sm artists squirrel illustration
Featured artwork by SM Artists

SM-Artists Svilen & Martina Talk About Their Zany Style of Illustration

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The Bulgarian illustration team of Svilen Petrov and Martina Petrova were kind enough to share their history as artists, their work process, and advice for upcoming illustrators.

Together they run a digital studio SM-Artists where they offer character designs, custom illustrations, and some of the wackiest artwork you’ll ever see.

I first stumbled onto Svilen’s work through his Dribbble account and have been a huge fan ever since. I certainly hope this interview inspires other artists to delve further into character design and illustration, especially after seeing the amazing work from SM Artists.

When did you both start drawing and how long have you been working professionally?

Svilen: I’ve been drawing since I was a kid and I’ve always used that skill in every job I’ve had – graphic designer, web designer, UI designer, but I have been a professional illustrator since 2014.

Martina: Drawing has always been a hobby of mine, but nothing more than that.

I didn’t take it seriously before and I’ve never thought that someday this would be my job. I’ve been drawing professionally for 4 years now and I’m happy that my life shifted in this direction.

painting pirate map
Painting treasure maps by Martina/SM-Artists

What’s the story behind SM-Studio? When was it founded and was it difficult finding work at first?

When we met, drawing was a hobby for both of us.

I shared my idea with Martina that we should do something together – a website where we can post our work, just for fun.

Shortly after that got online clients came up. The rest is history.

There is nothing better than for a processional to feel his work is appreciated.

caveman sketch to final illustration
ProEra by SM-Artists

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned working in the freelance art world?

Svilen: That there is nothing easy in the world of art and one should never stop working on their skills and on the things that make them happy.

Martina: The main thing I learned is that if there is no pleasure in what you do, you can’t do it good enough.

As long as you have fun and enjoy your work and what you do you can develop your skills and things will fall into place, even unnoticeably.


What software do you use for your character designs? Do you create characters as vectors or as digital paintings(or both)?

Svilen: Most of my work is done on paper first, and then scanned and converted into a digital piece in Photoshop.

Martina: I also use Photoshop because it offers the fastest workflow.

cat character fiesta
Food Trap by SM-Artists

How often do you draw from life or practice life drawing? Do you ever do realist drawings or do you mostly practice cartoons/illustrations from imagination?

Svilen: I don’t do life drawing that often.

I’ve done it in school, university, and taken drawing classes. But creating my own characters that come to life through a pencil or a tablet is still my favorite exercise.

Martina: Sometimes I draw from life but it’s not very often.

I also prefer creating cartoon characters because you can put a unique attitude and soul in the drawing.


Would you be able to explain how you found your style? Do you have any special influences or artists that helped you develop your unique style of illustration?

Svilen: I explain it as playing with shapes, proportions and colors.

I try to make my work as simple as possible for the viewer to perceive it. I have some videos where I’ve shot my work process. You can see these on Vimeo and I’d be glad if these could help other artists.

Martina: I have always been fascinated by the Disney style.

As I kid I used to watch lots of Disney movies and I think they influenced me a lot. I have lots of favorite artists but the one I admire the most is Cory Loftis because of his ability to make such diverse characters in various styles. Yet at the same time his style is very recognizable.

Each one of his characters has a personality that you can catch with just one look. He’s just amazing!


Do you have any practice routines or art books that you think would help aspiring illustrators?

We recommend a few Schoolism courses that might help artists.

Stephen Silver’s classes Fundamentals of Character Design and Advanced Character Design. Both are great and feel made for character artists/illustrators.


How much do you think artistic skill is just “natural talent” vs. someone working hard to improve? Can anyone learn to draw & make illustrations?

Svilen: Both ways are possible but you will need to put passion and hard work in for both of them.

Martina: Maybe it’s easier if you have a talent that you can develop further but that’s also not enough.

I don’t think you can skip the “working hard” part no matter what base of talent you have.

relax bears in forest
Relax by SM-Artists

And finally, what advice would you share for other aspiring artists who want to reach a professional level?

Svilen: To work hard and follow your dreams.

Martina: To follow your passion and enjoy what you do.

Work step by step till your reach your goal because with enough effort nothing is impossible, even the biggest of dreams.

I’d like to give a special thanks to Svilen & Martina for taking the time to share their story with CAE.

If you haven’t ever seen their work before then take a look over their Behance page or browse through their official website. Svilen also publishes work frequently on Dribbble under the handle @spovv so between all these sources you’re bound to find a bunch of inspiring illustrations.