Perfect Creatures

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WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP? #3

One wintry afternoon in November I had the pleasure of taking pictures of my dear friend Eva as she worked on a couple of artworks in her studio in Den Haag.  Then at the start of the year, we sat down to have an in-depth conversation about how she learnt this particular technique, what inspires her and more…  I really enjoyed our chat and the photo-shoot, as I could admire the process and how the illustrations evolved. I am very excited to share this interview with you.

How did you start? How did you come up with the idea?

I got back to doing creative work through an amazing online surface pattern design course I took three years ago. We had been creating motifs for patterns, so I tried experimenting with many techniques and ideas and came up with different patterns. My plan was to focus on pattern design, but as I started drawing more and more, I realised I also enjoy illustration a lot.

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Through the illustrations of little creatures,  I allowed myself to look for my own style. What’s particular about these illustrations is that the inspiration just came from my imagination, I didn’t need to look up any images for reference. I always liked to observe animals and when working on the Perfect Creatures project (find more info below) I realised that I already have a lot of images stored in my head and now they were coming out in a creative flow…

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How did you learn this skill?

I learnt this particular technique during a short workshop given by Tom Haugomat at ELCAF festival in London last year. What I really like about it is the combination of paper-cut which I used a lot when I was doing stop-motion animation many years ago and beautiful textures. I have always enjoyed working with paper, cutting things out and moving them around, because it gives me more flexibility than just drawing…

What I appreciate in illustration or any art form really, is when you can ‘feel’ the technique – its tactility. You can sense it’s handmade through certain textures that appear. I really like this texture in particular, achieved with the ‘stencil-ink-sponge’ technique because it’s very soft – almost dream-like – and it creates nice layers. Also, your palette is very restricted. This is great because you get more creative with the colour tones and you create new colours by layering them

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Where do you find your inspiration?

Most of the time I find my inspiration either in nature, looking at its many patterns and creations. I also love old engravings of animals that show them in the way people imagined them. I like when there is a little bit of story-telling in the illustration as well, and I’ll be working more on that this year.  Lately my inspiration comes from my favourite Czech and Slovak children books and when I start drawing more regularly, I get a lot of ideas when falling asleep. Or sometimes I dream in detail about a pattern, its colours and if I still remember it in the morning, I draw it!

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What effects have your pieces had?

What is really nice is that people enjoy these illustrations. They cheer them up because they show these playful little creatures dancing together and having fun. For me, when I was creating them, I was in a flow and it was almost a kind of meditation for me. Especially the first part, when I worked with paper and ink. It was calming me down. I also experienced flow when I was editing them on the computer. But that’s a different way of working – focusing on every little detail and composition. I must say I prefer not to work in front of a screen though.

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How does this work impact / interact with other activities you do?

It’s kind of all mixed together because the new techniques I learn and discover, I can then also use for my freelance projects, and vice versa. For example, certain elements, like the triangle texture appearing on some of the creatures comes back in my other projects. (BTW Triangles ARE my favourite shapes! Haha!) And when I work at the freelance projects on my computer, I constantly learn new skills that I can apply to my illustrations.

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Also, my pottery classes give me new ideas. Pottery is very relaxing to me because it is not connected to work and I am doing it purely for myself. I just play and I come up with ideas that I can use for illustrations….

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Any ideas for what you plan to work on next?

What I would like to try to do is work on how to illustrate stories because that’s what I enjoy a lot. I have bought an online course from one of my favorite illustrators – Adolfo Serra – and I would like to learn how to do children’s books illustrations because that seems like a good way to start storytelling through  illustration. I’d also like to make a zine, work on my portfolio, create some new book cover illustrations/designs and hopefully create end-papers for a book!

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Any closing words? Where can we find you?

As mentioned before used this technique for creating Perfect Creatures, my first licensed illustration for a Slovak company called Remini that makes high quality hardcover notebooks using paper from sustainable sources. They are very special because they are 70% handmade and the company promotes Slovak illustrators. You can purchase the notebooks in 5 different formats here.

