Katya Khotuntseva - Illustrator, portraitist designer..
Interview with an artist
Katya, tell us how you started to paint.
Nothing starts at one moment. For me, painting is a long story of my whole life. All children draw, and you probably did too, but for me it’s always been some kind of a magical process. Even as a child I wanted my future profession to be related to drawing - dreaming of becoming a fashion designer. And according to the education I have, by the way, I’m a fashion designer. I always wanted to draw sketches of different outfits. And my whole life has been a road to what I have now.
As a child, I was sent to art school, and then I went to the University of Technology and Design, my specialty was «Fashion design». And there I realized what I even liked more than coming up with clothes, was to draw images of beautiful girls. And when I graduated, I just went to an art store and bought four markers, one liner, went outside, sat down and drew my first sketch. I remember that I spent my last money on these markers! I was so worried about this (laughs)! That was three years ago. And from that moment the story begins, which will be my box Doodle&Sketch Box dedicated to.
Why did you buy the markers?
We painted a lot in gouache in the university, because it is a very flexible and decorative material. Then I painted for a long time portraits in watercolors. And I got so tired. Tired of the fact that you should always prepare for the process of drawing: a table, water, clothes, palette, to open paints, then wash everything ... If you draw, you know what I mean (laughs). I wanted to go for a walk wearing white and not thinking about the fact that you sit somewhere to paint, put watercolors on your knees and get up with a stain. And the markers bought me with their simplicity and mobility. You do not need to have anything with you. Few markers and sketchbooks. Psychologically, it gives me freedom in creativity and movement. Well, of course, till the markers, I own, started to barely fit in a large container (laughs). So our box will be a great occasion for me to remember this ease and the very essence of why I once fell in love with the markers.
Why did you go to an art school and a university?
I am from a small town of Sosnovy Bor, not far from St. Petersburg, Russia. And my mother once accidentally met our teacher of Industrial Arts, and she said: «Your Katie has very good skills in drawing, you ought to send her to an art school.» At first I really did not want to go there, it seemed to me that everybody was so cool and so good at drawing - not what I did! I was 9 and quite an insecure child. If I had been then given the choice, I would not have gone there. But my mother asked me to go at least once, just to try. I agreed - and I really liked it! Now I can say that art school filled my school years with meaning, and I do not know where I would be now, if my mother had not met my teacher of Industrial Arts (laughs). In this regard, the universe always leads me in the right direction.
But, despite the fact that I’ve always loved to draw and loved to sew, when the time came to choose a university, everyone around me baffled. It was a very difficult time for me. I was told that to be a fashion designer is very difficult and not profitable. And I thought to go to graphic design. In fact, a 17-year-old child has a responsibility, if you now make a wrong decision, it can get your whole life down! How I was struggling with this issue!
And then I said, «The Universe, give me a sign, where to go: to fashion design or graphic design.» And that night I had a dream about some designer jeans (laughs). And I realized that was this sign! And I did not hesitate for a second, no more doubt! It was the beginning of the 11th grade.
Then I started to go to courses in Mukhin’s Academy (famous art academy in Russia) and prepare for admission. In Mukhin’s Academy, though, I did not get in. However, I was admitted to the University of Technology and Design. Now I, of course, believe that the time I spent at the University I wasted. Still, I wanted to draw more than designing clothes. But it happened as it did, and I’m grateful to the university for everything! At least for the fact that it helped me to realize that I wanted to draw (laughs).
What was your first sketch?
It was a girl, painted from imagination. And in that first sketch you could already see the outline of the style that I have now. That day when I came out of the art store with the new markers, I wanted to draw something that was as simple as possible for me. For 6 years at university I become a skilled hand in the images of girls and female characters, so that’s what I drew. Now I even miss a little bit the simplicity and ease in my sketches. Then I had limitations in the palette, and it disclosed creativity very well.
How do you answer the question «What do you do?»
I love to say: «I paint.» That’s all. But now in our society the specifics are accepted. So sometimes I have to say, «I’m an illustrator.» Although I do not consider myself as such. An illustrator for me is a person who illustrates stories or entire books. I also can’t call myself an artist, because all at once begin to think that I’m writing some large canvases with oil. Therefore, I like to say: «I paint.» If people need an explanation, then I start to explain that I have my own style, what sketches I draw, and so on.
