A winter with illustrator Nastia Sleptsova (Part 1)

This winter, we had the great chance to work with the illustrator Nastia Slepstova who imagined in her soft and sensitive palette and her poetic and comforting universe the pretty card which accompanies your packages.

Nastia has generously accepted to share with us her journey, her daily life as an artist and her special connection to winter and it is with great pleasure that I invite you to discover this interview.

Hi Nastia, could you tell us a bit about yourself?

– Hi! My name is Nastia Sleptsova. I live in Ukraine, make illustrations, and run my Etsy shop where I sell my illustrated products. I love the sea and I love traveling. I love being at home and I love long walks. I love the feeling of stillness without a rush and I love the feeling of early wake-ups before going to the airport. I have a little tradition to spend my birthday at the sea, even though it’s in January, I decided to try to spend it on different seas every year! I love to notice things around me and I like to share these observations, either talking with a friend or through my work. 

How did you get to do what you do today?

– I was born in Crimea, Simferopol. I spent all my young years there studying at the school of arts and then in the University getting a design/art (there was no specific illustration course) education. It was a small city with small opportunities. And I think since when I was a student, I already knew that it would be hard for me to find a local job fitting my interest. I even didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do, it was just a feeling that I wanted to do it my way.

Lack of perspectives combined with that student energy made me start a small ‘’business’’ online – I started to print and sell postcards with my early drawings and made weird illustrations on t-shirts. Everything was really small and local, and it was more like a hobby, something to bring my artistic energy out. It was the time of the first issues of Kinfolk and the time when I first discovered the Instagram accounts of independent makers and creators from all over the world. Contemplating their creative life, looking at their studios and their art products, I was very inspired. I decided that this kind of scenario is something that I wanted to achieve one day. And I just started to draw more and more, trying to find my illustration style and looking for my first clients and collaborations. And my efforts were rewarded. I got my very first commissions from lovely independent magazines and brands. I made my first book projects and I started to participate in Ukrainian markets and festivals to sell my design products. 

Then my boyfriend and I decided to move, and now we live in Lviv (it’s a western part of Ukraine) and finally here I started my Etsy which is now a 6 years old shop. Now I have my own studio, and I am happy that everything that happened brought my products worldwide, and I’ve found so many thankful customers and close-minded people from all over the world. 

Since when do you draw? Have you always thought of yourself as a creative person?

It may sound very typical, but I have been drawing since my early years. From all the talents like singing, dancing, or acting, I was more into drawing because I was more of an introverted kid. I remember when I was a child, it was a comfortable time for me, and I was never bored drawing or playing just by myself.

Also, I often remember my student years and I think it was a very important time in terms of self-discovering and understanding my personal way. It was from 2005 to 2011, and I am glad that for me, it was the time with a little social media engagement, and we all were spending pretty analog time. The ‘’influence’’ for me and my friends back then was old movies and art exhibitions. It was our thing just to take an analog camera and go outside the city at the weekend, and of course to exchange CDs or DVDs with underground music and niche movies. I think then we all considered ourselves as ‘’artists’’ in the broad, social sense of the word. And I think, it was in those years when I already knew for sure that I wanted to connect my life with creativity. It was just a matter of time to find my own niche, my own path.

Do you have a defined creation process? Do you use the same method if your project is personal or if it is an order for example?

– Everything starts with a simple pencil sketch in the notebook. Then, if it’s personal work, I start combining colors on my computer and go to more and more detailed work. Sometimes I feel unsure about the color scheme, then I do some ‘’mood research’’, usually just going through random photos on Pinterest, looking for something that resonates with me in that particular moment. It can be anything: a movie screenshot, some photos from the fashion magazine, an old book cover, a vintage poster, an ornament. When I catch the exact mood, I start to block the illustration by color and step by step finalize it. In case if I work for a client, as usual, I get the palette and mood wishes and preferences at the discussion stage, so I already keep in mind how it’s going to look like. The main difference between working with a client or on my personal project — is time limits. When I work for myself, I can edit the illustration as long as I feel it needs to be edited. It’s just an inner feeling ’’ok stop, it’s ready now’’ but not the deadline on your calendar. 

What a good day at work looks like for you?

– I really love when there is no rush and no big plans besides the project I am working on. Sometimes it’s just a drawing flow and it’s nice to go with that flow whenever it takes you. I don’t like to keep an eye on the clock, it disturbs me. Calm morning for myself, well-chosen clothes, a good meal, a cup of tasty coffee, and (important) clean space are always appreciated. If it’s a day of packing Etsy orders, I love to have a podcast on while working. Then I go to the post office and I can be spotted carrying a few big shopper bags full of cardboard boxes.

What does your workplace – your workshop look like?

– Around two years ago I rented a studio and I have used this space for my work since then. Here in the studio, I keep all my products and packing materials for my Etsy shop and my computer to work on. I filled this space with furniture and details that were found on our local online flea-market, mixed with my work stuff that had been kept for years at different home corners. White walls, two large windows, nothing really special, but I like it to be light and all in neutral colors. I love when my space feels like me. 

What tools do you use for your illustrations?

– For many years I’ve been working in Photoshop using the Wacom Intuos Pro tablet. Now I have the iPad-Pro and the illustration for DeRerumNatura was created on it. I still find Photoshop very comfortable for a lot of tasks and it is still my good old partner, but the iPad makes me feel not tied to one place for sure. 

What are you looking for in an illustration?

– The most important thing for me is to feel that I create something that reflects me. Me in this particular moment, in this particular period of life. 

When do you tell yourself a picture is finished?

– As I mentioned before, it comes from the inside. It’s just a little bell ring in me that tells me ‘’it’s done’’. I can be very pedantic and keep returning to some detail and change the size for 1 mm or try a different angle or slightly change the position of it, just to find the best version. No one can see the difference except me, but that’s the point: I need it to be correct for me. That’s why I like to leave the work for a while, to have a fresh eye on it. 

What do you love most about your job? What is your favourite stage of your work process?

– I think all the stages are interesting in their own way. First of all, I like to get comfortable with a cup of freshly brewed coffee in a clean space and start to collect the mood board, to sketch a motive and atmosphere that I would like to convey. Then I love this feeling when you’re in the flow of drawing. Then I love to put it away and come back on another day and this important first look after the pause and to feel that you still like what you’ve done. To feel that everything on its right place. And then I love the feeling of turning the illustration into a product and keeping it in my hands. And the main advantage for me – if I don’t feel inspired or I don’t know what to do, I always can take my time, take a day off, and not force myself to do anything. 

What is your favorite illustration so far?

– It’s not easy to decide, but let it be my old work ‘’Silver night’’. It brings me back to my early years of illustrating and my lonely working nights in my room upstairs, in our family house. I’ve spent many sleepless nights by my computer, and I was filled with dreams and thoughts about my life. 

To be continued…

(the 2nd part of this interview is here )

Credits photos and illustrations : Nastia Sleptsova

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