing cute things even though I’m an adult.

There are many things that I still don’t know about myself, and the art and people around me help me to discover that.

Thank you for this opportunity to talk a bit about my work.

If you’d like to see more from Jhonatan you can view his previous article on how to create a vector rocket and how to create an ice cream graphic on Spotlight.

Alternatively, you can find more of Jhonatan amazing work on his Instagram. Also, don’t forget to check out his tutorials on YouTube!

Artist relations

Amy is part of our artist relations team here at Serif. Amy loves going for walks with her little boy and going to the gym, which she offsets by drinking tea and eating biscuits. Get in touch with Amy if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, she always loves getting great creative work in her inbox, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.

Credits & Footnotes

All images copyright © of Jhonatan Silva and used with permission.