Marysya Rudska, a female tamer of paper birds, talks about inspiration as a skill, good monsters and illustrator’s craft.
[This article is published in partnership with Odessa Speaks English, an initiative whose main goal is to encourage the development of an English-speaking social and cultural setting in Ukraine generally and Odessa specifically.]
Favorite Books for Kids and Adults
I was born and raised in Kyiv. I spent my vacations at a village near Zhytomyr, where my granny and great grandma lived. ‘Mares’ Head’ was my favorite fairy-tale when I was a child, and I adored books illustrated by Valentina Melnichenko. There was an air of magical tale and fantasy about them in my view, and I liked to look at the details.
I became an eager reader of a few books at once lately. For example, now it’s ‘Marine Biology: A Very Short Introduction’, a short popular scientific book about sea creatures. As I am a diver, I’m interested in books that let you be more knowledgeable about what you see. I reread Homer‘s ‘The Odyssey’ for the third time. Moreover, I decided to read ‘Ulysses’ written by James Joyce and a short manual about making human portraits on the streets called ‘The Urban Sketching Handbook: People and Motion’.
I loved to draw from an early age. There were always pencils, paints and felt pens around I could freely use. I used to draw just like all children do — it was a game. I never quitted doing this. Time passed, and painting became my profession.
I graduated from Philology Institute (KNU). History of Ukrainian language and stylistics were my specialties, since I used to be a newswoman for a few years. When I was a third-year student, I began to fill illustration orders. I read non-stop, attend courses and bridge a gap in my artistic education in a number of ways.
My decision to become an illustrator was not well-considered. When I was still a child, I wanted to be an archeologist or a biologist. Then I used to work as a newspaperwoman, but I always painted for my own benefit. Once a poet named Ivan Andrusyak wanted to use one of my illustrations for a cover of his ‘Impossibilities of Language’ book. It was a drawing with a Trypillian theme. I’ve read a lot about this ancient culture at that time. Then I visited a museum with a minor collection of Trypillian ceramics situated at Kyiv fortress. After getting inspired I’ve created a picture with men from a Trypillian tribe. It was namely this picture that Ivan Andrusyak liked.
That’s how I got a book with my own picture. Since then I was becoming more and more indulged in drawing on a by order basis until I realized that it’s high time to add ‘Illustrator’ inscription to my business card. Now I even have to refuse some offers. Sometimes I’ve got no time for this. At times customers and I have different approaches. It can be quite hard to build a connection with them.
As for the lately illustrated books, ‘Ptashiny Skoromovki’ (‘Birds’ Tongue-Twisters’) and ‘Mistoria’ (‘Mhistory’) by Ira Tselick, ‘Pravobukvarik’ (‘Right ABC Book’) by Larisa Denisenko and ‘Naikraschy Chasy’ (‘Better Times’) by Galina Tkachuk are very significant for me. 3 calendars made for Society for Protection of Birds are also very prominent for me.
Birds on Paper
Bird watching is my hobby. I discovered a new and thrilling world. It was very near, but I did not notice it. All you need to start drawing them are binoculars, bird identification guide, and a sketchbook. The more you watch them, the more you are eager to do it! (She smiles.)
That’s why I am interested in bird-oriented orders. For example, I create calendars for Ukrainian Society for Protection of Birds during 4 years in a row.
Favorite Techniques and Artists
Nowadays my newsfeed in social networks is filled mostly by content of illustrators, artists, and photographers. It’s interesting to monitor how my colleagues work, to admire, to get inspired, to find new ideas, to spot techniques. As for Ukrainian illustrators, I am a big fan of Oksana Boolya, Zhenya Gaidamaka, Natali Gaida, Polina Doroshenko… Keith Brockie, Ralph Steadman and Paul Madonna are my favorite foreign artists.
I love aquarelle very much. It’s a figurative and interesting technique. Experiments and trying new ways are what I like. My latest personal discovery is acrylic gouache. It was a great experience to work with it.
I like when pictures are put to practice use. Perhaps, I preferred illustrations to career based on pure high art because of that. Indeed, illustration is always a co-operation with text, object, a person that gets the object. I love performing such tasks and deliver aesthetical and informational messages via common ware. Postcards, bookmarks, stickers, placards, bags, tee shirts and even pots feature my works.