Tell us about your style.
A few months before I started to paint with markers, I bought a set of ready-made cards from Hahnemuhle from watercolor paper. And all summer I painted watercolor portraits on these postcards. I was looking for pictures of alive girls on Instagram and painted. These watercolor portraits take a very long time. So when I bought the markers, joyously I painted an image of a girl in 15 minutes (laughs). What I mean is that I had no purpose to somehow stand out or come up with something new. I drew the first thing that came into my head.
Drawing - is this your job and profession?
Yes, I do orders for portraits, orders from legal entities and master classes. I never had a job. Immediately after the university I began to earn with my creativity.
What art materials do you use?
In the first set, I bought three years ago, there were Promarker markers, which I put in this box. There was a skin color, a blue, a purple, a lettuce green, two color pens and a black liner pen from Faber Castell.
To date, I do not cheat on the Promarker band, but I have also accumulated markers from companies such as ZIG Kurecolor. I do not like their look - you can’t distinguish the color of the marker from the label, but they are very durable markers, according to my feelings. Generally I’m a conservative person, and they have better tones for the skin than Promarker.
I always recommend only the basic colors, because all the other tones a person should buy him/herself. There are always colors which we like, and those who we enjoy less. Therefore, I do not advise to buy sets, some markers must remain intact.
Also in my arsenal a white pastel pencil has appeared for highlights and a white pen. A pastel pencil well shades and you can make a soft light or highlight. A white pen is used for clear and contrasting highlights.
Notebooks, in which I paint, are my signature pads. I order them myself in a printing office. I tested a bunch of different papers and in the end I chose the best for the markers, from which my notebooks are made. It is also possible to use smooth office paper, 160 grams. But the notebooks I love more, because they discipline. On paper, you paint and throw it away, and in a notebook you should try, because you want to have beautiful work (laughs) on all pages.
I had painted in Lana notebooks before, but it was terrible, because the paper absorbs the markers strongly, and the expense turns out great. I also use Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pen Liners thickness XS and F. A brush-pen by ZIG Artist Twin. It is a multifunctional tool.
How much time do you spend on one sketch?
From 20 minutes to several hours.
What inspires you to work?
I often find inspiration in Instagram, because that is where live photos of people are. They inspire me. Or it is some personal acquaintance. Occasionally I would like to draw a girl from a glossy magazine - it is somehow cheesy. I like all natural. Most often, I draw not from the head, namely by reference.
In fact, the pictures from inspiration sometimes turn out worse than when I paint just for fun, from nothing better to do. When the inspiration comes there’s a picture in my head of the desired result, it often can’t be achieved, I get very upset. And when I sit down to paint just for fun, the head is not clogged, there is a sense of ease, that liberates creativity.
Now it is very difficult to draw for myself. I have some creative block or a tipping point. As if I outgrew my present self, and need to move on, but where I have not realized yet. If I am asked to draw something specific, then I draw. But for myself - no.
How did you find the first orders?
The last six months at the university I started an Instagram and began to publish my drawings. People started to subscribe. My first order from Instagram was after I posted the photo of a personalised hoody. It was bought immediately! I was pleasantly surprised. And the last three months of the University I was doing my thesis and was painting hoodies. This was my first salary.
Then I posted photos of my dresses, which are sewn for the diploma. They were also bought. So my first customers also bought my clothes. I have never looked for my customers. Just published my works.
What do you draw on a by-order basis for legal entities?
Well, for example, I drew the cover for the Elle Girl and a cover for the Jane Bartosh’ s book “A story of one girl”. Basically, for some reason, people come to me big, as, for example, draw a book cover, or nothing. So far, the universe is giving me just such cooperations.
You often mention the universe as your assistant for life and decision-making …
Yes, it is. I do, however, I have seeked advice only three times in my life, and they were important and fateful moments. Yes, I try to listen to it, and it has never let me down. It is not some kind of voodoo. I just sincerely ask for an answer or a sign of some sort. If you believe that it works, then so be it. I believe. Of course, no need to ask for advice for nothing (smiles).
Do you have an art secret?
