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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Portfolio: an interview with illustrator Yelena Bryksenkova

I am super excited to introduce New England based illustrator Yelena Bryksenkova as one of my new Portfolio Illustrators on my soon to be relaunched website...

Written by Amelia Gregory

Ada Zanditon A/W 2011 by Yelena Bryksenkova

Ada Zanditon A/W 2011 by Yelena Bryksenkova.

The wonderful New England based illustrator Yelena Bryksenkova has for many years been one of my favourite contributors to Amelia’s Magazine, during which time she has created so many wonderful delicate and highly detailed illustrations that are always perfectly adapted to whatever subject she is given. It’s no surprise that she has been wooing fans across the globe, so I am absolutely delighted to introduce her as a featured Portfolio Illustrator on the soon to be relaunched Amelia’s Magazine website. I caught up with Yelena to find out more about the way she works and much more.

Bio Photo Yelena Bryksenkova

I’ve been a long term admirer of your work, having featured you in my 2010 book, Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration: how did you discover my website and why did you start to contribute?
I discovered you even earlier, when I was working at a magazine shop in Baltimore that carried publications from all over the world. I was still a student then and whiled away the long hours at the shop reading magazines and copying down contact information from the mastheads. I was instantly drawn to Amelia’s Magazine – the exquisite covers, the way every page overflowed with photographs, drawings, interesting articles – it was clearly made with love and unparalleled creative energy. And it was from London. I worked very hard on an illustration which I entered into your competition themed Everything is Connected, and that, to my amazement, is how I made it into the final print issue of the magazine. It was the very first time my work had been printed anywhere, in fact. After the magazine went online, I continued to contribute when I could, and in the process became acquainted with the very friendly and talented community of illustrators in the UK.

Bernard Chandran S/S 2014 by Yelena Bryksenkova

Bernard Chandran S/S 2014 by Yelena Bryksenkova.

One of my favourite things about your illustrations is your amazing use of pattern. Where does this love of detail stem from?
Detail seems so personal and deliberate to me; it’s like a secret shared between the creator and the beholder who cares to look closely enough. I’ve always enjoyed looking at Indian miniature painting, or closely examining the lacy collars in Tudor court paintings. Nowadays drawing painstaking detail and patterning feels meditative to me, but I think it stemmed from my student days, when I discovered that a pattern can nicely mask some awkward drawing mistakes!

Ekaterina Kukhareva S/S 2014 by Yelena Bryksenkova

Ekaterina Kukhareva S/S 2014 by Yelena Bryksenkova.

I also adore your elegant females – which artist or type of art has had the biggest influence on the way you draw people?
I often look at the work of Serov, Sargent, Renoir, Vuillard, Matisse; I will never get tired of paintings of quiet repose, everyday moments. Women brushing their hair, reading, arranging flowers, drinking tea, lost in their private thoughts. Stylistically, the way I draw people was most likely shaped by looking at the works of J.W. Waterhouse and Edward Gorey, as well as fashion illustrations from the 1920s.

Studio Yelena Bryksenkova

Studio Yelena Bryksenkova

What time of day do you find it easiest to work and what are your must have requirements when you sit down to create some art?
Traditionally I am a night owl, although I am finding lately that I get a lot more done if I start working first thing in the morning. Before I sit down to work, my desk (and often the whole room) has to be tidied up – otherwise my mind feels cluttered, I get stressed out and impatient with my work – and I need to have a large mug of tea always on hand.

Pollyanna Band by Yelena Bryksenkova

Pollyanna Band by Yelena Bryksenkova.

How did your agent find you?
I’m not sure, I think they saw my work in the Communication Arts Annual and had been following it for a while before reaching out.

Lug von Siga S/S 2014 by Yelena Bryksenkova

Lug von Siga S/S 2014 by Yelena Bryksenkova.

Do you have a specific approach when you tackle a fashion illustration that is different, say, from an editorial illustration?
Aesthetic appeal is important in editorial illustration, but I must also consider its clarity of concept and succinctness; it must go hand in hand with text. Fashion illustration is all about creating a story and arousing an emotional response to clothes, so there’s more opportunity to be creative. I begin by thinking about the kind of woman the clothes evoke and what kind of dream world she lives in, styling her pose, accessories and even setting based on that.