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For all up-to-date information follow Eva on Instagram: @evapolakovic (further links: linktree)

Photos above taken by Fanny and edited by Eva Polakovicova

Photo with Perfect Creatures taken by Euan Monaghan and edited by Eva Polakovicova

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The other interviews of the series WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP? can be found here and here.

Colourful drawings

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WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP? #2

Over the holiday, I spent a lovely creative morning with my sister Johanna, who loves to draw detailed colourful pieces. Together we came up with creative ideas to photograph her drawings both in the garden and around the house. Then we had a nice chat about her process and what inspires her. It was a pleasure to spend this quality time together  experimenting and talking about creativity. I’m happy to share this moment with you!

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How did you start? How did you come up with the idea?

I started drawing when I was 18, back when I was in art school. The teachers taught me how to draw figuratively, but no one taught me how to draw abstractly. The first time I drew in this style was during a lesson when I was bored, and I played around with drawing abstract blue and gold lines and I felt very proud and happy about the result. I developed my own style of drawing from there. I use essentially felt-tips and sometimes Chinese ink, as well as HB pencils and water colour paint, on sketching paper.

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How did you learn this skill?

It was something very natural to me. I followed my creativity and learnt by myself. I use shapes and colours.  From time to time, I draw with a draft, but that’s very rare. Normally I just the put the felt-tip on the paper and let my imagination take over. I realise that when I draw with a draft, the result is more precise and I enjoy that process. It also happens that I develop a theme over two pieces and they are my favourite drawings.

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Where do you find your inspiration?

I would say my inspiration is my life, as well as a stronger force which gives me inspiration. I also have favourite artists like Laura Hornart, Kandinsky and the impressionists like Monet. The shapes and theme of nature, as well as the colours inspire me. I draw my feelings and my way of seeing the world that surrounds me.

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What effects have your pieces had?

Drawing has a positive effect on me.  It makes me happy to see my new drawing at the end. It helps me forget my problems and it is something that I can always grasp. A friend of mine says I inspire him with my drawings and then he draws too. Sometimes we draw together. During a difficult time in 2010, I overcame my sadness by filling notebooks with little flowers.

When I sold some drawings in front of a book store, people said my work looks like the theme of the sea and that it was very pretty, and they wished me good luck with my drawing.

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How does this work impact / interact with other activities you do?

I think it goes well with my dancing classes and piano lessons, because they are all artistic activities and they complement each other. Listening to music while I draw makes me feel relaxed. The type of music influences the type of drawing, if I’m listening to soft music I’m going to draw something more poetic and with round lines.

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Any ideas for what you plan to work on next?

Since a few weeks I have planned to draw a dandelion, the fluffy part that blows away with the wind representing little hearts. It is a risky drawing, because I feel it is quite complicated so I haven’t started yet. It’s a challenge for 2020.

I would also like to sell my works in person to unknown people and see their reactions.

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Some closing words? Where can we find your work?

Thank you Fanny for this interview which enabled me to reflect on the process and my art. You can find my work on Instagram.

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To read the first interview of the series WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP? featuring my other sister Helena, click here🙂

Activist embroideries

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WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP? #1

I’m very excited to share the first interview in this new series, where my sister Helena explains the background behind her amazing activist embroideries. I really enjoyed the afternoon we spent during her visit to Amsterdam making the photoshoot by the warehouses, and she was a great model as I was trying my hand at a subject other than close-ups of flowers and plants:)  Enjoy the read and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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How did you start? How did you come up with the idea?

I first started after watching a vulva embroidery tutorial video on the online magazine madmoizelle. The author of the video embroidered a vulva on a T-shirt to make women’s genitalia more visible in the public space, fighting the taboo around female sexuality. I’ve been a feminist for a few years now, and really liked the combination of art and the activist component. It inspired me to stitch a clitoris on a T-shirt I would wear to give more visibility to this other body part that is also too often forgotten.

I bought a simple white T-shirt, a wooden loop and some thread and needles in a specialised store and started my first embroidery. It turned out to be a cheap and fun hobby to take up!

 

How did you learn this skill?