You know, all my creative activity for me is the story of a very lazy person. In fact, in life I have been always on the path of least resistance and do only what I do best - drawing. I do not have any secrets. I am always ready to share my experiences. I just love what I do!
How did you start to hold master classes?
I am a very responsible person, despite my seemingly free and creative way of life. It is important that everyone leaves my master-class with a ready tool for drawing and future development. Every time I’m nervous before the master-class, because it is work, not entertainment. I teach the proportions of the face and the proportions of the body - giving a base from which people can draw even more fashion-illustration, portraits, anything else.
My very first workshop was held in Moscow 2 years ago. At that time, I, like any freelancer, had no orders and, consequently, no money, and I agreed. No matter how unfashionable it is to say this today, but I agreed only because of the money. And I was very irresponsible when it came to the master-class - I had no lesson plan or preparations.
And when all gathered, I was standing in front of them and understood that I did not know what to say to them (laughs). And I just started to tell how I painted and why I did it this way and not otherwise. And the most amazing thing is that my program of master-classes almost has not changed since! I have added just one more part about portraits.
What are the pros and cons of the profession of an artist?
I am not going to invent anything here now. Plus for me is that in winter when it is dark and cold you do not need to get up early and shake in the bus or subway on your way to work (laughs).
The downside is that you are alone, you have no team and accordingly, communication on common interests. For me, my home - it’s my office. And you are becoming some kind of a recluse. And working in the office, or better in some creative studio, you can socialize, learn new things and new people. I am deprived of this right now.
On the other hand, I’m very comfortable to work at home, and depending on no one. I have no idea that I am missing something in my life. I do the 1000% what I love. Of course, I reproach myself for that I could do «more» and do just enough to be «enough.» This laziness. I can of course get up early to do more (thinking) ... No, I can not get up early (laughs)!
Now I am reading a book on psychology and psychosomatics, Liz Bourbeau «Heal Your Wounds and Find Your True Self». And the main idea in it is that you need to forgive yourself for everything and accept the way you are. And I forgave myself for being so lazy, and I have allowed myself to be so. I understand that I give very extensive answers to your specific questions, but it is all very interconnected! Sometimes I look at my customers, who at my age are already operating companies, and feel very frivolous. In fact, this is my way. I’m now right where I am. If I want to change something, I’ll do it.
Imagine that you are 60 years old. What advice would you give to your grandchildren?
I would advise to accept and forgive yourself for everything. This will allow you to be yourself. Allow yourself to not know something, not want and not know something, do not conform to someone else’s expectations. Everything else you can grasp from life experience.
What is your best rest?
This summer I had the best holiday in the world - I spent six weeks in the village, where my childhood had passed. I have not been able to afford to come there for a long time, but this year it worked out and I was happy. I realized that I needed this - to rest and recuperate. Leaving home in the morning, walking barefoot on the grass, riding a bike where I had learnt to do it. If we talk about short rest, it is to lie in my bed and read or watch a series. It is very difficult to make time for it. Also I like very much meeting my friends.
Can you give some advice to the newcomers to their creative paths?
I advise you to go to an art store and buy the materials that you love a lot. And not because you know it’s good stuff, but just because you like how it looks, or you associate it with something pleasant. Much depends on them!
At first you don’t need to tell anybody that you have started to draw. This is an unnecessary responsibility at the early stages. To remove the fear that someone might not like your picture, just do not show it to anyone until you deem it necessary. Draw for yourself.
After all this, find an artist that you really like and copy his/her work. Look for his/her webinars or video lessons and paint from them. It works just incredible! For me personally, video tutorials provide even better effect than live workshops. You should go to master classes, if you need a personal connection with an artist, and that he/she makes corrections him/herself on your work. If you do not need this, the video lessons are more than enough.
If you are still at school, and do not want to have regrets of missing something, I advise you to go to an art school. At least try.
If you are already an adult, I advise you not to go to an art studio, it seems to me, they do not give in-depth knowledge - all «on top». I am convinced that it is necessary either to study seriously, or to have to rely on your intuition and self-education. In this regard, I exagerate - everything or nothing. I emphasize that this is only my experience, you have to choose your career yourself.
Are there any more styles you have worked in?
