RIA Voronezh continues to tell about books related to the capital of the Black Earth Region and the people who work on their creation. This issue is dedicated to book illustrator Marina Demchenko. She was involved in the design of poetry collections, children's stories, and non-fiction books. In addition, the girl issued the map named Voronezh in the Palm of Your Hand.


- Marina, how many books have you illustrated?

‘Eight. The first book came out in 2015 - a collection of stories by Natalia Stasina Mama Baluetsya (Mom Plays the Fool). I was offered this job by publishers I know. The book is related to my homeland: the author lives in the Komi Republic. This is a collection of fairy tales and stories about childhood, about the fact that sometimes even for adults it is important to play the fool, to enjoy life. I loved this book and was happy to illustrate it. Moreover, the customers gave me freedom: I myself was responsible both for the number of illustrations and for the style. Despite the fact that the order came from friends, the work was serious and professional. This project was the most interesting because the clients trusted me.

After that, I illustrated three collections of poems by the Voronezh poetess Masha Sokolovskaya, my friend. Here is one of them - the book Dikaya Tserkov (Wild Church). It is an unusual one for a collection of poems because it has many illustrations. I combined photographs with drawings (the pictures were taken by me and Masha), chose which verse would suit the atmosphere and the color of the photo, and what images could be created.


The result was an experiment that attractive to an artist: real, drawn, and poetic realities were intertwined in the book. It was interesting to combine different techniques. On the cover, there is a girl hiding in the clouds - an image of a lyrical heroine who dreams of stars, writes poetry, and is in a constant comprehension of herself and the world. I wanted to hide her because poetry is not a poster that yells at you in a large font. This is something subtle, often cherished. Poetry works with images, metaphors, and in order to notice them, you need to be delicately sensitized to it.


The book Skazki Khozyayki Salona (Tales of a Salon Owner) with my illustrations was also published in Voronezh. It is about opening beauty salons. It was written by Lyubov Roshchupkina who runs a salon in our city.

Байки хозяйки салона.jpg

Among other things, I’ve worked with the Bang! Bang! illustration agency that has published three children's books. It turns out that I have illustrated about eight books in total.

- Eight books in five years is good.

‘Yes, but now I have a mixed attitude towards book illustration. It's not an easy process, and it almost never ends well. Actually, it can be viewed primarily as a hobby. An artist spends a lot of time and energy on the design of a book and, in my experience, making a living with it is difficult. Three years ago, I was at the Mors Book Illustration Festival in Moscow where the director of the Rosman publishing house said that the average pay for a young illustrator for a single book was 15,000 rubles. A book can contain 50 illustrations or, for example, ten, but working on it can take a month, two, five, six months. This is why book illustration is engaged mostly by those who love this particular format.’


- So you don't do book illustration anymore?

‘Yes, although I like touching my drawings printed on thick paper. There are no offers worth it in terms of payment. I became aware of the value of my work – it took me a long time. I feel like an accomplished artist, illustrator, author. I have my own vision, which I consider value. And if a client does not see this value for himself, then I do not want to work with this approach. I will agree to a project only if it interests me greatly and if my time will be adequately paid for. In addition, I do not exclude that I will carry out such a project myself - at my own expense or by finding a sponsor. Now I am interested in the format of author's books exclusively with illustrations, when the artist himself composes the story and is fully responsible for the whole process. My dream is to participate in the creation of a book about maps and cities. There are many examples on this topic. But so far I haven’t come to write to a publisher about my proposal.’


- By the way, about maps. In 2017, you developed a map named Voronezh in the Palm of Your Hand and you continue to work on similar ones. Tell us about them. 


‘Last year I had two interesting traveling projects. I drew a map for Slava Polunin's residence in France. He liked my suggestion to make a map for their space, and I got the order. I lived there for 20 days and worked on the map, it was a cool experience.

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Then I went to Bulgaria and worked on a map of a castle and the park next to it. The castle is not old, more an entertainment space. I like this format: traveling and working in interesting places.

замок в Болгарии.jpg

During the quarantine, several of my projects were postponed, but I found a marathon of Russian-speaking guides conducting online tours in their cities on Instagram. Ten of them offered to draw maps for their tours. So I made about six or seven maps for free and then began to receive small orders of this kind. For example, one of the last works is a map-game for Yaroslavl. I draw from photographs, guides send me materials and ideas. Small maps are easy to draw, although you also need to dig on the Internet: Google Street View, Google Maps. When many people are involved in the process, amazing ideas come up: game maps, car maps, quest maps.


But projects that require a lot of detail and imagination cannot be done well from photographs. Therefore, I plan to travel, find projects of interesting places and cities when an opportunity arises.’

- What else did you do during the isolation?

‘I got a job in the field of computer games in order to support myself a little during this period. There were many tasks during this time, so I didn't get bored.’

- Returning to book illustration, what attracts you more: adults or children's books?

‘Of course, I like fairy tales. But I limit myself. For example, great illustrator Anna Desnitskaya has a book Istoria Staroy Kvartiry (The History of an Old Apartment), where there are many details and images, and the texture is presented with a museum identity. The book shows the same apartment at different times and with different details, tells the story of the family that lived in it. I like projects that intertwine history and interest in the material world. So it’s safe to say that I am interested in both children's and adult books.’


- Many writers set themselves a task: not a day without a line. How does an artist work?

‘Rarely there are days when I don't feel like doing anything at all for work or for my projects. I even feel dissatisfied if I don’t work even a little. This is my way of life. I don't know if there are excesses, but now it is like this: not a day without a line.'

- What illustrators inspire you?

‘Among Russian book illustrators, I like Igor Oleinikov and Kirill Chelushkin. Among the commercial ones, I like Sergei Kurbatov. He also combines photographs with drawing, and his work, even for commercial purposes, is always poetic. People from other fields also inspire me - modern choreography and clownery.’


- Do you adhere to some rules in your work, are there any boundaries?

‘Right now I have an idea of what style I like and in what “intonations” I want to work. For example, I don’t want to do something dark, destructive. I am looking for pleasant things even in the negative aspects of reality in order to thereby increase creativeness.’

- Is art education important for becoming a book illustrator?

‘It is useful but not essential. I graduated from an art school and from the Voronezh State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering. Many artists can learn on their own, there are opportunities for it. But this is work anyway. Art education will not give you the confidence to become a good illustrator - it just helps a little.’


- How to advance as a book illustrator, where does one start?

‘Artists start with Instagram, but seeing these trends, I want to say in an old-fashion manner: everything starts with work invested in what you love. No success, even within a single picture, comes immediately. This is a long process of learning, stepping on the same old rake, improving, sweating. When you work hard, you improve your skills. Much has been written about promotion on the Internet. Having an Instagram page won’t hurt, you can start doing it while still studying. This often motivates people to give feedback. You can write to publishers, look for clients personally. Refusals will often come from all sides - you need to be prepared for this. If an illustrator sends a portfolio to 20 different people and gets one or two responses, it's already a success.’

Book illustration is not an easy path. There are illustrators in Voronezh, but most of them go into the field of computer games because it pays adequately. The ideal option for a person who is eager to go into book illustration is to be able not to think about the need to provide for him(her)self for some time - for example, for the year. Then you can achieve success, your work will be well paid.

There may be better options though. But my illustrator friends from other cities always combine drawing with other work - with magazine illustration, advertising, graphic design, teaching. These are the tendencies in Russia. One of my acquaintances, a high-level illustrator, was fired from a book publishing house during the quarantine period. It is unlikely that anything will change in the near future.'