Kristyna Baczynski (Leeds, UK) is an illustrator and creator of small-press sequential art projects; drawing, screenprinting and animating creatures, cartoons and comics. I’m lucky enough to live in the same city as her and have been able to see first-hand a lot of her crazy-talented work.
Kristyna is a firm believer in her tried-and-tested technique of listening to Chromeo and/or Kiss on headphones and taping pens to her hands in order to banish creative blocks – thank goodness, as she’s got a lot of talent to let loose from those hands!
She’s is currently exhibiting work at the group show, Over Them Hills at Common (Manchester, UK) until May 12th 2011.
Hey Kristyna, how are you? Are you currently working on anything you could tell Pikaland readers about? I get the feeling you have lots on your plate and up your sleeve at any one time?
Yes, currently working on a jumble of projects (your hunch was right). I’ve been painting the walls at Common in Manchester (UK) this week for an exhibition called Over Them Hills which runs until May 12th. It’s a really talented group of Leeds (UK) artists involved; Matt Saunders/Rabbit Portal, Fon/The Pern and Lord Whitney. I am also contributing to a few more comics collections/anthologies and will have a comic strip out globally on Free Comic Book Day – but can’t really say any more than that. I also just opened my Etsy store this month, too.
What was your favourite project that you worked on last year? (You seemed so busy, productive and prolific in 2010)
The whole year just ramped up in activity as it went on, a little art shuttle rocketing off into the unknown. So much came my way; incredible people and projects.
I’ll have to make this selection more than one, though. Indecision is a terrible affliction. My favourites would certainly be contributing to Issues 2 and 3 of Solipsistic Pop and my debut solo show From Pictures To Houses. Being asked to speak on the Self Publishing Masterclass panel at Thought Bubble was just magical, too.
What is your artistic history? How did you get started, and how long have you been creating art, embracing your creativity, and working towards developing your current style and output?
From building toys and scribbling in colouring books as a little girl, to reading comics and painting terribly as a teenager, drawing and making have always been things that I loved to do. It may have all started with the Crayola carrycase my mum got me when I was 7. But, continuing to make habitually through to adulthood means I’ve kept exploring pictures and found my own process.
I started taking illustration more seriously after I decided not to follow my original plans for a further education in BioChemistry (The UCAS form was filled, clutched awkwardly in my ink-stained, sweaty palms) and jumped ship to set sail for creative shores.
Through University I worked hard and developed my addiction to productivity, then after graduating I’ve worked harder and harder to keep improving.
Why do you create? What is it about being creative that makes it something important for you to do?
Creating is an absolute necessity. It makes me happier and more satisfied than anything else. It’s an addictive cycle of learning and achieving, criticising and improving. Being creative may well be a learning process, but you should never stop learning. There is an infinity of knowledge and information to discover about the world.
I’m often overwhelmed by how much I will never see, but by equal measure remain perpetually fascinated. Being creative can translate this wonder into something very personal and unique to you and means you can be continually engaged with the world by interpreting it into something completely new.
How easily did learning to draw well come to you? I recently read a theory that says no one is born able to draw well but that some people just pick it up quicker than others, and run with it.
I’m sure this theory is absolutely true. Most people use pens to communicate through writing every day. Drawing is an extension of that communication. A pen nib migrating to the page margins for a quick doodle – This is just the start!
A lot of people discourage themselves by being too judgmental of what they think ‘drawn well’ looks like. Just change the standards by which you measure this. You don’t have to be able to draw a photo-realistic still life to make beautiful pictures. Someone like Jeffrey Brown, who has a loose, immediate drawing style, still makes compelling images that tell funny, moving stories. His style isn’t technically challenging – simply black pen on paper – but he achieves perfectly wonderful pages of drawn comics.
Don’t be put off by expectations and keep drawing every day.
I’d like to ask about the sorts of stuff you like; what images keep you company in your studio / place(s) of work, for inspiration?
I am a book junkie and hardened collector, so my studio is bulging with visual stimuli. It is also rapidly reducing in size as the walls are continually layered with more shelves, prints, books and oddities.
Lets do a 360 swivel and pick out a selection…
So, at 12 o’clock we have: a memo board with giant Cilla Black and speech bubble uttering inspirational reminders. At 2 o’clock is a collection of Metropolis film posters and 1920’s postcards. At 3 o’clock hangs a Japanese embroidery of birds and cherry blossom, with a James Downing (COUK) illustration perched underneath. At 6 o’clock we have the Vinyl Will Kill card set and a myriad of Ukrainian wooden toys. 8 o’clock might be my favourite – comics bookshelf topped with a 1996 Charles Burns calendar found at Lambiek (mega-cool Amsterdam comics emporium). Onto 10 o’clock which is a collection of framed owl pictures, a bakelite tray and harlequin wall hanging. Back to the centre… woo, a little dizzy here.
