I’m glad we managed to schedule the interview. We met the last time at Creativeworld in Frankfurt and you have been busy since then. We are very curious and eager for more information. But we will start from the beginning.
At what age did you realize that you were passionate about art?
Ah, I was so excited to meet you at Creativeworld!.. Hahnemuhle’s stands are always so inspiring and full of various paper treasures… along with stunning artworks! It reminds me of the very same feeling I had as a child when I saw the vintage photos of my family in pre-revolutionary Leningrad. I still remember the boxes with the old painterly postcards and letters hidden in a massive wooden writing desk. The colors, textures, shapes, and shadows fascinated me for as long as I can remember. Other artists, writers, musicians, and creative people often mention that the age around 11 is the very essence of your artistic self. So when you have doubts or a creative block, you can always travel in time to that very moment and remember why you love what you’re doing. Art is part of my personality, and it turned out I had enough dedication to make a career out of it!
According to our knowledge, you studied art and received a degree in publishing. What made you decide to become a professional illustrator?
Nothing fascinated me more than drawing and creating, but the formal, cold approach of classic art school in St. Petersburg didn’t resonate with my character. I still remember the cold evenings spent in art school without heating in an old former mansion standing between Soviet buildings. Though I did get constant appreciation from art teachers, I clearly saw that the academic way wasn’t for me. So Publishing was an ideal combination of creative output and a more technical or practical profession. Already in my first year, I began taking small commissions that I found online on freelance sites. Then I got a fantastic opportunity to illustrate The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce as a gift edition. I was so-so nervous! I did more than 40 ink illustrations and sent them to the Publisher. The next day he contacted me saying that the client was so impressed that he doubled my honorary. It not only paid for the next semester but made me believe in the pivotal idea. The idea that working as illustrator and artist professionally is possible. It’s funny that even the word “illustrator” didn’t exist in the legal market in Russia — it was still a “creative editor/technical artist” from Soviet times. But it was clear that the possibilities of the international creative scene were unlimited if you had skills and kept the deadline. So I took that leap of faith!
You are a member of the NYC Society of Illustrators. What impact does this have on your international career?
At some point, while working as a freelance designer-illustrator, I’ve asked myself: What’s next? How do you make a career out of it if you’re not in the office and won’t get a promotion? How to feel more confident? So I started to send my artworks to international art contests. One of my works won, and I was accepted to the Society of Illustrators. Can you imagine how excited I was? The members were some art heroes whose books I’ve been eyeing as a kid for hours. The membership was beneficial for gaining confidence and taking a leap of faith to move away from design entirely to the field of illustration and fine art. That was the first step toward gaining the recognition I’ve been dreaming of.
Next to a lot of fantastic projects, one of your outstanding projects was the gig with Netflix. How did this appear, and did it push your artist career forward?
It was an ordinary day. I’ve checked e-mails sorting out regular spam from “famous” producers looking for new stars and work for exposure …and then saw a short note from the official Netflix marketing department. They’ve casually asked if I’m interested in a collab and want to learn more. I remember mentioning it to my husband (he got used to inquiries from graphomaniac writers or other charismatic characters), and he just said: “Hmm, interesting”. So we scheduled a call, which turned into a fantastic project that took my art career to another level. It opened the doors to things I never thought possible. After some time, I was contacted by the Maison Margiela, suggesting an artistic collaboration with John Galliano. This collab is one of my most unique projects so far. I worked on waders spliced with wooden Tabi clogs, hand-painted with contemporary illustrations in the style of Delft Blue, distorting its classic imagery into motifs that look pretty from afar but reveal a more sinister reality when studied in detail. It was a part of the ‘Artisanal’ Collection in the film “A Folk Horror Tale“…The full-length feature film by Olivier Dahan. You can find the entire movie on Maison Margiela’s channel or some parts on my website.
What inspires you where do you get your ideas for motives?
Books, music, cafes, museums, traveling…and history!.. I love Secession and Ballets Russes. The books of Dostoevsky and of course, the fantastic novel Master and Margarita. Over the years, I’ve created my own ideation process when working on new artwork. I share some tips in my online classes and in the book.
You have a fantastic career so far, with lots of achievements and awards. Is there anything you would do differently looking back?
I would work on my skills more consistently!… And I would remind myself that everything is possible if you’re dedicated enough, and… good things DO take time. A lot of time. But seriously, if you read Kurt Vonnegut, you believe that all the events are designed in a very unique and particular way to make something happen. So, it looks like I would do all the same!
You have just published your book “Brilliant inks” A step by step guide to creating in vivid colors. Why should readers buy this book and what can they learn from it?
Inks are my first artistic love… and I’ve poured this passion into the book’s pages! I wanted to share the endless possibilities of colored inks. There are so many! If you’re a beginner, you’ll have a complete overview of what you can do with inks. If you’re a professional, you’ll enjoy hidden gems like using droppers and exploring experimental techniques. Regardless of your style and level, you can use these liquid jewels for your creativity! The book helps you to try new things and discover what you love. Suppose you don’t like drawing fine lines. In that case, tons of art styles help you express yourself even better, more suitable for your personality—for example, bold and loose abstraction, printing, lettering, crafting, bookbinding, etc. I show innovative techniques like monotype (no drawing skills needed!), ideas and inspirations, and some fun projects. One of my favorites is a custom accordion book “Alice in Wonderland” with inky silhouettes in a gift box. It can be such a unique gift for a special person.
As Hahnemühle Expression is your favorite paper which you also have used a lot in your book. What exactly makes it special for you?
I’ve been a huge fan of Hahnemühle Expression for years and always recommend it to my students and fellow creatives. Paper quality is crucial for the artwork’s success when you work with a water-based medium. That’s why I prefer 100% cotton paper which allows the paint to be lifted many times and at the same time holds tens of thin layers and glazing. The texture of cold pressed Expression allows to paint both with wide strokes and extra fine lines. In my book, I used it for most of the inky artworks. And even for the accordion book “Alice in Wonderland.” For the inky silhouettes, I used “Harmony hot pressed” because of its extra smooth texture. And for fashion illustrations, I picked the “Toned Watercolour Paper“, so the vibrant image pops off the page. It is also heavy enough to hold a few layers and metallic pigments! What can be better to add magic to your artwork?
Is there any dream project you would like to realize sometime?
Ahhh…I’m dreaming of creating a picture book! Do you know these large format stunning illustrated editions? Fairy tales or some adventurous and enchanting fictional story. Maybe even a so-called silent book without words. I have some ideas already for a fiction story, and the main hero of the book already talks to me (not in a creepy way).
We are curious, what’s next?
We’ve just become parents of the little Sonja, so everything is a bit chaotic now!…. So many new things to learn and to care about. But I know these new experiences will make me a better artist! Ahh, we live in crazy times!.. Considering the recent events in the world’s history, we’re witnessing how fragile things can be. The light will eventually conquer darkness. I’m grateful that I can use my art to communicate the ideas of humanism and share hope and inspiration. I believe that even a small impact can make a huge difference in global processes. And I hope the things I’ve created are only the beginning!