Da krigen brøt ut i Ukraina kom illustratør og tidligere animatør Alyona Potyomkina til Norge. Nå jobber hun med flere prosjekter for norske forlag.
– Please tell us about your coming to Norway as an illustrator.
– I was born and raised in Kyiv, Ukraine. There I got a masters degree in animation filmmaking, have worked on commercial animation projects, children tv-series and made several author films. For some of them I was also an art director, which involves creating animation characters and locations. About 5 years ago I got a proposition to illustrate a children’s book, The Black Sheep, for one of the Ukrainian publishing houses. Since then I completely fell in love with book illustration and started working as a full-time illustrator. In February 2022 Russia invaded Ukraine, so our friends invited us to spend some safe time here in Norway. It has now been a year, I am still here not knowing what will happen in the nearest future. And illustration kept me sane through tough times.
– Why illustration?
– I was never completely satisfied with my job in animation, because even 3-5 minutes of animated story requires many months of work – usually with the same characters and locations. Meanwhile there are new images and situations boiling in your head so you need a way to express it. For me book illustration is similar to animated film, but it requires a reader to make it complete. It is much more concentrated and open to imagination. For sure, I am proud of some of our animated works, such as commercial we made for United Nations several years ago. But true satisfaction I find in illustrating books. No rush – just the story and a blank page.
– Can you say something about what techniques you use?
– I draw digitally, on an iPad, but I rarely use object shaping or other 2d tools, mostly realistic pencils and paints, to be closer to live materials. Since I am not at home these days, I need my «working office» to be as portable as possible.
– How do you approach portraying animals?
– I believe, my specification is drawing live emotions. Flowers, landscapes and ornaments is what I also do, but mostly I prefer to combine it with funny, a bit silly, naughty and grumpy characters. Because I can’t create those bears, bunnies or goats indifferently, I know who they are, where they were born and what their light and dark sides are. Even though the reader may never find this out from the story, an illustrator should know everything about the character. Probably this is also an echo from my animation past. Overall animation experience does not help when drawing static poses, but to show characters in motion, with wide spectrum of emotions. This way it is easier to stay focused keeping high level of interest in the project from start to finished book. Also I am very much into details. In each book there is always an other, hidden storyline, an easter egg you might not even notice at first. A dramatic love story between two frogs in the corner of a page or a portrait of one of the dictators on a toilet paper in the Little Bear’s house. You never know.
– How do you view Norwegian children’s books in comparison to Ukrainian ones?
– Norwegian children’s books are like a bunch of different flavors in a dish. Spicy, salty, sweet, not too far from reality, carefully leading kids into this life with it’s happiness and griefs. They can explain a little child what cancer is, how to cope with grannies death or answer the eternal question «Mommy, where did I come from?». If there is a pink glowing unicorn in a book, it never has «pink personality», it can be angry, jealous, then happy and friendly. And it can poop! Because all unicorns do poop, and not just with butterflies. This is what I like about most Norwegian books.
– In Ukraine we approach with such sincerity, frank dialogue with a child as an equal. But there are also many sugary stories, where characters have huge pony eyes and silly smiles on their faces. I can see why that happens. In Norway children go to libraries every week and can chose what they really like. In Ukraine books are mostly presented to kids by their parents or, most likely, grandparents. What is a proper present from grannie’s point of view? Something sweet, pink and glowing. Therefore publishers must publish what sells. Publishing houses depend on customers, if they want to survive. In Norway publishers depend on state finances, which gives them much more freedom. I truly hope we shall overcome this tendency. We already do, unfortunately, for a very sad reason – the war. Many children’s books about war and refugees were published last year. I also illustrated several of them.
– Can you tell us what you are currently working on?
– A while ago one of the latest books for Vivat publishing house with my illustrations was presented in Ukraine. As an animator I also make animated booktrailers for some of the books. I just finished a comic spread for Highlights children’s magazine in the USA. I am now illustrating the fourth book for the Norwegian publisher Fortellerforlaget and createing cute illustrations for Gyldendal educational platform. My husband – he is a Ukrainian animation filmmaker – makes animated shorts for Gyldendal as well. I have in mind illustrating my own book project. The text and illustration drafts are ready, but it requires time and finances, so I am searching for the opportunity.
– Are there any picture books you especially remember from childhood?
– I had many books while being a kid, way more than toys, which I am thankful to my parents for. One of my favorites was Pinocchio, with illustrations by Libico Maraja. I also adore the whole series about gnomes and other mythological creatures by Dutch illustrator Rien Poortvliet. And now I am a big admirer of the Fox and Piglet (Reven og Grisungen, red. anm.) by Bjørn Rørvik and Per Dypvig.