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Masha Gubar (AKA Limkis) is a talented digital artist from Russia. Her painterly style of vector illustrations are like poetry in visual form. Her vivid artworks are the indicators of what immense possibilities vector illustrations and programs like Adobe Illustrator are capable of.
In this interview, she sits down with me (virtually), where she goes down memory lane and recounts when she started her journey in the creative field. She shares her very first vector works, her thoughts on arts, creativity, challenges, and her road ahead!
1. Hello Masha, welcome to VECTORTUTS! Please introduce yourself, give us a brief bio, tell us where you're from, and how you got started in digital art?
Who knows Engels? I am not talking about the Marxist, but about the city in the south of Russia located by the beautiful river Volga. I grew up in Engels, went to school, and I still live there. Since I can remember, art has been an essential part of my life; when I was a little girl I already consumed loads of paper, paint and crayons for my sketches, drawings and paintings. My sister teased me telling me she might probably have to become a Greenpeace member in order to compensate a bit for all the trees that had to be chopped down because of my paper consumption.
My delight in painting has not developed by chance: my mother is a well-known Russian painter and so has supported me as good as she could. At the age of 13 I entered the Saratov Art School founded by Bogolyubov. I finished my studies after some terms abroad in Switzerland and got my diploma in Saratov.
It was also in Switzerland that I got familiar with computer graphics in 2003. From the very beginning I have only been using Illustrator, and I have never really considered working with a different program. Once I tried CorelDraw but I got so annoyed that I had to uninstall it immediately. Concerning my illustrator skills I would say I am a self-taught person because I have never done a computer course or anything like that. It was pure learning by doing. Possibly that is why my illustrations seem a little unconventional.
2. Tell us about the first vector illustration you created, was it good? How much has your creativity matured and evolved since your first time?
I still remember my first piece very well. I drew fruit and vegetables (peperoncini, peppers, bananas and so on - see images below). I guess that was already quite OK; at least I was paid many compliments. Since then I have of course developed significantly. If one drew a parallel to math as a school subject, one could say that I started with my knowledge being at primary level and I have possibly reached university now.
Masha's First Vector Illustrations
3. What is your workflow for creating a typical image, how long does it take? Do you start with sketching or do you start directly in Illustrator? What are your research resources?
Usually I start directly in Illustrator by creating a line sketch with the graphics tablet before colored stretches, gradients, shadows, light, reflexes, etc appear. Actually, I am not doing anything else than a conventional painter; only the tools I use are in electronic form. Something special about me might be that I modify my own brushes according to my needs and wishes very often.
4. You seem to have a complete control over modeling complex shapes and lines, they all flow in perfect sync and have a rhythm of there own. How did you gain the mastery over a vector program like Adobe Illustrator? Which is the one tool or technique in Illustrator that you find yourself using the most? What other software do you use?
When I started working I used the tools which seemed most familiar to me as for instance the pen-tool, the pencil-tool and the brush of course. Piece by piece I got used to fills, gradients, scaling etc.
Very often I create my own brushes, which is certainly one of the most valuable functions of Illustrator. By the way, I only work with Illustrator and do not use any other programs, not even Photoshop, which people often presume.
Virtually every day I get asked about the tools and functions I work with and about how I apply them. It seems as if people thought there was a trick to it or a button you would have to press in order to come up with something ingenious. Unfortunately, I have to disappoint all those who thought there were tricks or secrets: there is just a lot of work in every detail, and you have to be enormously patient.
First of all, you have to be aware of one fact: a computer program is capable of doing a lot, but still my starting point was a traditional graphic and art school foundation. The computer is merely a tool, which can replace neither creativity, nor fine motor skills, or color sense. Diligence and exercise make you improve and reach a lot, but everything beyond a certain level is just talent.
5. When I look at your artwork, it feels like most of them are telling a story, they're thought provoking, where do you get the ideas and inspiration for your art pieces? Do you also derive inspiration from reading or seeing something?
