By Tracy Burton
Success in the world of illustration does not come overnight, but after fifteen years in the profession, it’s fair to say Tiago da Silva has arrived.
The artist, from Portimão, created the cover artwork for all seven Spanish anniversary editions of the Harry Potter books and has recently finished a commission celebrating the cultural heritage of the city of Leicester. Tiago’s passion for art was clear from a young age. “I started to draw before I could read,” he recalls. “I was a big fan of the Marvel comic books my father gave me. I learnt to draw by copying the drawings. I used to like drawing cars … and girls.”
His exasperated English teacher frequently took his notebook from him only to find it full of drawings rather than his classwork. After school, Tiago studied Graphic Design at the University of Algarve in Faro, but he quickly realised his real interest lay in illustration of the kind used in video games and comics.
“They were the things I really wanted to be a part of, but I didn’t know how,” he says.
Determined to pursue his passion, Tiago decided the only thing to do was teach himself digital painting skills alongside his university studies. “It was still a very new thing at the time,” he explains. “There was almost no information for would-be digital artists. Today you have tutorials on YouTube, books and college courses so it’s much easier to learn the techniques.”
Tiago now uses a tablet at the start of a project, but in the early days, he drew everything on paper, before scanning his artwork and painting over the sketch digitally.
“When I was little I dreamt about having something that corresponded with the movement I made with my hand,” he recalls. “As I grew up, that technology appeared.”
While still at university, he sent copies of his printed portfolio to companies he wanted to work with; most were in the US. It took four years and ‘lots and lots of practising’ before his first break, creating the illustrations for collectable card games for the Alderac Entertainment Group. Other commissions followed, including video games, television and film storyboards, advertising and concept art.
“It’s not easy. It’s taken me years of learning and studying to reach this level,” he admits. “I now teach illustration to young people, but I’m still learning myself.”
Tiago says his work is influenced by Japanese art and he also admires the American illustrator Norman Rockwell. He recently fulfilled his childhood dream of working for the Japanese video game developer Capcom.
“This was one of my favourite projects, to create art with characters I knew from my childhood,” he says. “Japanese artwork looks so different because the country’s culture has developed separately, without the influence of European, American or African art.”
Every project is different, with Tiago often spending days doing the research before he even starts drawing.
“It sounds weird, but the initial ideas for my artwork often come when I’m asleep,” he says. “Sometimes I can even visualise the entire finished project in my head.”
With an idea in his head, he starts sketching. Next, come the colours and the shading, and finally the most enjoyable part, the detailing. Although most of Tiago’s work comes from outside Portugal, he chose not to leave Portimão. “In my profession, I can work anywhere. I had a job offer in London about eight years ago, but at the last minute I decided not to go.”
Instead, he works with clients across the globe, including the recent commission for Leicester, which came about through a sculptor Tiago had previously collaborated with at World of Discovery in Porto. His artwork – a Roman general and an ancient Briton confronting one another – will be displayed in Leicester Museum.
The Harry Potter commission was well paid and prestigious; however, it wasn’t without its problems. Each book cover had to be approved first, by the publisher and then by J K Rowling herself. “For the first cover, I based Harry on a photograph of myself when I was the same age,” Tiago reveals. “But I had a very round face and they didn’t like it.”
The project lasted a year and Tiago received an achievement award in Spain for his efforts. He hopes one day to work as an art director, which would allow him more artistic control. In the meantime, he has spent time between paid work concentrating on a personal project: Legend of Adora.
The idea for the comic series came from original artwork Tiago did in 2013.
“While I was creating the illustration, an entire story grew in my mind,” he explains. “This happens a lot and I have many stories written. So far Legend of Adora is the only one I’ve created as a book.”
So far, a second book is written, with several more planned in the series.
Tiago is hoping to eventually publish the series. In the meantime, however, he has decided to make the first book available in digital format as a free download. And his advice to a young person who wants to be an illustrator? “Practice a lot, be resilient, always try to improve and never give up!”