Interview: Irina Troitskaya

We have a special guest today, the lovely Irina Troitskaya who I am absolutely a big fan of. As in CRAZY big fan. Her personal projects have always been a favourite of mine — from her birdie and bear face masks to her painted matryoshkas. I’ve always been a little curious about Russia too, and it’s part of the things that Irina talks about in this round of our artists’ interview.

I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as I did!

Name: Irina Troitskaya
Location: Moscow, Russia
Illustration media: Pencil, ink, gouache, digital

Tell us a little more about yourself!
I was born in Izhevsk, industrial city deep into Russia, full of dead ends, sad electronic music and Finno-Ugric cultural roots. I spent my childhood on our dacha with my grandmother. Last year I went there for vacation and re-discovered it for myself. I finally understood where I saw all those patterns and colors I use now in my pictures. Old houses were covered with wooden carvings, door and window frames, dried up wood and faded colors. Endless source of inspiration!

My great grandfather was a carpenter and helped to build and decorate some of them. There are no illustrators in my family except me. My grandmother was a teacher of Russian language and literature, grandfather once made copies of famous paintings of that time, but never became an artist himself, my aunt is very talented in crafts and embroidery, but works in a personnel office and my mother is, probably, the closest to design in our family, she’s a dressmaker. Once she told me: “You can be whatever you want to, except an engineer. I beg you!” Well, what can I say – I did as she told me.

What stands out about living in Russia, and what is your daily schedule like?
Well, Russia is wild and unexpected. No rules, no laws, no safety guaranteed. It’s in the middle between Western and Eastern cultures and I like its Eastern part more and more with the lapse of time. It’s beautiful in its width and a little bit scary for the same reason. You need a week to cross it by train by the way. Needless to say if you’re going to do that, you’ll have to deal with people a lot and in seven days all the passengers at your compartment become your new relatives. I tend not to love Russia some years ago, but do you remember that “Love it or leave it” thing? I chose love. I also in love with all that national stuff like balalaika, valenki and matryoshka“. And yes, we have wild bears in the streets!

What about my daily routine, I try to wake up early – the day is longer then and you can catch some sun light in the morning. In winter it’s very important, coz we don’t have much sunny days: at 8 a.m. it’s still dark and at 4 p.m. it’s already twilight. There’re two ways to spend my black-letter days – to stay at home and work as a freelancer or to go to the uni and be a tutor for two dozens of students, studying Visual Communications course. I like to do both. If I’m at home – I work on my editorial pieces and play with my sketchbooks. If I’m in uni – I try to encourage my students to do something new and exiting they’ve never tried before. This term we have a lot of workshops on linocut, monoprints, embossing and collage let alone drawing and painting. In the evening I usually do my yoga classes, meet friends and like to drink a lot of tea with ginger right after it.

How did you get your start in illustration?
It was a long way. Can’t say exactly when did I start to draw. Seems I can do it since I remember myself. My love of drawing led me to a university, where I studied arts about five years. However it gave me nothing but weariness. For the first time in my life drawing became my abhorrence. Drawing and painting were regarded as quaint relics from the past. I felt disappointed about all that stuff and surely didn’t want to join endless row of realistic fine artist drawing still-lifes and landscapes. On the other hand I had no idea what to do next. On graduating from uni I quit drawing and worked as a TV journalist for a couple of years. But I always preferred pictures to words and went to Moscow to find a job, which was more appropriate to me. I began to revive my drawing skills (if you don’t do it every day, hands tend to forget) and filled out sketchbooks with awful drawings (I mean it!). I was going to work as an assistant designer, but suddenly my friends asked me to draw some pictures for their client. I fulfilled their request and unwittingly became an illustrator.

Could you tell us more about your thought process when you start a piece?
If it’s editorial, I begin by reading a brief, then reply with “yes, I can take this job” letter if I’m interested and go to sleep/for a walk/have a cup of coffee with a friend right after. I rarely start to work immediately if there’s no urgency needed. I like to live with this task for a while to think about it, to find something personal in it, to make it part of my life. Of course I read and look at whatever materials I can find if the theme of the brief isn’t familiar to me. Anyway it’s always good to make a research. Somewhere along the way an idea for the illustration pops into my head from out of the blue. It doesn’t let me go further until I put it onto paper. With personal pieces it’s all the same except the fact of getting a brief. I can’t really explain that part, it’s always different. In fact I don’t believe there’s an accurate way to describe this process.

Do you keep a journal/sketchbook, and would you mind if we had a sneak peek?
Of course I keep it! Moreover it’s the most important and exiting part of my work.

