Kyiv-based illustrator Yevhenia Haidamaka about work for Boston Globe, winning a Red Dot Design prize, and Society of Illustrators internship.
[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.]
The Very Moment
I think it happened at the university. We devised projects aimed at creation of books and textbooks. I always drew something more illustrative. I guess that it was an unconscious choice, as the students were able to pick a style of their works. But it was the very moment when I’ve chosen illustration.
Where to Learn Illustration Art
My parents had no problems with me. I was a comfortable child who used to draw and mumble for hours. I often focused on my inner world, my own stories. Yet, when I had some paper at hand, I knew what to do at once. Painting is my passion from an early age.
I was born in a small town near Kyiv. We even had no local school of art — we had just a school of music. That’s why I attended an art circle. The classes were not very informational. But they helped me to realize what to do after growing up. By ninth form I was sure that I’d learn arts at university. So, my parents were not shocked by this decision.
As I did not attend a school of art, I needed thorough knowledge about academic drawing and pictorial art. That’s why I used to visit Kyiv for private tuition twice a week. Then I got into Department of Graphics at Kyiv Polytechnic Institute.
I started to treat illustration as profession seriously at the end of learning when I had the first orders. That’s when I mastered the key skills — working with clients, proper work management, business correspondence etc. Unfortunately, the university does not have classes to study such stuff. Yet, these tasks are one of the most important things when it comes to our profession.
I tried to find a job fast. That’s why I remember my first project well. A female classmate of my boyfriend contacted me to order illustrations for a thesis during my second year. I was overwhelmed with joy then! I still had no personal approach to creation of illustrations. So, I just commenced drawing, though this approach was not proper.
Ultimately, I received another order from “Zelenyi Pes” publishing house. I was supposed to illustrate a book with exercises for kids. When I recall these drawing now they make me laugh. But it was an experience. I see how much I changed while remembering my first projects.
I worked as a designer in a Green Forest English language school during my university years. My main duty was creation of placards, posters, and brochures. This job was a source of vast experience.
Typical illustrator’s job starts from a message named “URGENT!!!”. So, it would be wrong to presume that a designer has plenty of time to ponder on ideas and search for a muse. Illustration is a business. Having received a task, you need to complete it quickly. And this haste should not influence end result quality at all. Quick response had been the experience, which was very helpful later, in the USA.
Moreover, I created illustrations for podcasts of the school. Sometimes I received an audio file with a description and I could not figure out how to visualize it. But illustrators must forget words like “I don’t know”. Their task is seeing, imagining an illustration. There is no time to make errors.
My next work involved partnering with “Old Lion” publishing house. I had two books in my portfolio by that time. But when I realized that I’d make illustrations for a book of Grigory Falkovich named “A Cow Has Baked a Round Loaf” I was overjoyed. Poetry of this writer is extremely picturesque. That’s why I created water color tender illustrations with a fabulousness flavor. Even now when I see the book I understand that it was a good job.
I moved to the USA after graduation, where I continued to co-operate with Ukrainian customers. It was freelancing, though. I created commercial illustrations. Once we discussed income of illustrators during classes in the USA. Lecturers mentioned so huge sums that it was hard to imagine them.
Difference between our income levels is expressed in thousands of dollars. When you live in the US and work for a Ukrainian customer it resembles volunteering. American publishing market means big-time business. As for Ukraine, it only evolves in this direction. So, we definitely may not compare prices in both countries. Yet, it was hard for me to accept large-scale projects while living overseas. That’s why I picked an order out of personal pleasure and not financial profit.
Now I like to partner with the new Ukrainian companies. At times they cannot pay at all or offer small payment, but they have unordinary and interesting ideas. That’s how commercial projects emerge in my view, so, I gladly participate in them. Kunsht magazine was one of such projects. I used to visit their Facebook page and imagined how I create illustrations for them. So, when they wrote me a message with partnership offer, I was very pleased.
Priceless Experience and Search for Own Style
I live in the USA for more than two years. I’m here thanks to Fulbright Ukraine educational programme. My motivation for getting the scholarship was the following: to find a personal approach to creation of illustrations and gain a new life experience.
I started to apply for different international educational programs when I still went to school, and I managed to travel for education only after a seventh try. Every time they’ve sent me another rejection letter I told myself “Do it anyway!” and filled in a new application at once.
Ukrainian and American illustration differ in attitude to the profession. It is a huge business in the USA, where one can earn a lot. As for Ukraine, folks often don’t understand why an illustration has a certain price
The program has three screening stages that last for a year. I coped with them at the second attempt. I was elated with joy and went to learn at Savannah College of Art and Design, based in Savannah, GA after receipt of an invitation message. Education is very productive here. That’s why a student may pick just 3 courses for a term. Studies were partially practical. We did some works and discussed them afterwards. It was an efficient process, which allowed me to look at my illustrations with a critical eye and spot own mistakes.