How would you describe your artistic techniques and materials; what processes does your work go through to reach a ‘finished product‘?
What role does computer technology play in your art work?
Have you always worked in this way?
My technique is quite traditional. I start with a sketch, draw a few more until I’m happy. Then draw bigger, to an appropriate size/composition depending on where it will end up. Then I outline and ink the sketch onto paper using a home-made lightbox that gets pretty warm and cosy. Inked drawing is finished and scanned, then digitally colour it in Photoshop.
My computer is a secondary tool and comes after drawing to colour and finalise. It is essential though, as almost all of my work is sent around and compiled digitally (for papers, books and zines).
I haven’t always worked this way – I used to be very faithful to painting and drawing, using analogue ways of reproduction (photocopies, printmaking). I used to think that computer aided/generated art had an aesthetic of it’s own and feared it would influence my own drawing style. But as my body of work and confidence grew I wanted to move on and broaden my skill set, so began to venture into the digital playground. Keeping my right hand in the ink well, I dipped my toe into electronic waters.
Processes migrate and expand as you keep working – I’ve started using Illustrator and am learning After Effects, both computer based programs, but equally I want to continue learning traditional printing techniques. There is a place for both, you have to try them to see what works.
You hold a first class arts degree. Does your art education play a key role in the artworks that you create today?
How crucial do you think arts education is to creativity, and yours in particular?
My degree really set me off on my way to being an illustrator. It affords you 3 years to saturate yourself in art and learning, and I loved how much I developed during that time.
However, I have progressed more since graduating, working even harder and being more focused. I’ve built on the things I tried out at University, but my portfolio now is 95% new work.
University is a great start, but it is what happens after that is crucial. When you’re on your own, making your own decisions and being your own critic – that’s when I really blossomed. I was also very poor and sad a lot of the time, but you’ve got to work past that!
How important are narratives to your artwork? I ask this as I find that your work is very often involved in story-telling, or introducing fantastic characters.
I love stories and history, especially how this relates to characters.
In illustrations I enjoy adding detail to build the feeling and personality of a character; visual clues and hints that suggest a narrative.
This is probably why I like comics so much, as they can push the storytelling part of illustration even further. Through both these media the most important thing is that anything is possible. You can create any kind of creature, that has a history of its own and can go on to act out its illustrated fate, whatever that might be.
I first came across your art work via your small-press sequential art projects (comics and zines). Where did your skills and interest in illustration and comics come from – did you grow up enjoying comics and cartoons?
How and when did you first start making your own comics?
Cartoons were the spark, definitely. Ren & Stimpy, Penny Crayon… actually, just mix those two up and it’s pretty close! I’ve always had an affinity for animation, it is just magic. Completely created worlds and characters, gripping stories to boot. Comics are very similar; drawn stories that happen through time. I got into indie comics a little later on, when I started working in Leeds in my teens, then got hooked.
I made a few comics at University, alongside animation, but only started self-publishing once I had graduated. When you’re at University you have an outlet to show your work, other students are your arena. At first, after leaving Uni it’s just you in your bedroom, that platform disappears and you have to find a new one. I braved Thought Bubble and made some comics and zines, which confirmed it was a damn fine thing to keep doing.
Do you think comics/zines are a good way to share art, to display art, and to reach (new?) audiences or artistic communities?
Absolutely! They are small, sweet mini-books that are taken away by their audience. If you were sharing your art by hanging on walls, behind glass you immediately remove your audience, limit where and how they see your work. With zines and comics your audience gets to keep your art, spend time with it, stash it in their satchels and physically hold it.
By selling my own work as well as exhibiting and publishing I get to meet the people who want to see it and also other artists that do the same. This has been a way to meet so many amazing artists and cool comics buffs, which is more than good.
Have you employed skills learned via self-publishing/ DIY publishing (skills perhaps of networking; working independently – utilising the skills and talents you have; creating/printing things yourself, from scratch; working in a handmade way; honing your skills, interests and ways of working outside of mainstream constraints; approaching interested and interesting parties yourself; exhibiting in communal ways, on collaborative projects and exhibitions, etc) in your everyday artistic practice?
Do you find the worlds of art and DIY self-publishing intersect in such ways?
They totally feed off each other, yes. I’ve met artists through self-publishing, that I’ve then gone on to exhibit with.
By making things for yourself you learn how other practitioners work, too. When you’ve prepped and paginated your own work for a mini-comic you know what to do if you’re submitting to something bigger, like an anthology or paper.