Sometimes I paint interiors. But in general nothing excites me more than drawing portraits. And I can’t and do not want to paint nature and animals.
Are there any characteristics required for an artist?
No, I think, there are not. The most interesting artists - those who are like nobody else.
Do you do sports?
As I have already said, that earlier I was a very insecure person, constantly trying to lose weight and make myself better than I was. At the university I worked out every day in the gym.
Now I twice a year go through a three-month sport program at «Sekta», a school of perfect body. It helps me to keep myself in good shape. Of course, if I did not have problems with my body, I would not do sports. Sport is just a necessity!
What kind of movies do you like to watch, and what books to read?
I love books on practical psychology, about how to understand yourself, to find the positive in everything and be happy. There are also visual books that I like flipping and be inspired, for example, books about fashion, about the human anatomy, style. I love classical fiction.
In movies, I like romantic comedies, a comedy or movies with a beautiful visual image. As the film «Melancholia» by Lars Von Trier.
In the story something absolutely strange is happening on the screen, but the visuals are stunning. Also I love a good detective. I am delighted by the films about. They often go to my background while I am working. I love the aesthetics and intrigue.
What are the three wishes you would make to a goldfish?
World peace! Well, if I were to make a wish for myself, I would like to be known throughout the world for my work as an illustrator. Second - I would like to be perfectly beautiful. And the third - I want a happy family. Such are the girlish dreams (laughs).
Imagine that your friend, also a creative person, has a creative crisis. What do you advise him/her?
I would advise him/her to take his/her condition, allow him/herself to be in it and not blame him/herself in any case. A couple of months ago, I myself was in a similar frame of mind, when you do not want anything. This will pass and everything will change.
My friend should let him/herself grieve, if they want. This will help a lot better than being upset, worried and frantically search for him/herself and his/her place in life. He/she should give yourself time. We are not robots, but people. And we have periods of recession and recovery periods. This is normal.
Have you ever spoilt your work? What do you do with them?
Yes, I have. I hate drawings that do not work out. I rip them immediately. Although, again, I understand that you need to forgive yourself for it. Well, it has not turned out okay. I’m working on it (laughs).
What does your family, friends, significant other think of your profession?
My mom always asks when I will find a job (laughs)! I have very supportive friends. For creative friends, I am an example of how to live and to do their favorite thing. Now I’m not in a relationship, but I can say that I just can’t be with someone who does not approve of, and does not share my creativity. It is important that people close to you support you.
Does the artist’s popularity in his real success match the Instagram one?
I think, no. Instagram - it’s like «pop.» There are no great art lovers there. This network shows if it is easy and pleasant to look at your account or not. It happens that I go to someone’s and do not understand why this man has three thousand subscribers - he paints as I will never draw in my life! And I have fifty thousand subscribers, and at the same time I think that my level of drawing is below average.
There are artists who create illustrations for Vogue magazine and have a total of five thousand subscribers in Instagram. On the other hand, once Instagram was a great help to me, and now it is still the main platform, where customers come from.
The number of subscribers is not an indicator of high artistic level, it is simply a measure of how well you understand and lead your own social network. However, the rules of the modern world are such that if you want to talk about your work with the whole world, then you need to have an account in Instagram.
How would you spend 3 million rubles?
I will buy myself an apartment. I am now in very short supply of stability. If you have your own house, it gives you peace of mind.
What superpowers would you like to have?
I would like to learn to teleport and be able to move in space. I also want to become invisible. And I would like to have the ability to learn quickly.
If someone decided to write a book about you and your work, how would it be called?
It would be called «The History of the big laziness!» This is the first thing that came into my head (laughs). Because, as I said, my creative path - a path of least resistance for me!
Imagine that in the next life you will be reborn into a picture. What picture would you like to be?
I would be an impressionist painting, which depicts a garden and a small bridge - Monet «Japanese Bridge». Surprisingly, I do not want to be a portrait, which I like so much to draw! I would like to be a picture symbolizing a certain emotional state. Plus, I love Impressionism, because it is diff erent for everybody, and each will see something close to him/herself.
What is your favorite place in St. Petersburg?
My home. This is my most favorite and comfortable place. Home is the most important thing.