Artist Interview: Yelena Brkysenkova

Yelena Bryksenkova first caught my eye over on Design*Sponge, and when I clicked over to her portfolio, I was instantly in love. Her whimsical, saturated style is right up my alley, and the detail that goes into each illustration is impressive! You will definitely want to check out her website, and her blog.

What’s a typical day in the life of Yelena?
I wake up around 9 am and spend most of the day hanging out and working on projects at the kitchen table with my roommates, who are also illustrators. If I really need to focus, I shut myself in my room for a few hours, coming out occasionally to fetch another cup of tea. Some days, we go to zumba class or just for walks for important head-clearing and endless unburdening of feelings, dreams, and material wish lists. In the afternoon I run errands, like going to the post office or grocery store. Toward evening is when I begin most final pieces and then I work well into the night to complete them.

How did you develop your style? Was it a conscious decision, or something that came about organically?
I started suddenly to work in a certain style during the last two years of high school, after having read Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, oddly enough. In college I refined it more and more with every new challenge and what you see now is a tidier and far less cheesy version of what I originally came out with all those years ago.

What is your creative process?
When faced with a new assignment, I like to mull it over in my head for a few days. I look at my favorite artists’ work. I usually call my mom and bounce ideas off of her, almost always finding the best solution by the end of the conversation. I make thumbnails to determine composition, followed by rough sketches drawn to scale, then more refined sketches, and finally I transfer the drawing via lightbox, go over it with a micron pen, and paint over it. Sometimes the process is unbelievably smooth, but other times it can be riddled with frustration; cursed with perfectionism, if I feel that the drawing just isn’t working out – even if it’s 4 am and I’ve completed two-thirds of it – I will throw it away, allow myself five minutes of quiet hysteria, and calmly start over.

Do you listen to music while you’re working? What kind?
It depends on the nature of the work I’m doing; especially in case of very careful drawing which demands constant alertness and decision-making, I listen to Sigur Rós, Beach House, Mazzy Star, Clientele, a lot of classical (Chopin, Saint-Saëns, Debussy, Tchaikovsky) – calm, soothing music. If the drawing is more easy and I feel I can work on “autopilot,” I listen (and sing along) to the likes of ABBA, Ace of Base, Britney Spears, and lately – Iggy Azalea. Also various Russian and Viennese waltzes. But mostly I watch terrible television on Netflix.

What tools can’t you live without?
I use a box of Leningrad cake watercolors, which I wouldn’t trade for anything else. My process is almost completely traditional, but as I learn to use Photoshop more and more for simple adjustments, it has become an indispensable tool.

What advice would you offer to illustrators who are just starting out?
Illustration is a solitary job and it helps to be the sort of person that’s good at and enjoys being alone. Going from spending your college years working alongside your peers in a studio or classroom to working by yourself at home can be a difficult adjustment. But if you were lucky enough to become close with other people who are in the same boat, I recommend keeping them close.


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