I remember my first day at SCAD well. It was such a stress! The first pair of classes was dedicated to modern art history. You are not only unaware of what to expect from a lecturer and students, but you must also attend lessons about a subject you hardly know. I managed to calm down within 20 minutes after the pair had started. I’ve got a certain trait — I always expect the worst case scenario. Sometimes it even helps me, since whatever happened, everything was several times scarier in my mind. (She smiles.)
Difference between American and Ukrainian Illustration
I’m not sure that there is any difference at all. I try not to establish excessive borders. There is an illustration made by a specific person. Most of the American illustrators I admire were not born in the US, they came here from around the world.
Ukrainian and American illustration differ in attitude to the profession. It is a huge business in the USA, where one can earn a lot. As for Ukraine, folks often don’t understand why an illustration has a certain price, what’s the point of entering into a contract with a client etc. Pictures made by illustrators do not make a difference.
When it comes to illustration style, many Ukrainians deliver a stunning result. There are no indices that would help segregating illustrators by country. Freedom is more frequent in the US. You are sure that you’ll find use for your own style, while one just has to work hard for a long time in Ukraine to find a customer.
Persons involved in publishing industry like books more than money. Illustration for me is not only a business but also a hobby. I love what I do and I’m happy to get some money for it. (She smiles.)
From an Idea to a Draft
Book illustration is all about long-term projects. For example, to make a cover for “Anna Frank Diary” book, I familiarized myself with the book plot. Then I found a virtual excursion around her museum. It helped better visualization of the book. But “Anna Frank’s Diary” was a university task that took me only two days. Now I create illustrations for periodicals, magazines, and online platforms.
I usually prepare 7-10 thumbnails, out of which I pick 3. After that I convert ideas into sketches, send them to my customer, and we choose one of them together.
I create my works using Photoshop. I would love to return to a traditional picture making based on a mix of gouache, water color, and printing. Such work is scanned, digitized, and only then sent to a customer. It’s such a long process. So, I focus on digital illustration for the time being.
How to Be an Illustrator in New York
I was lucky to work at a few American companies, and it was an incredible experience.
I got an internship at Reader’s Digest, one of the oldest and largest USA magazines, thanks to my educatress. This periodical has two formats: online and printed. I created illustrations for both platforms, but I was more focused on the online one. The job was extremely intense. Generally speaking, illustrators do not work in offices, it’s a privilege of designers. Yet, there were very many projects in that mass medium. At times I used to make 13 illustrations per day. My eyes and hand ached after such laborious projects. Once I thought that my job will soon be more quantitative than qualitative. I don’t like working that way. The internship lasted for three months. I’ve made a lot of illustrations during that time including works to be printed. It makes me incredibly happy. (She smiles.)
I also worked at the Society of Illustrators (SOI). It is a museum of American Illustration and a professional organization for illustrators. Moreover, I was a designer at Penguin Books for a month.
SOI is a mystic place. Many people have heard about it. Yet, a lot of people still don’t know what is happening behind Society’s walls, what kind of organization it is. In fact, it’s a museum that prints own catalogues and organizes theme-based contests. Getting an award from them is viewed as achievement. I just wrote that I had wanted to complete an internship at this place. They invited me for an interview. Then I was also invited for internship as such. I’ve spent all the summer there last year. I was also involved in research works for them and created posters for their events this year.
This museum is an unbelievable, inspiring place. The job itself was creative, and I remember it with great pleasure. For example, every Tuesday and Thursday SOI hosts sketch nights. Everyone may come and create collective or own illustration on these days.
I ultimately managed to get a temporary job at Penguin Books. I used to send portfolio to art directors from different publishing houses, as I searched for a new internship or side job. It’s quite a long process in the USA, since no one answers your proposal at once. The art director of one of the Penguin Randome House departments that comprises Penguin Books suddenly responded to my enquiry and invited me for a job talk. I could not deny such an offer despite two existing jobs. Schwartz & Wade department, where I worked afterwards, published juveniles. So, I was supposed to be a temporary alternate of their designer.
Each illustrator gears to an admired professional, whose works are consciously or unconsciously copied at the career beginning. But there is a considerable difference between mindless copying and self-education
A designer and an illustrator work in a significantly different way. Although I can perform duties of both positions, but I don’t have required complete technical expertise. That’s why when they asked me how good I am at InDesign I simply answered that I can do such tasks. I finished my education in the course of work. I could not reject, as there may have been no second chance for me. This job allowed me to see inside working processes in a major publishing company and distribution of roles there.