Yeah, where do all those ideas come from! I like reading biographies, fantasy novels, and also literature with a spiritual touch such as Carlos Castenada; I enjoy novels by Gabriel Márquez as well. But most important, I have dreams almost every night. When I wake up I make notes of what I still remember; that's how ideas for new pieces of art quite often appear.
Of course I am interested in cinema, but I prefer fantasy or cartoons to action films. And sometimes ideas come in the most unusual situations: in the country by the river Volga, at a restaurant or when travelling.
What I still have to mention is that I always listen to music while working. I feel inspired by music and it makes me forget everything around. Without good loud music it just doesn't work.
6. I am sure you might have heard it before that all your illustrations have a beautiful color palette, the colors blend in perfect harmony. They kind of mesmerize the viewer. What is the thought process involved in choosing the colors for your images? What makes you select certain colors for a particular piece?
My work is involves a sense of color harmony, which you either have or you don't. However, in the first place, a traditional graphic and art education is what is vital or at least of great value for the whole process. Of course, you can self-teach yourself a lot, but for sure, this is the harder way.
The choice of colors in Illustrator depend on the motif and the mood they are supposed to express: from the aggressive orange to the noble navy blue, and from the sweet childish pink to the customary brown. Comics for children are more colorful and are marked by sharper contrast of colors than gloomy underwater scenery.
My very personal frame of mind also plays a big role in my work. When I am in cheerful spirits everything becomes brightly colored; when something is weighing me down I come up with dull coloring.
7. Which among your artwork or projects was the most challenging one for you and why?
My greatest challenge is always the illustration I am working on at the moment. Once it is completed and over, it cannot really attract my full attention anymore. I am anxious to start something new rather than think about what is done.
At the moment, I am working on a children's book and have to make hundreds of illustrations in a very short period of time. You might get the feeling you have to work day and night. I did not only face the challenge of the big number of illustrations that had to be made, but I also wanted to make children dream when looking at my paintings. The illustrations are also intended to become a draft for a computer animated cartoon.
8. How would you describe your artistic style? Do you also explore and experiment with other different styles of vector illustrations?
I have never paid any attention to the question of style. What would one call my style? Perhaps others might think of a term for what they are creating. Concerning my work there are elements of fantasy and comics for sure, but I dislike categorizations or putting people into certain groups. That is what bookkeepers might be keen on, but not me.
Honestly, I don't care about what is going on in the vector community, either. I don't read blogs or tutorials or anything of the sort. As for me, people there talk too much about technicalities, styles and tricks; that is only about tools. It has little to do with creativity, but never mind. Everyone should do what they like most and what is fun for them!
9. What is the best piece of work you've created so far and whats about it that you like most?
That's what we've talked about in the second last question already. I want the piece that is in process at a time to be the best I have ever made. I can't imagine that I might call some past work my masterpiece. Because this would also mean that I am already past my best, and this can't be the case as I am only 22. I am sure there still is a great future ahead of me.
10. When you are not working on projects, do you still draw or paint? Or do you prefer to do something else?
Besides working on the computer, I do still paint with oil or acryl on canvas. I also like drawing with charcoal or pencil. Naturally, my life is not only about art. I like reading or going to the cinema, what I have already told you. I meet my friends and spend much of the summer by the Volga - after all I am living in one of loveliest spots in the world.
11. Thanks Masha, for the interview, it was a pleasure talking to you! Any final thoughts? What would you tell other designers and vector artists who aspire to be as good as you?
In my opinion, I am still far from my final aims. Or, if we take up the parallel to Maths again, I might say that I want to go beyond university. But I do not only want to become a university professor - I go for the Nobel Prize. I want to become the best with no false modesty. "I would like to learn real art, make positive thinking for the people and give it to others." [I would like to learn real art, make people think in a positive way and give (my knowledge, my inspiration) to others].
I can answer your final question in one word. If you want to get where I am now, I can just recommend one thing: practice.
Masha Gubar (AKA Limkis) on Web:
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