Artist Takeover- Ethan Smyth

By The Black Box
Due to the venue being temporarily closed, not only can we not have amazing shows & events but we are also unable to have our regular exhibitions in The Green Room. In response, we have moved our exhibitions online and will feature each monthly artist on our website and social media including an Instagram takeover on our account (@theblackboxbelfast)

Exhibition details here-

This March we have been so thrilled to have Ethan Smyth Ethan Smyth is an illustrator and motion graphic artist based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. With over 10 years experience as a practising artist, his work has been exhibited across the world in Croatia, America, Canada, UK and Ireland. Bringing his illustrations to life through subtle animation, his playful, bold and contemporary style captivates his audience.. 

Thank you, Ethan, for being one of our online exhibiting artists and sharing your beautiful work with us. And here is a mini-interview/blog from them!

What’s your background?


Although my work is mainly digital, I come from a more traditional art background (scroll down by Instagram feed and you’ll see!) I originally trained as a printmaker through the University of Ulster, Belfast, focusing primarily on Lithography and woodcut. Through this I had the opportunity to study painting abroad at the Academy of Fine Art, Zagreb and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.


After graduating from university, I was lucky to get a job with Seacourt Print Workshop working as a teacher for their own in-house classes as well as in schools across Northern Ireland. During my time here, I further developed my practise of printmaking and hosted a range of exhibitions. I also worked in the Film and TV industry as a graphic designer, creating everything from shop front signage to fake stacks of money.

Are there key themes in your work?


A key theme within my work is people and everyday life. I enjoy capturing the small things in life in my work. Over the years I have always had a sketchbook at hand and have actually kept a visual diary of my everyday life. I have sketchbooks upon sketchbooks stored away in cupboards documenting the little things you observe when out and about.


Another theme in my work is exploration, not just within the subject matter but within the perception, practice and execution. I enjoy always pushing myself to try new things.


What are they, how do you explore them? 


My work varies a lot in medium, however more recently I have migrated over to digital drawing and animation, something that is limitless, instant and allows me to work to whatever size imaginable.

How has your practice developed or changed over time?


Throughout my early career as an artist, I really had no idea what avenue I wanted to go down. After leaving university I decided the best way to find out was to surround myself with like-minded people. This gave me the confidence to keep practising art even if I didn’t know what my particular interest or style was. Working alongside Seacourt Print workshop enabled me to keep a positive relationship with art. It also helped me explore new techniques and styles – something that I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do myself. I truly believe that a positive work environment is everything and I owe a lot of my skill set and exploration to Seacourt for this!


In February 2016 I decided to move to France to further explore my practice. I spent a year documenting my trip through ‘in situ’ woodcut prints. This particular type of printmaking meant I could truly concentrate on my linework and worry less about colour – something which I have been developing more recently.


After spending almost 2 years in France, I returned home to Northern Ireland with a folder of over 200 prints, collages and drawings. I feel that through this I gained a strong grounding in line work, pattern and composition. Since then, I have been working on a more contemporary style fit for a modern audience but I wouldn’t have got to this point without my woodcuts.


What work or processes do you most enjoying doing?


At the moment I am hooked on looped animations, something that I am forever tinkering with.



Who or what are your biggest influences?


I take a huge amount of inspiration from traditional artists such as Matisse and Kandinsky for their geometric structure and patterns. Matisse’s Cut-outs has become a permanent fixture on my studio desk as of recent. Tomi Ungerer has always been a great inspiration for me too. His confident line work and ability to attack sensitive topics within his book, ‘Pensées Secrètes‘ has always stayed with me. I was lucky enough to see him at Offset Dublin in 2015 before his passing.


I am an avid Instagram user and think it’s a fantastic platform to find like-minded artists who are experimenting with digital. The world of illustration and design is changing every day and I enjoy following different artists and gallery pages to see what type of work other people are doing.

Have you had any responses to your work that were particularly memorable, or not what you expected?


When I started drawing the Belfast pubs at the start of lockdown, I never expected the response I would get from them. I had no set plan when I drew the first pub (which was The Spaniard). In fact, it was mainly to experiment with digital drawing and colours. After the initial response, I realised that it was a subject which I could explore further as people were positively engaging with it.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?  


Brain fogs a pretty massive problem in this line of work, and while I was in university a friend told me once, ‘In the words of Ernest Hemingway – ‘Write drunk, edit sober’


Obviously not literally unless you want, but I think you can be too precious with work and this can add a lot of stress to the job. I always think about this when I get stuck, as a means to be a little more carefree with the intention of refining it later the next day.


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