Orla Kiely S/S 2014 by Yelena Bryksenkova

Orla Kiely S/S 2014 by Yelena Bryksenkova.

Where does your obsession with the image of a small elephant come from?
I think the first time I really took this image to heart was when I was about 17 and I read Haruki Murakami‘s short story The Elephant Vanishes. But upon further recollection, I found that the elephant has been in my life from the start: when I was very small, one of my favorite children’s books was Excuse Me, Elephant by the Polish author Ludwik Jerzy Kern. It was about a boy named Pini and his porcelain elephant Dominik, who comes to life. Now the elephant is a kind of talisman I’ve adopted; I think of it as a harbinger of good tidings.

Pam Hogg S/S 2014 by Yelena Bryksenkova

Pam Hogg S/S 2014 by Yelena Bryksenkova.

Why did you decide to leave New York for New Haven and what has been the best thing about making the move to a more rural setting?
For someone who is very romantic about cities and places in general, I never dreamed of New York and I knew from the start that it isn’t my kind of city. But I did dream of being a New Englander, so I took the first opportunity that presented itself and moved to Connecticut, with the intention of eventually continuing to move deeper into the Northeast. As the home of Yale University, New Haven is collegiate and cozy, small enough to get to know but in such a way that I could never get tired of wandering its charming streets. It’s also so conveniently located that I can take day trips – for work or leisure – by train to New York, Providence and Boston (a city I love and do dream of), as well as many other corners of this beautiful region.

Tata Naka S/S 2012 by Yelena Bryksenkova

Tata Naka S/S 2012 by Yelena Bryksenkova.

What is the best part about researching a new illustration? 
Often I get assignments on a subject I know nothing about. After the initial anxiety about the seemingly foreign and uninteresting, I begin to read, and before long come out something of an expert on the matter and having found some detail that resonates with my emotions or aesthetic sensibilities and that will help me make it mine. All it takes is that detail, and once I pull on the thread, a whole image begins to unravel. It’s very exciting, because it’s such a natural way to learn something new and I find that in life I have become more willing to look for that detail in places and people, rendering me incapable of boredom!

Cheapside Hoard by Yelena Bryksenkova

Cheapside Hoard by Yelena Bryksenkova.

What are the things that make you feel most emotional at present and how do you respond to them?
I recently read Anna Karenina in just a few long sittings and after crying for two days I started working on an imaginary book cover, which I have yet to finish because real book cover commissions took over my life. The autumn weather makes me emotional; the heat and humidity of summer is over and the bitter New England winter hasn’t begun, so I go on nighttime walks in perfectly cool, clear air and I just feel happy, warm and cozy and glad to be alive. This calmness is good for productivity and in turn the presence of meaningful work feeds back into that satisfied feeling.

Izzy Lane by Yelena Bryksenkova

Izzy Lane by Yelena Bryksenkova

Izzy Lane by Yelena Bryksenkova. (illustrations for Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration.)

We were very sad when you could not make it over to the launch party (for my fashion illustration book) due to adverse weather conditions: when did you last travel to the UK and what was the occasion?
My dad lived in Gloucester for a time, and my mom and I visited him; I must have been about 14. I was devastated when the snowstorm thwarted my hopes of visiting London again a whole decade later, but I’m determined to try again, and soon. I have developed so many friendships and professional relationships across the Atlantic and I pledge to meet all of you in person one day!

Sketchbook by Yelena Bryksenkova

Are you still creating beautiful sketch books and if so can we see a sneak peak of a recent one?
Unfortunately I’ve had little time lately to draw in my sketchbook. The last time I drew in it  was on a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Eloise Jephson, CSM graduate by Yelena Bryksenkova

Eloise Jephson, CSM graduate by Yelena Bryksenkova.

What is your favourite way to relax and unwind?
My best friend lives about 1.5 hours away in Rhode Island, and I love to visit her after getting all of my work done, so that the time off feels truly deserved, and I can wind my spring for the next stretch. And I even enjoy the journey, because a long, comfortable train ride listening to music and looking out of the window is another great pleasure in life. I love to take long walks and sit in cafes with tea and a good book. This year I’ve been going up to see the Boston Ballet, which is a very relaxing and very magical experience. And of course, lots of good (and bad) TV.

I can’t wait to showcase more of Yelena Bryksenkova‘s beautiful work on my new website, coming soon x

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