Drawing Strength: In Conversation with Ukrainian Illustrators 

Illustration has long been a medium for communicating ideas, self-expression, protest, and solidarity. In these challenging times, as the Russia-Ukraine war continues, The AOI would like to continue amplifying the voices of those illustrators affected, who are, in turn, telling the stories of those around them.

To help support the work of Ukrainian illustrators we have collated a collection of some of these creators. We have also had the opportunity to ask a few of them about why creativity remains important:

Lesia Artymovych

Utilising structure in her work, Lesia shows us her detailed approach to design and clear eye for detail. Her background as a former chess player seems to inform her interest in grid forms and logic through her work. As a journalist, with a clear passion for typography Lesia is able to create beautifully rendered work as an infographic designer and illustrator. 

‘Where we met the war’

Lesia, tell us about your work/style – how do you utilise typography and structure to create your images?
My work is based on combining my journalism background and my design expertise. I love to tell real stories and always have careful research before taking a pencil into my hands. The final illustrations are detailed, textured, based on organic shapes and playful lights. I love to think of them as soulful and unique vectors.

What are your hopes for the future?
I really want to finally go home. Hug every tree in my native Kyiv and stare endlessly at the Dnipro river. Moreover, I want to finally start to rebuild my country. For this though, I’d have to be alive to see a day when there will be no Russian soldiers left in my country. On the other hand, I want justice for all of the committed war crimes. We’ll never forget all the deaths and destructions that Russia brings to my peaceful homeland. We won’t be the same, but we’ll be stronger.

‘I can help with what I’m good at — telling real stories with my illustrations’

‘Where we met the war’

How is your illustration helping you to communicate what you wish to say?
Right now especially, I feel really helpless. I can’t win the huge evil by myself with any kind of superpower, I can’t hug all of Ukraine to hide it from bombs. But I can help with what I’m good at — telling real stories with my illustrations. I’ve collected personal accounts from my subscribers that have been forced to leave their homes behind. I myself had to flee seeking safety in the West of Ukraine and had been woken up by bombs in Kyiv on the first day of the war.

Inside the country, war has displaced at least 6.5 million people since Russian tanks rolled in on Feb. 24, according to the U.N. refugee agency (Editors note, this figure is now over 10 million). Each of these cases is unique. Some of us have no home left to go back to because it’s completely destroyed. Like people from Irpin, Bucha, Chernihiv, Mariupol, and many more cities that are almost completely wiped out. Some of us saw an unspeakable terror and have nightmares each night, especially because of the airstrike sirens that we hear every day. But all of us have something in common — we miss our small apartments, that we worked so hard to make our homes. We loved every part of it, every candle and cosy chairs. We loved our cities and routines. But now all of our plants are dead and there is no way to go back in a foreseeable future.

‘Transportation in Nature’

I wanted to not only collect those unique and personal stories but also to have therapeutic illustrations for victims of war. I’m drawing their homes in details that they loved. It’s not imaginary, it’s quite real. In my way, I want to have our memories preserved in that peaceful state by means of illustration. Just so that feeling of safety that our homes gave us is not forgotten even if they are destroyed. All of this is a reason for my new project “Where we met the war”. Two of the first illustrations and stories are already published: here and here.

How can those outside Ukraine help and support your country and illustrators like you?
We’re really grateful 
to all people that help us in this time of need. Especially those kind souls that welcome Ukrainian refugees at their homes. But there are a lot of ways to help. Please, pressure your government to provide Ukraine with more military aid and impose more sanctions on Russia. We’ll be able to fight back a lot more and peace will be reached with far fewer victims. If you want to donate, please focus on Ukrainian organisations.  Also, there is a comprehensive list of ways to help on the page of the Ukrainian Institue in London. You can also support Ukrainian illustrators directly by buying our digital products, for example, printable posters. Most of my colleagues have those for sale right now and donate a lot of profits to small volunteer groups. 

Follow Lesia or visit her website for more details.
Behance
Instagram


Tania Yakunova

An AOI and WIA regular, Tania is an award-winning illustrator from Kyiv, Ukraine, who initially caught our attention with her entry to the 2020 World Illustration Awards, where she was shortlisted in the Design Product & Packaging category. Tania then went on to create a new set of branding illustrations for The AOI which can be viewed on our website.

