I grew up in a little coastal town in south Ukraine right at the Black Sea. Nature gave me an inspiring environment for my imagination to go wild and be way ahead of me. I started to paint when I was 4 years old, and my early drawings were already full of narrative and storytelling. Every time I picked up my crayons as a child, I would try to depict multiple characters all at once and unfold a bigger story.
The first time I really felt that I wanted to become a painter was in my early teen years. I got the opportunity to showcase one of my paintings at the art charity auction in my hometown. I remember the awe and excitement of being able to present my work and my dreams to the public. I didn’t have many skills back then, but it was one of those moments that changes you forever. It was the day I knew deep down in my heart that I wanted my story to be known to others, and I wanted to make a difference in this world with what I do and what I paint.
At the age of 15, I decided to take the next step and attended Grekov Odessa Art School — the oldest and one of the most renowned schools of art in the country. There, I was professionally trained in classical drawing and oil painting. After graduation, I moved to Western Ukraine and studied at the Transcarpathian Art Institute for two more years, learning about authentic Ukrainian art and folk crafts.
I was also given the opportunity to go abroad to be part of various art programs in the United States, Europe and Asia. One of the most life-changing experiences was taking the mastery program at Milan Art Institute in Arizona.
Art was always taking me places. I left my home country a multitude of times to get closer to my dream. My path unfolded one step at a time, right when I was ready to take it. It also brought, of course, a lot of challenges, such as painting in an improvised workspace — many times with limited art supplies — and constantly adjusting to the new surroundings, culture and language. It took a lot of perseverance, faith and courage.
Another dream I had since I was very little was to travel and see the world. Adventure became a big part of my journey. During my trips to different countries, I felt driven to create artwork that would speak to everyone and empower many. Art, in any form, has always been such a unique tool that makes a difference in this world. It doesn’t have language or cultural barriers, and it speaks directly to the human heart. It’s a unique way to express the worlds within and outside of us, capture the moments in their very essence and make them tell stories.
I see the world as a beautiful tapestry of multiple nations in the frames, every single one a masterpiece itself and part of a greater picture altogether.
That’s why now like never before, I feel an urge in my heart to make not just my own story but the story of my nation known to the world. When I started this series of paintings called “Wings & Visions,” depicting women with wings, in the fall of 2021, I was reflecting on my own roots and what it truly means to be Ukrainian.
There is a typical baroque poetry of the 17th-century allegory representing homelands as women. Our deep-rooted history, traditions, all the beauty and purpose of each of us as individuals but also together as a nation, are powerful. A lot of what we have as our national identity has been overlooked and abandoned, our land violated and our treasures looted during the course of history, through communism and corruption, artificial famine and so on.
Growing up in Ukraine in post-Soviet times was difficult in many ways, but it has always been my home. And as I travelled and grew within myself, I noticed my country growing and unfolding its wings with more strength and beauty. To witness a new reality of distraction is heartbreaking, but as an artist, I choose not to comply with what I see. I believe artists are the poets and prophets of every generation. We are catalysts of change, advocates for truth and beauty. And each of our creative voices speaks volumes.
It’s about our future and what awaits us after the war is over. These days, I see an enormous amount of art by Ukrainian and foreign artists that depicts war, pain, death, suffering and hopelessness. I see tears, blood and anger and … I get it. That’s the reality of our nation right now, and we would never be able to erase it from our memory. But it is something I would never paint myself, and this is why: I believe art is a weapon. Art is powerful. Art is prophetic. Art is a manifestation and creation of a different reality. Creativity is the very essence of who God is and how He moves within us and through us.
“As you move toward a dream, the dream moves toward you.”
— Julia Cameron
Many times in my life, I would paint what I wished was there for me when it wasn’t. I was painting horses when I never really had an opportunity to ride them. I was painting scenes of traveling and foreign lands when there was no money or visas to go places. I was painting romance and true love when I felt the most lonely. Every time I did it, it came from strength and faith. And many times, things I painted or spoke about in these situations were through tears, knowing they would come to life. We create reality with the words we speak and everything we do. I would not paint war because I don’t want war to last.
