Hi, Asya, welcome to Pyll Mgzn. This is a very special interview considering that we had been out of touch for more than 10 years! I am really glad to have you here. You have been doing some amazing things with illustration. For those of you who don’t know you, could you briefly tell about yourself and your current creative pursuits?
Hi! Thank you for the opportunity and I am glad that we keep in touch now! I am an architect turned illustrator. About a year ago I understood that I needed to change my life because my occupation at the time didn't give me any inspiration and I was literally avoiding it, so in March 2015 I started my first challenge project called "50 Shades of Owls". It was an experiment where I challenged myself to draw owls each day for 50 days and it helped me to get some confidence about my drawing skills and was overall a good starting point for a new career.
Then I organized an exhibition in Moscow, started selling my miniature drawings online, created funny illustrations called "OwlyWednesdays" and launched one more shop with my illustrations.
I was very happy about the appreciation that my owls received throughout the year but my personal growth was always my priority and I was seeking for a new style of illustration that would define my style. I developed a technique that I use in my current 12-week project. This project is called "Wise Words On Ribbon" and it is a very personal one because each subject that I choose to make an illustration of had a great deal of impact on my life. So it is not only about interesting illustrations, compositions, and wise words, but also about the personality of the artist behind the works. I am approaching the middle of the project now and I am very happy that I found the courage to start it.
In 2 words what were the last ten years like for you?
What were your first attempts at serious illustration? Do you have any examples of your very early work to show us? (Mwahahah!)
Here are some early works:
But until recently I never thought about becoming a serious artist or a professional illustrator, so art always remained my hobby and my extra source of income during my 6 years of university studies. I drew for myself and did custom orders for portraits since 2010 - pencil, charcoal drawings, water-colour, acrylic and oil paintings. I received my first serious illustration project just after graduation. One cool creative agency contacted me through Behance.net and asked me to make ink illustrations for 8 collages. It was a rush job and in 3 weeks time my illustrations became part of the beautiful 2014 Diageo calendar. It was a super cool experience!
You know, looking at these works, one can tell that you have reached a very high level of skill both in your technique and artistic vision. What was this process of artistic growth like for you? What were some of the biggest challenges and setbacks? What were the biggest leaps forward?
My art way was quite a winding road. At the age of 5 I discovered Monet albums that my mom brought from Paris. I loved to make copies of his great paintings and I guess this was the first time I felt inspired. But in school and then in art school I didn't feel this inspiration anymore. I studied art but there was no creativity in this process. In architecture school I did my best during the short art lessons that we had. I received good marks but, you know, I took it for granted. So, this was the greatest barrier in my artistic growth. I took my skills and talent for granted and everybody else did the same. Since I discovered Monet as a child there was nobody else who inspired me so much and nobody who made me believe I am an artist. At the age of 25 I became this person for myself. It was very challenging. Of course, there are other artists who inspire me to carry on but first and foremost I have to be my own source of motivation.
Did you experience any resistance from your family/friends when they found out that you want to go into illustration as a career?
Of course I did. Many people knew that I drew stuff but they thought about it as a hobby. After I spent 8 years in architecture most of them thought I was crazy and naive to leave it all behind.
How did you deal with that pushback? How did you preserve your personal and artistic integrity?
I guess the greatest gift I have is my introvert nature. I love to be alone and this helps me to preserve my personal and artistic integrity. I learned how to be patient with my failures or with other peoples’ opinions so I don’t really see it as pushback anymore. I try to perceive it as a new level of experience. Sometimes I strive for perfection in my work and at these moments I stop myself. Personal challenge projects help me to get rid of this nasty habit. Sometimes I feel like I evolve too slowly and that is hard to deal with. At these moments I go outside, to the park for example, and remind myself the Chinese proverb "The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones", and I start to calm down because there is no point in being afraid of growing slowly as long as you are not standing still.
I noticed that what separates great artists from amateurs is consistency. Would you agree?
I guess it is so.
How do you maintain consistency in your practice?
To keep up the progress you need to work, constantly. I try to draw 5-6 days a week. I draw human figures, I make sketches for current and upcoming projects, I search for inspiration on the side, share my progress on social media, watch and read tutorials sometimes. My life experience taught me that it is not enough to be good at something and to take in for granted. You have to be excited about your work, you have to be your own best fan and your strictest critic. The one thing that really ruins everything is indifference. Laziness comes second.
I am sure you have experienced artistic plateaus. How did you break through them, and how did you tolerate them while you were stuck in them?
You know, art is limitless. I wasn’t acutely aware of that earlier but now I don't feel like I get stuck on plateaus. Slow progress is progress too. One cannot move constantly at the highest speed and sometimes we all need to slow down for a while. When I experience a plateau I eventually come out with wonderful new ideas, so I appreciate these moments.
How do you feel when you see amazing illustration? Inspired? Challenged?
Both. I guess the best thing for a creator is to know that he/she challenged others to try.
Okay, I have a little project for you. You have to illustrate “Earth in 150 years”. Go! How would you approach something like this? What would be your thinking process?
I would start by choosing to define Earth in 150 years as a better place than what we have now. I would then make some sketches and change everything I don't feel good about in the current structure of life. I would try to integrate more nature into what we have now. I would spend a lot of time on research and even inventing something by myself. I can envision the final piece as a big album or installation with transparent pages with ink or pencil drawings on them, symbolizing different layers of change, year by year till 2166.
Wow, that’s really cool! You know, I am fascinated by the way the things we are interested in with time become integrated into almost every aspect of our lives. A photographer sees light. A musician is thrilled by great sound. How do you see the world? I just wanna get an idea of what’s going on in your head. How do you link your art with your world and your world with your art? How does an illustrator think?
All artists are excited about the beauty that they suddenly discover. I can get inspiration from sound, from pictures, from nature and its eternal diversity of species, from texture I see or texture I feel, from strong emotion, from a phrase or someone's story. I am not sure that it is right to talk about imagination or fantasy because we all have one amazing world around us, but we perceive it differently. Imagination depends on the way you mix all the things you are aware of, all the ingredients in your head. I prefer to mix them in a way that yields to creating something positive and inspiring.
Asya, this was great. Thank you for such insightful answers. How can people connect with you and where can they see more of your work?
Thank you for such interesting and challenging questions. I have a Facebook page and Instagram where I post all my new works and works in progress. People can contact me by writing a comment, message or sending an email to asya.mitskevich[at]gmail.com.
I also have 2 online-shops: www.asyamitskevich.etsy.com with my original drawings and prints, and www.society6.com/asyamitskevich where you can print my illustrations on everything from paper to shower curtains :) My new Behance page is under construction.
And lastly, any book recommendations? :)
It is never too late to reread books you read as a child. I love to reread The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry and Tove Jansson's books. They are full of love and wisdom that I hadn't fully understood back when I was little.