It is a great pleasure for us, Silvia, that we were able to arrange an interview with you!
We are already very excited about what you will tell us about your career as an artist and are also looking forward to gaining interesting insights into your impressive artistic work.
But let’s start from the beginning…
Would you like to introduce yourself to our community first?
First of all, I would like to thank you very much for inviting me to this interview. Hahnemühle has accompanied me on my artistic journey for decades.
My name is Silvia Schmitt, I am also known under the artist name Topenga, and I am 38 years old. I grew up quite idyllically in Eschborn, but have been living in my adopted home of Friedberg, Bauernheim, for ten years. My husband and my Chihuahua dog Zelda and I enjoy living away from the big city. This is the best place for me to find peace and quiet and be creative without being disturbed.
Until 2014, I worked as a forwarding agent, but then I took the step into self-employment and turned my passion into my profession. At the same time, I developed an enthusiasm for photo-realistic drawing, which I have been pursuing and perfecting ever since.
For most artists, interest in art generally starts very early and develops in childhood. What was it like for you? What were your beginnings that you can remember?
I too had a great interest in art from a very early age. As early as kindergarten, I drew everything that excited me. Initially, I was particularly inspired by Disney films, whose characters enchanted me. Everything that fascinated me I brought into reality with my pencils. In addition to coloured pencils and pencils, I gradually started using fibre paints, oil pastels, watercolours and oil paints. The desire to express my creativity was not limited to paper and canvas. Sewing, modelling, handicrafts, cooking, writing, everything was a creative endeavour. At the age of about twelve, however, I realised that I particularly liked depicting people, and that has remained the case to this day.
Has there been someone in your family or your close environment who was enthusiastic about art?
I know from my mother’s stories that my grandfather was very talented in technical drawing. I was able to experience my older brother’s creativity and love of art first hand. He often inspired me with his drawings and imagination and I was able to learn a few things from him.
Your favourite technique is obviously the photo-realistic drawing of people. How did you come across this technique of all things and why were you immediately convinced by it?
The desire to depict motifs or people realistically has, I think, always been my desire. At least I knew early on that I wanted to draw figuratively. Human anatomy, as depicted by Leonardo da Vinci, for example, has always fascinated me. Then in 2014 I came across photorealistic drawings by other artists and felt challenged. As I have always been a fan of detail, photorealistic drawing is the ideal technique for me to express myself artistically.
Were there perhaps also more famous role models from whom you learned something and who inspired you?
Yes, there are some artists who inspire me. I got to know the works of Albrecht Dürer as a child. Some of his works are painted in a very realistic and detailed way, like the “Feldhase”. There are also many contemporary artists who fascinate me, such as Heather Rooney, Mike Dargas or Olivia de Berardinis. The latter always inspires me anew and I love to follow the development process of her mixed media works.
For outsiders, photo-realistic drawings like yours seem almost magical and one hardly wants to believe that they are man-made drawings at all and not photos. How do you manage to draw so realistically and in such detail?
In order to create a realistic work, it is of course important which materials you use. I draw with artists’ colour pencils and prefer particularly smooth paper (Hahnemühle Bristol). This way it is possible to apply the layers of colour or pencil and get the desired tone. Sometimes I test the colour combinations in advance to get the tones as accurate as possible. While I’m drawing, I’m very concentrated and pay special attention to the small details, but also to the colour contrasts. The more precisely you work here, the better the result in the end. Individual hairs and fine details can be worked out well with an eraser pencil or a ceramic knife. And experience should not be neglected. No one is a professional in his or her field from one day to the next. Practice makes perfect.
Do you follow a certain pattern when looking for a suitable motif? What do you look for most in people?
The motif or the person simply has to inspire me. I like to compare it to “love at first sight”. I have chosen many of my motifs in this way. Particularly appealing to me are people who would stand out in a crowd. Most important to me are a person’s eyes, to which I pay special attention when drawing.
Where do you look for suitable motifs?
The sources of my motifs vary, some photos are from the internet, e.g. from online communities such as 500px, other templates are provided by photographers or I take photos myself or have them taken.
Do you also master other techniques? If yes, which techniques are they and how regularly do you practise them?
Some of my works are so-called mixed media works, i.e. they consist of different components. I often use fibre paints in combination with artists’ colour pencils, oil pastels and ink pens. I have also often worked with watercolours in the past. Unfortunately, at the moment there is hardly any time left to practise other techniques besides the elaborate pencil and crayon drawings, but I am determined to work with other colours and materials again in the future. Mixed media in particular will be a big topic.
Do you have a personal favourite picture of yours? Perhaps also because of a special bond, e.g. through a story that you associate with the picture?
My favourite picture is a little older. I drew this one for my mother when I was a teenager. It shows an owl sitting on a tree trunk and spreading its wings. My mum loved owls. Unfortunately, she passed away in 2020, which made this picture even more important to me.
Of course, we can absolutely understand that. We often hear that self-painted pictures can also be very special pieces of memory that have great meaning for the artist and with which they associate something.
You and your work have won several awards and are very successful. It must surely be a great honour and make you proud to receive so much recognition and to have your work so highly regarded, right?
Absolutely! It is not a matter of course that an artist’s work is seen and honoured by the outside world. There are many, very talented artists who never get noticed, which is a shame. That’s why I’m especially grateful that my paintings reach people and are received so positively.
You made an impressive drawing of Arnold Schwarzenegger a few years ago and were even allowed to present it to him. You’ve probably had to answer this question a lot, but how did it come about in the first place?
Thank you very much! Meeting Arnold Schwarzenegger in person one day was at the top of my bucket list. However, I would never have thought that this would actually happen one day. In the end, I have Arnold’s best friend Ralf Möller to thank for the meeting. I was in contact with Ralf because I had also portrayed him. During one of our correspondences, he was on holiday with Arnold and offered to show him my drawing. After that, everything happened very quickly and I was allowed to meet him in Munich shortly afterwards and present my portrait to him. That was an unforgettable moment.
We also read that your drawing is now even one of the exhibits at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum in Thal (Graz). Have you ever been there?
That’s right, a reproduction of my drawing (the original is in Mr Schwarzenegger’s private collection) is one of the museum’s exhibits and I have been there twice so far. In 2019, my portrait was unveiled at the museum and presented to the press as part of Arnold’s annual birthday celebration. This year I was again privileged to attend the spectacular celebration. This time as a guest, which was also a very special experience. I can only recommend everyone to visit the museum. It is the only museum in the world that bears Arnold’s name and is personally supported by him. Numerous exhibits document the most important periods of his life, such as his childhood and youth, bodybuilding and film career as well as his time as governor. I will definitely be back 😉
You like to use Hahnemühle paper for your work. Which one do you favour and why?
For my realistic work, I favour Bristol drawing paper. The particularly smooth surface is perfect for applying colours in layers. I can easily apply ten layers on top of each other without damaging the paper. The texture-free surface also allows for very smooth and flowing transitions and details can also be depicted accurately.
You are certainly already working on many new projects. Can you perhaps already give us a little hint of what to expect?
That’s right, I have about a dozen new projects in my drawer. Some of them are still in the early stages, others are almost finished. From symbolic still lifes to spaceship captains to predator hunters, everything is represented.
We would like to thank you very much for the interesting interview with you with great insights into your work and wish you continued success and great projects in your career!
If you want to see more of Silvia’s work and continue to follow her, feel free to check out her Instagram channel and website or visit this year’s Photopia in Hamburg. At the Hahnemühle booth in hall A4 (Booth 210) we will be exhibiting a reproduction of the Arnold Schwarzenegger drawing on Photo Rag Pearl® by Hahnemühle.