It’s a great way to improve, because you make all the mistakes beforehand on your own stuff, then waltz out a seasoned professional!
You’re become quite a regular stall holder at Leeds (UK) comics, small press, and craft fairs, have exhibited in independent spaces within the town, and done various pieces of local design work.
Alongside your presence in Leeds, you’ve also collaborated with, and have designed for/contributed to many UK publications and events.
How important to you (both artistically, and personally) is such a local/national artistic community?
I feel incredibly fortunate to be known within Leeds and am delighted that I’ve been published nationally/internationally. It really is a snowballing effect – you reach more and more people by making more and more work. Locality can mean your street, or the people you follow on Twitter.
The artistic community is really welcoming, but is essentially a group of talented people who all sit alone in a room, making their respective pictures. It is this, mixed with the magic of the internet that makes a community possible. It is also encouraging, because if you are an illustrator or self-publisher and feel ‘unknown’ you are even closer to meeting more like-minded artists than ever before. I was pretty much unknown before Thought Bubble 2010, where I met some lovely people and scraped together my first snowball and set it rolling.
How (if at all) did an established DIY art/small-press/craft/comics/illustration community/scene in the UK help in the early days of your art making?
Did/do you feel accommodated by it?
I was intimidated at first and spent my time making work and not showcasing it. I had to have a lot of work behind me before I felt confident enough to sign up and start making friends, so very early on I was working alone.
Once I felt I had enough good work I made the intrepid journey to Thought Bubble in 2010 and set up my first stall. I still feel very much in my early days, only having attended 4 fairs to date, but it was through this event and others like it that I got encouragement and interest, and also sales and published work.
When and where did you first learn to screenprint, and how do such printing techniques enable you to independently produce and sell your work at events such as the aforementioned fairs?
I tried screenprinting at college and then again at University, but I was keen to be self-sufficient in preparation for the lone, post-grad trek and didn’t really use the facilities all that much. I’ve taken it up more seriously in the 2 years as a beautiful alternative to digital prints/posters.
Screenprinting makes a print much more unique and desirable. It has a tactile quality and I love how you can pick ‘n’ mix colour in a hands-on way. I use it in addition to digital printing, as it can be time-consuming and is much more costly, but adds a lot by being hand-made and limited edition.
I read that you’re a self-taught animator.
What forms of animation do you most regularly produce, and where did those skills come from?
Animation was a way to combine illustration and drawing with storytelling. It was something I spent time on at Uni, but since then I have animated less. I have collaborated on a music video for Being 747 with Eclectic Schlock and also won a Northern Design award for my animated short Java Jive, which allowed me to work as a freelance storyboard artist for 2 years after I graduated.
Making comics now is very similar to animation, sketching panel compositions is like framing a shot and each page is like a scene.
I’m certain it is something I’ll be returning to in the future… but there won’t be a Baczyixar Studios getting set up just yet.
Which contemporary artists and illustrators are you currently loving?
Oh boy – Lots and lots!
I’m pretty enamoured with Ray Fenwick at the moment. I love how he can straddle typography, design and illustration while dipping into comics too. Lilli Carre is super-cool, her comics are mystical and wondrous and I admire her for flexing into illustration, animation and design.
Charley Harper is not-so-contemporary, but utterly timeless – I’m just in awe of his drawing logic.
What are your top tips for others who wish to be creative but feel stuck, don’t know where to start, or feel like they aren’t ‘good enough’ to do so?
The first hurdle is your own expectations. When you’re starting to draw and make, you constantly measure yourself against other people’s work, which can be demoralising (not that this changes… I do it all the time). Focus instead on your own skills, passion and flair. Build on these and when a project doesn’t work, learn from it, improve and most importantly, keep going. Draw every day and follow your nose, it will take you down the rabbit hole!
What are your thoughts on the nature and exclusivity/inclusiveness of ‘art’ — Do you believe everyone can be creative in their own life?
I think everyone SHOULD be creative in their own life. It’s not exclusive at all; it’s a universal occupation that is gratifying and valid for everyone.
From stitching patches on your denim jacket, to knitting a tea cosy – this is creativity. If you enjoy making, keep doing it and go off on tangents. It only becomes ‘art’ when someone else decides to call it such. The essential part is the making and creating. The rest comes after.
What is your favorite part of artistic creativity? Why do you keep on going and doing what you do?
Making pictures is the most enjoyable thing I do, it is integral to my everyday life. Knowing that my pen marks and personality have crafted an image that has never been seen before is totally magical!
It is hard work; you have to be open to criticism and never rely on 8 hours sleep a night. But, ultimately it is more fulfilling and rewarding because of the challenge. What could be more wonderful than paving your own way, drawing your own footprints?