Finding inspiration in avant-garde art and design of the 20 century, her work spans commercial illustration, book illustration, editorial illustration, poster design, packaging for clients all around the world to internationally exhibit personal works. Tania is an active member of the local artist community where she regularly gives lectures and workshops about illustration.

‘Parasites’

Tania, can you tell us a bit about your working style?

I find a lot of inspiration in the avant-garde art and design of the early 20 century. I like to explore ordinary objects, forms, and stories. I think of my work as a deconstruction of reality into simple forms and ideas for the experience of child-like excitement of colours, lines, and shapes of everyday life. I love the rhythm in visual art and I like to use it as guidance when drawing. Also, I added ceramic sculpture to my art practice as new media lately. 

Since the beginning of the war, things have changed, though. I draw much less and mostly work on non-commercial projects or editorials about Ukraine and our fight, it’s hard to think about anything else for now.

We’re delighted to share your AOI branding illustrations, could you tell us a little about the theme behind them?

This is one of my favourite projects, I feel personally related to it. The AOI asked to create a series about issues that affect illustrators on a day-to-day basis – self-promotion, management, contracts, etc. The profession of illustrator has a lot of non-creative tasks and I know many artists struggle with this part. We wanted illustrations to be empowering and fun, I’m glad these images are living their lives being reused in many ways.

Tania’s AOI Branding

What are your hopes for the future?

Before the Russian attack I had so many plans and dreams, almost all of them are not relevant anymore. I’m mostly hoping for all my loved ones to be safe and for this nightmare to end soon. Like all Ukrainians, I want my old peaceful life back, unfortunately, it’s not possible, our lives will never be the same. As hard as it can be, winning the war is only the start, Ukraine will have to overcome the consequences of the war, all this sorrow, and the destruction of our homeland.

These days I’m feeling the power of art like never before in my life

Despite all this, I’m trying to not lose myself, and proceed with work. I’m now trying to use my artworks to spread truthful information and to raise money for various Ukrainian foundations that are helping people to stay strong. I’m taking part in several exhibitions in different counties to raise awareness about the war and I am even about to do my first ever NFT project for the Museum Of War in collaboration with the Ukrainian government. I’m also working on restoring my print shop, hopefully, it will start working soon. All money from sales will be donated to help Ukraine.

‘War’

How is your illustration work helping you to communicate what you wish to say?

These days I’m feeling the power of art like never before in my life. I feel that I have the ability and powerful tools to tell the world the truth, to show what we are going through, and show the heroism of Ukrainians. I can communicate my perspective on what’s going on in my country and I can see that people are listening and reacting. It’s precious. I also notice that for many people it’s easier to understand emotions through the art, it feels more close and familiar than some facts in the news.

Is there a way that those outside of Ukraine can help and support your country and fellow illustrators/creatives?

First of all, I urge everyone from democratic countries to push their governments to help Ukraine more – provide more powerful sanctions, aid, weapons. Go to meetings, write letters – anything you can do. Russia is many, many times bigger than Ukraine, we are fighting with all our courage, but we can’t defeat the Russian war machine alone. 

Also, you can donate directly to support Ukrainian people who are suffering from war and to the Ukrainian Army. 

If you have spare space, you can help to host Ukrainians who were forced to flee their homes. A good thing to do is to buy artworks from Ukrainian artists, many of us are making sales now, and some donate collected money to help those who are in a worse position. Also just inviting Ukrainian creatives to your project, organizing exhibitions, sharing Ukrainian artists’ work, and giving Ukrainian artists a voice – all these are a big support. 

Follow Tania or visit her website for more details.

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The AOI would like to thank Tania and Lesia for taking the time to speak to us about their experiences of the 2022 invasion of Ukraine and how we can help support those affected.

If you are an illustrator who is living in or displaced from Ukraine then The AOI would like to offer a free copy of our AOI Directories to you, illustrator who is living in or displaced from Ukraines a token of our support. Email us at [email protected] for more details.


13th May 2022
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