Artist Interview: Julia Vysotskaya on "Sherwyn's Forest" and Being an Artist in Siberia

From "Sherwyn' Forest"

From "Sherwyn' Forest"

Julia Vysotskaya is a 24-year-old illustrator from Krasnoyarsk, Russian Federation. Her detailed black-and-white illustrations are eerily beautiful, and her latest series for NeonMob "Sherwyn's Forest," is no exception. Featuring 50 woodland creatures (and some humans too), the images from "Sherwyn's Forest" look like ones that could illustrate a book of children's fairytales.  

I reached out to the Siberian artist to find out more about herself and her work.

From "Sherwyn's Forest"

From "Sherwyn's Forest"

I know you're from Krasnoyarsk, Russia, but I don't know much about that area. What's it like living there and do you feel like it's a good place to live for an artist?

Krasnoyarsk is quite an interesting place. I moved here from Novosibirsk, another Siberian city. Comparing these two I like Krasnoyarsk much more, mostly because of its nature and how the city combines with it. There's a lot of trees on the streets, mountain landscapes, and a beautiful river with islands, which are a popular place for recreation. Krasnoyarsk is famous for Stolby Nature Sanctuary, a popular destination for tourists. The only thing that always makes me feel uncomfortable in Siberia is the cold winter.

The amazing and dramatic nature of Krasnoyarsk is quite inspiring for artists like me. Also, creative people have quite a lot of opportunities here, to work as freelancers, or join one of the local startups or design studios. Actually, the art community is actively developing in Siberia. So I think it's interesting place to live for an artist.

One of Julia's illustrations was used for the cover of Ylvis' viral hit single "The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?}"

One of Julia's illustrations was used for the cover of Ylvis' viral hit single "The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?}"

Are you an artist full time? If so, what types of work do you mainly do?

I work as a freelance artist. Most of the commissions I've made are t-shirt prints or cover art for musicians. I made my first design for print on a t-shirt about three years ago for a local apparel manufacturer. Sometimes I design custom designs for people, which they print on clothes. I work in vector when making these designs. 

Most of my clients among musicians are young indie bands. They rarely give me a description of a picture they want, so usually I listen to the music they send me and then decide what to draw.  Some of my earnings come from selling originals on paper and licensing digital artworks. Once I licensed several of my drawings on Getty images and months later I've seen that one of them is on the cover of single "The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)" by Ylvys. That was very surprising and funny. 

An album cover by Vystokoyava

An album cover by Vystokoyava

Your style is very striking – stark black and white illustrations that rely heavily on shading and gradation. The style seems both old and new at the same time. How would you describe your style and how did you develop it?

My style started to develop when I began to study in art university. I've always liked to draw detailed pictures. At school, I learned technical graphics and drawing for designers, so I got used to using ink and liners. I am also very inspired by 19th century engravings, modern era graphical art, and by the illustrators of our time, of course. I like how impressive and significant a picture made with only two or three colours can be. I'm trying to create the right mood with a monochromatic palette, to make an illustration filled with expression, that's interesting with a shade of mystery. I like to use wavy, flowing lines mostly inspired by modernist art. Today, I usually use digital tools because most of my work are for web or for printing, so my style is still developing I would say, but I still prefer monochrome, and like to work on small details.

A portrait of dancer Ursula Falke

A portrait of dancer Ursula Falke

Tell us about the process that goes into your work. You use both ink and digital tools. Why both?

The process begins from the idea or character that I'm thinking of. I start with a simple sketch to find the best composition, than I make a bigger sketch – in pencil or digital. Usually I make it as detailed as possible but I don't draw all the details and textures. When I finish the sketch, I trace it on high-quality paper if it will be ink, or scan it if it will be digital. As I said, I've started to use digital tools more often, but still draw with ink to sell the original drawing or when a client asks for a handrawn style.

From "Sherwyn's Forest"

From "Sherwyn's Forest"

A lot of your work focuses on nature and animals. What sorts of resources did you use when illustrating animals and plants? Did you look at a lot of online images or nature books to accurately depict the details of each creature?

I've been interested in nature and animals since childhood and used to copy illustrations from books. Now images found online help with proportions, foreshortening, and some details, but actually I don't seek for accuracy in most of my drawings. I almost always change something to create my characters.

From "Sherwyn's Forest"

From "Sherwyn's Forest"

 

What's your favorite animal from this series that you made? Would you say it's your "spirit animal"?

I have a number of favourites from this collection, I like resting deer, nightjar, turtle, owls, foxes. I always thought the fox is my spirit animal. There's one [from "Sherwyn's Forest"] of a sitting fox – it depicts my spirit animal quite well.

From "Sherwyn's Forest"

From "Sherwyn's Forest"


What are you working on these days that you're really excited? Do you plan on creating anything completely new or unlike anything you've ever done before?

I enjoy making comissions for musicians, and hope to collaborate with more bands in the future. At the moment I am working on another collection for Neonmob where I use colour and effects that don't fit in my usual style. Also I'm planning to draw a lot of new illustrations and some really beautiful artworks that can be printed as posters. I'm currently thinking about new big and meaningful pictures.

Interview edited for clarity by Sarah Han