Red Dot Award
A few Ukrainian works received Red Dot Award (design award given to designers for excellence) this year. The contest has three categories, and the best student works get separate prizes. Red Dot prize is considered to be very prestigious. University staff has sent works for the contest. I had to fill in required documents and write a description for my works. That’s why I even forgot that I had applied. (She smiles.)
When a greeting message arrived I did not react. I had three jobs and even did not understand what happened to me. But when they started to praise a Kyiv-based creative agency named Banda Agency for a logo meant for VDNH, I learned that this award is more prestigious than I thought. I posted to Facebook that two of my works — a poster for Steven Spielberg’s “The Terminal” movie and a cover for Lucy Mod Montgomery’s “Ann of Green Gables” book — were also awarded. What happened next was incredible! I did not expect such attention. Sometimes interesting things happen in our lives: friends and acquaintances jubilate because of our accomplishments more than we do. (She smiles.)
Illustrations vs. WWW
A part of my illustrations was uploaded to Pinterest. Users liked my Ukrainian diploma thesis most of all. There was just a single case when my work was published in a book without a permission. However, we managed to quickly settle this unpleasant situation. So far, nothing of this kind ever happened in the Internet. Yet, one should be ready for such events.
Each illustrator gears to an admired professional, whose works are consciously or unconsciously copied at the career beginning. But there is a considerable difference between mindless copying and self-education. It’s important to rethink the work gist and create something new in one’s imagination. Style of a newbie illustrator changes after several replications. That’s why when a person is fascinated by someone, you can tell if they stick to mere copying, or there is more to this.
Personal style is a mix of both life experience and artistic experience. It’s a hard work, new projects, visual impacts. A certain peculiar end result, a link between the author and their illustration. My style is a reflection of all my experiences, approaches, and experiments.
I had projects both in Ukraine and the USA. Out of all projects I can mark the Boston Globe job. I created illustrations from scratch for them asap, just within 2 days, which is an absolute minimum. At that, an order sounded like this: “We need a running part of characters and a crowd as a whole. Yet, a relaxed man should stay at the center.” They even have not sent me any text. I understood that I had been making a cover only after a while. But it was one of the best interactions, since no one interfered with the creative process.
Personal style is a mix of both life experience and artistic experience. It’s a hard work, new projects, visual impacts. A certain peculiar end result, a link between the author and their illustration
Unfortunately, some Ukrainian customers reworked illustrator’s work by themselves and published it without reconciliation. It is a major disrespect. That’s why it is so important to sign a contract that includes even tiny details.
You know the cooperation was hard if you finish it with a heavy heart and understand that something went wrong. It can be so due to imperfect communication with the client, but end result must not disappoint. I was lucky to never experience such things. The most difficult co-operation is when a customer does not know what’s needed.
Illustrated Home Library
I’ve got a big library with illustrated books in Ukraine. I’ll return home soon, so, I’ve purchased works of a Taiwan illustrator called Jimmy Liao in the USA. They are sad, melancholic, and full of silence.
I love to look at the books he illustrated. “Chirri and Chirra” illustrated by Kaya Doi, a Japanese artist, as well as Richard Scarry’s illustrations for “Cars and Trucks and Things That Go” book are among my favorites. As I live in New York now, I could not help buying a book about this city with old school illustrations made by M. Sasek.
I like merry illustrations. Sometimes I can go to a book store and spend hours looking through the books.
What is Success?
Success is mommy’s joy caused by my achievement when neighbors visit her and tell that there is a new article about her daughter. My mom beams with joy when she hears such words. It must be success, perhaps.
Success may come when your projects make you joyful deep inside, when you create for spiritual reasons and not only out of commercial considerations.
Illustration as Passion
I plan returning to Ukraine to equip my own studio this autumn. I also plan to develop in terms of both books and magazine illustration. I do not want to lose contact with American customers but I also wish to make illustrations for Ukrainian market.
Illustration is a passion for me, and it always leads a person somewhere. So, I’ll follow it. (She smiles.)
Americans want to partner more with open-minded and easy persons and not just talented illustrators. One should not rely on angry posts in social networks when it comes to profession. Instead, one should be able to analyze a situation. When working with you is easy, orders will appear, too. So, if you want to work with the best clients and get desired orders, you just have to be a good person. But it applies not only to illustrators, doesn’t it?
Translator — Olga Zaporozhets, OSE. Editor — Katya Michaels.
All illustrations — yevhaidamaka.com.