I can’t go anywhere unless I have my sketchbook in my bag, even if I never open it. My checklist before I go out looks like “keys, money, sketchbook, pencil”. Because I carry one everywhere, I tend to misplace them sometimes. One of the most terrible fears for me is to loose my current sketchbook. Luckily I never lost any. But I guess it’s only because I always do some kind of sketchbook monitoring.

What or who inspires you?
It could be anything! Really! National costumes, old Soviet posters, handmade toys, Eastern patterns, music, nature (chestnuts, acorns and maple seeds), children’s drawings, tiny found objects (especially if I can’t identify them), animals, books, vintage dresses, Russian animation, other artists’ works, abandoned buildings, old photographs. But most of all people. The way a girl smoothes her fringe, an old lonely lady holds her mongrel, the way a boy tries to speak his phone in subway pulling his coat on his head for better hearing. I can watch them endlessly. And secretly draw everything I see.

What keeps you motivated?
My friends and the man I love.

What’s your favourite tool?
A pencil. It’s true! There’s no other so simple yet so versatile medium. It needs you to be fearless and sensitive at the same time.

Are you a full-time artist?
Yes and no. Yes, because it’s some kind of philosophy. You can dye a scarf, cook a pie, make a bag or knit a pair of socks and be an artist in it. Even when I cook I need my borsch (a soup traditionally made with beetroot as a main ingredient) to be that beautiful red color otherwise I feel frustrated. Can you imagine how good red borsch is with white sour cream and green parsley? And it’s tasty! So yes, I’m a full time artist.

To be a little bit more serious, no, I’m not. It’s nearly impossible to be a full time artist in Russia. I can’t live on that money I get for my works. It’s more like my hobby than my profession from this point of view. All the artists I know run their design studios, teach or work full time jobs in design agencies.

What advice would you like to give people who are interested in being an artist full-time?
Be patient and carry on. This is one of the most exiting pastimes and you can do it all the time while others have to do their job.

Where do you see yourself within the next few years?
I’d like to make a couple of illustrated books for children. I also have some other plans, but don’t like to speak about them, until they’re done.

What message do you want to send out to people about your work?
If the work is good, people will understand all I was going to say and may be a little bit more. If it’s bad, there’s no need to mention about it.

Tell us something random about yourself!
I have Kalinka ringtone on my phone. We went to Syria last year and discovered nobody uses standard ringtones there (those you usually get together with your phone by default). Each and every person we met had something very national. If you’ve ever heard their music, you’ll get what I’m talking about. I found it exciting, came back home and now my phone rings absolutely Russian and I like it.


{Thank you so much Irina!}

++ To read other artists’ interviews, see here!

14 Replies to “Interview: Irina Troitskaya”

  1. Jen says:

    this was a fascinating interview, i loved it. irina has a beautiful style, quite inspiring.

  2. Melanie says:

    I’m so glad you did this interview! I love Irina’s work.

  3. francie says:

    i love her work. year before last i printed and assembled her masks pdfs (bear and bird). i wrapped my 2 kids’ xmas eve pajamas in simple paper and attached a mask and corresponding tag to each one. they absolutely loved them! they were 11 and 15 at the time. their father was jealous that i didn’t make him one. 🙂

  4. MIthi says:

    Yay thank you so much for that Amy! And Irina – I’m a huge fan of hers and it was a pleasure to follow this interview!

  5. Lupe says:

    Great interview! I love Irina’s work, it’s so cool and unique! 🙂

  6. Kate says:

    Yey! Oh Irina is so completely amazing!

    Ok… now I need to calm down and read her interview! 😛

  7. wow! What an absolutely stunning interview! Thank you so much you two! Wonderful and I do love Irina’s work so much…..sigh

  8. Norma Conway says:

    Reading the interview Irina, leads me to believe that you can write as well as draw! As your observation skills and sensitivity to life are honed, I’d say write…write…write! And illustrate your own writing. Publish! Share your unique and interesting view of the world and fantasy. You are one of a kind.

  9. esti says:

    I’ve loved this insight into Irina’s mind. It’s great to get to know her a little better beyond her fantastic art.

  10. Vita says:

    Love Irina’s work! have favourited her on flick a long time ago. she was one of the first one’s I discovered there.
    was a bit surprised however to hear of the bears on the streets…in Moscow?LOL

  11. Heidi says:

    LOVE Irina’s work, so great to hear how she goes about it, and her cultural roots that influence her work. I’ve noticed tea drinking seems to be a common pastime of artists 😉

  12. Wow, had to come back here to tell you thanks for this interview. Wonderful artist, interesting person 🙂

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