Inspiration as a Skill
People often think that inspiration is a kind of unearthly experience: a nude winged female, a ray of light from the heaven… I consider that imagination and inspiration are skills, muscles to be trained by everyday practice. One can get inspired at any moment through analyzing the works of other painters, painting, setting new tasks and challenges for oneself.
Objective factors surely influence creativity. When you are tired, hungry, thirsty or ill, it’s harder to work. But this applies not only to illustration. Working at any time of day, marathons that last for many hours et cetera are common for me just like for other freelancers. I cannot say that it’s a success. It’s rather time management problems. Of course, it’s better to work 8 ‘proper’ hours a day at daytime after a good sleep.
My internal state is more influential in case of the works that I draw for myself and not on demand. Actually, they are rooted in my state of mind, emotions, affections and thoughts. I often paint to express an impression, a feeling…
I am frequently discontented with my works at the start. I finish each of them, and see lots of faults, weak spots and things that I could improve after 5-10 minutes or so. Yet, it drives development. I am afraid of the moment when I’ll be content with everything.
I love all of my characters in spite of that. I’ve got a tiny sketchbook for drawings of people I see in subway, on the streets and while travelling. It often happens that there are very interesting persons and things around. Then it’s possible to take some features for characters of books from there. I often draw my beloved when illustrating.
Illustration As Profession
Illustration is profession for me. It has different components like any other profession. I mean painting, contacting with different people, multitasking, presenting own works via social networks, visiting topical events and more.
Ukrainian book market actively develops. I remember an era when I was able to recall all last year’s printed novelties. It is fortunate that this era have passed a long time ago and more and more high-quality books are offered. That’s why illustrators have more work now. It’s a positive trend.
Yet, it seems to me that there is no direct competition among illustrators. Each of us paints differently. There are different ideas. There are diverse favorite topics. Pro customers pick an illustrator whose style is maximally in line with a particular order. Pleasant air of mutual aid prevails among illustrators. At times we organize meetings to share experience, info and so on. Talking with my colleagues inspires me very much. It encourages me. It also drives experiments and creative pursuit.
Talent for Illustration
I don’t think that natural born illustrators who know how a book is structured, color theory and composition right from the start exist at all. We are all learners. anyway. That’s why I am sure that when one has enough willpower and time, learning how to paint, mastering illustration principles and working in this area are quite possible.
I try to constantly cultivate my own technique for professional development. I attend classes where I draw naked models, I make sketches on the streets, I read topical books and try to do tasks… I also watch many videos dedicated to the way my colleagues work. Apart from mere looking at inspiring illustrations I try to analyze them and see what makes them successful. I also read publications about composition theory, color theory etc. Well, I practice all the time as well, of course. I also try to take part in different creativity competitions. It’s a challenging experience. For example, I was involved in a minor project about London channel — I painted boats and bridges for illustration contest organized by London Museum of Transport. I have not won, but I was glad nonetheless, since I was inspired and motivated to realize my next project.
Painting for Kids
Illustration meant for children and adults required responsibility. It’s especially true when you paint for kids. Indeed, they develop taste, aesthetical and visual world perception. There is no need to imagine some Peter or Elena for whom I work, as I’ve got a younger sister called Dasha plus other children I am familiar with.
My characters are largely good-hearted. Even my good monsters were meant to look that way. They are big and long-haired defenders of something childish within us. Every book for kids is a tiny universe that hosts diverse emotions. These can be joyful, sad and even spooky. That’s why I create dark illustrations at times. For example, I’ve drawn a rather dreadful witch while illustrating ‘Moldavian Fairy-Tales’ (for “Classica” publishing house).
My guiding rule is “Faster, higher, stronger!” Sometimes I think about writing my own book, but I cannot decide on that matter so far. Now it seems to me that I am more good at making illustrations than writing texts.
So, I’d like to see myself being a successful illustrator with dozens of engaging projects, books and posters about different animals and plants after 10 years. And a happy person, of course. (She smiles.)
Translator — Olga Zaporozhets, OSE
Editor — Katya Michaels