I turned to the internet, as I didn’t know anybody around me who could teach me (although our mom said that maybe I hold embroidery in my genes because our great grandmother was a skilled embroiderer!). I mostly learned with YouTube videos. Articles can be helpful but videos are usually better because showing a complex stitching movement is easier than describing it. There are many videos out there, made by women across the world (unfortunately this is still a very gendered hobby…). Some of them I don’t even share any language with, but the visual is usually enough!

For the rest, it’s through trial and error that I learned (and I’m still learning) what kind of clothes can be best embroidered, how to draw the designs onto the cloth, how to do new stitches (I try to learn a new one in every project)…

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Where do you find your inspiration?

Most of my ideas are linked to feminist topics, and I get them from media I consume: the news, youtube videos, songs… Music can be good at making ideas stick. That’s how the t-shirt with the middle finger and the Spanish one came to be. “Cerrada de amor, cerrada de pussy” (closed from love, closed from the pussy) are lyrics of a song by Ladilla Russa. It’s about men who are too insistent with their sexual or romantic goals, while sometimes as a woman, you just want to enjoy other things in life, like dancing in clubs or tap dancing, without having to deal with those who don’t take no for an answer.

 

What effects have your pieces had?

My embroideries are often a conversation starter, which was what I was hoping for! For example, people often don’t recognise that the clitoris is a clitoris, because they think of that organ as just the external part. That gives me a chance to drop some fun facts about it, in a light but hopefully instructive way!

Among skeptics against feminism, though, my embroideries have led to tense discussions! It’s not always enjoyable, but I also don’t want to just preach to the choir. Presenting a radically different opinion than theirs is a good way to reopen conversations, maybe plants some seeds of thought and brush up my debating skills along the way!

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How does this work impact / interact with other activities you do?

Embroidery has helped me work on my biggest flaw: perfectionism (this is not only a job interview flaw-that-isn’t-a-flaw, it really exists!). The risk of failing has been paralysing in many areas of my life. With embroidery, I do take time to start each project out of fear, but once I start, I face all the imperfections that come with such a precise manual task: the thread is secretly building knots on the back, letters are not the same size, the chalk drawing is disappearing too fast…There are so many factors that I cannot fully control, that I am forced to accept the imperfection. And even though I’m usually dissatisfied with my work during and shortly after each piece, I tend to warm up to it after a while!

Practicing letting go of imperfections through stitching has helped me in other areas of life, to tell myself it’s ok that I made my stew to salty that one time, or that I’m not the biggest loser of all times just because I said something dumb in a conversation!

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Any ideas for what you plan to work on next?

I have too many ideas, and too little time! My next embroidery will be a reference to the great youtube channel Contrapoints (you should check it out), and the following one will have an activist message about napping! Stay tuned 😉

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A huge thank you to Helena for being my guinea pig (or should I say my gerbille!) to test out the questions and format, and for her inspiring and well-written answers. I couldn’t have dreamt of a better start!

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New interview series starting next week

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Do you ever have that feeling when you are talking with strangers or people you know, and you are mildly bored?  You go through the merry-go-round of basic questions, make small talk and are left feeling kind of bland. I realised lately that the conversations I enjoy most are the ones about people’s stories and dreams, their ‘crazy’ ideas or the creative projects they mention in passing with a sheepish grin, things that may seem random or unimportant on the surface.

I love seeing how people’s faces light up when asked a follow-up question about it, and feeling how my curiosity is piqued, like I’ve landed on a precious nugget of information, a vein of gold leading me to a more interesting aspect of the person.  One of the reasons I enjoy these chats so much is that they open up the door of possibility for everyone listening. They are a powerful reminder of the importance of doing things just to feed our soul, sometimes with no specific reason other than to feel ourselves come alive, out of pure curiosity to see what it would be like and where it might lead…

So I want to explore the inner workings of these types of endeavours with people around me, who, when an idea tugs at their sleeve, decide to show up and simply give it a go, despite the unknown and the fear that may lurk.  This new series will be called WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP? and I’m excited to share my first interview next week!