My canvas is my battlefield. Every time we change our direction, affected by what’s happening around us, we will lose our ground. The more we merge with the darkness and adjust to it, the harder it will become to fight against it and overcome it. One of my favorite quotes from the Bible says, “Light shines in the darkness and darkness could not overcome it.” With my art, I choose to speak of the destiny of Ukraine and every situation I’m fighting in my own personal life. Don’t give in to the darkness. Bring a different vision. Paint, sing and dance about hope and the future. Because that’s the reality we all want to be part of.
Being a professional artist is a dream come true. It’s a fascinating thing to approach a canvas every day and create something new. Something that didn’t exist before. And to do it for a living. I believe: When you take a risk to dream, you will always be met by God.
Looking back through all the ups and downs of this 12-year journey, I can confidently say that everything is possible — especially if you put all your heart into it and move forward in faith.
“So you must keep trying. You must keep calling out in those dark woods for your own Big Magic. You must search tirelessly and faithfully, hoping against hope to someday experience that divine collision of creative communion — either for the first time, or one more time. Because when it all comes together, it’s amazing. When it all comes together, the only thing you can do is bow down in gratitude, as if you have been granted an audience with the divine. Because you have.”
— Elizabeth Gilbert
My process usually starts with a prompting in my heart and in my whole being that something new is about to come. Of course, many times I just push through without a so-called inspiration, and that’s what’s called practice, perseverance and skill. But what I’m trying to say is: That one painting that just stands out from the rest and speaks volumes is usually the one you don’t force. When you just know something greater is about to break through the ordinary, you make room for it. Yet this magic would never happen without daily dedication and hard work. Inspiration is showing up when you are showing up. But some days, it just shows up differently, and that’s what makes a particular painting special.
But, of course, every time it starts with some kind of vision in my head. I begin all of my paintings with searching for an idea in a simple graphic sketch. For me, the journey from the head to the hand requires a lot of supportive material so that’s when I will go on Pinterest or another image search site to collect the ideas for a specific reference. This is a stage of gathering, where I’m trying to match the positions of the figure, face expressions and other elements with the picture I have in my head.
A graphic sketch on paper helps me to immediately grasp a vision from imagination, while the supportive reference imagery provides me with more information for the anatomy, structure and lighting needed for a representational piece of art. A sketchbook also is a great way to work on details and see which elements, patterns and textures fit best for a piece. After the collecting stage is finished, I begin building each idea on a computer as a final digital source. I use Pixelmator or Photoshop to layer multiple images together for a better composition; and sometimes for a background, I also use imagery from my previous abstracts or parts of my color searches from the sketchbook to create a likeness of a final painting and a solution for the overall color story and stylistic approach.
“Take a small step in the direction of a dream and watch the synchronous doors flying open.”
— Julia Cameron
I’m a visionary, so having a detailed reference is half the battle and key to success. When I’m happy with a final source and composition, I move to a pencil prep drawing on a canvas. After the drawing comes the part of the process that is the most fun to me. It includes playing with multiple mixed-media materials, such as water-soluble graphite, inks, acrylic pens and so on. I love this stage the most because it’s full of movement and expressive energy. Sometimes I will put on music and dance in my studio to get into the right mood and loosen up more, so my mark making will be wild and free.
After the marks comes killing the white of the canvas with acrylic washes and blocking some big local areas of a painting with a base color.
For some pieces, I also at times use spray paint, collage and gold leaf. My latest series with Ukrainian women has real 24k gold leaf, which makes light reflect beautifully on the surface and creates a rich textural contrast.
As I’m working in mixed media, I paint halfway with acrylic and add oils later for richness of color and a three-dimensional effect that’s only possible with oil paint. That’s where the painting really comes to life with an atmospheric perspective and the enhancement of all of the layers and shades of color underneath.
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”