Posted by Nadya on Jul 4, 2011
When I was little, I dreamed of being a biologist – just like my mother.
I was always good at science, then as my family and friends saw and encouraged my creative side, I decided to focus on art instead, and I’ve never looked back. Eventually, after settling on the path of illustration during my studies at NSCAD University, I combined my original passion – animals – with art. Just like my mother rescued all kinds of animals in trouble, I want my paintings to help animals – through donations made from the sales of artwork, or hopefully just by inspiring someone to care about Nature.
That said, I’d like to talk about those whose work has inspired me along the art journey:
My mother, of course, is my first and foremost inspiration!
I always loved seeing her sketches and paintings – from her expeditions, and from life in general. The above painting hangs in my parents’ home, part of a series of botanical art that she did when we first moved to Canada – on our nature walks, she photographed living plants and picked up any broken ones, to take home and paint before they wilted. I remember watching her paint this series, and we learned about the flora and fauna of Nova Scotia together. (And I learned about ink and watercolour painting.)
Among my mother’s collection of wonderful books about animals, was one of my favourites – “Life Before Man”, illustrated by Czech artist Zdenek Burian. For some reason Mom’s copy was in Spanish (maybe it was a gift from someone) so I wasn’t able to read the text until I found my own copy in English last year! There is only a short amount of text, anyway – the whole book is filled with amazing illustrations. The names of the prehistoric animals were in Latin in the Spanish copy from my childhood, so I knew the scientific names of dinosaurs before the Russian/English ones. I could spend literally hours flipping through this book and imagining the prehistoric world.
His art brought the prehistoric world to life, for me. Of course there are other prehistoric reconstruction artists (and science has revised the appearance of some of the animals since his paintings were made) but his work is the most life-like. Someone on Flickr has taken the trouble of scanning most of the books, so you can see more of Burian’s work without having to hunt through a lot of vintage bookstores to find the out-of-print volumes like I did!
My childhood in Russia was full of many beautiful books – some of my favourites were classic poems and folk-tales illustrated by Ivan Bilibin, Russian illustrator and graphic artist. His style is simple (a lot of flat colour areas) and yet ornate with accurate detail of Russian nature and culture – for example, little forest surprises like flowers and ferns bringing a scene to life, perfectly observed tree branches, not to mention the gorgeous traditional design elements in the borders around his pictures. It’s realistic and perfectly proportioned, and yet so dream-like at the same time. Every illustrated page is a world of its own.
This website, Textualities, has a bit more of an analysis of Bilibin’s paintings.
And the last is not the work of a particular artist, but actually an author – Vitalii Bianki. My Grandfather read his books to me when I was a child – all stories about animals and the natural world. Bianki was a popular children’s writer in Russia, and his stories encouraged children to learn about and cherish Nature. Bianki was an avid traveler and keen observer of Nature, and wrote stories for children from a very young age to older school-age – so I literally grew up with Bianki’s books. I imagine my Mom did, as well.
“Bianki wrote that animals and plants experience just as many events in their lives as people. Every day and every minute the animal population of forest are building their homes, making families and raising their babies, just like people do. How do we learn about this? How can we understand various voices of birds and animals? How can we read their footprints? What does the fish do in the wintertime? How does the chicken breathe in the egg?”
I still have tape recordings of my Grandfather narrating the stories to me on his ancient, huge tape recorder (with two separate round rolls of tapes, each the size of your head!) I literally could not get enough of nature stories, so Grandpa and I recorded them together – so I could hang out with him in his study listening to the stories, and he could get back to doing something productive!
I had every single one of his books in Russian, and over the years I’ve managed to collect a few of his books translated to English (now out-of-print and rare), so I could share them.