By: Stocksy

Illuminating characters and concepts with illustrator Lada Chizhova

We spoke with Lada Chizhova about what comes first — the character or the concept — and about promoting yourself as an artist and building a network of clients.

Read on to learn more about the artist behind the often relatable and always inspiring illustrations.

Your work is filled with wonderful characters in all kinds of different situations. When you create a series, does the concept inspire the character and their actions, or does the character inspire the concept and their actions?

Of course, it could happens both ways! Or to be really honest I could say that usually the process is very complex. One day I think: I want to make a series about adults who acts like kids in children-adults relationships. What characters could I draw? And maybe I can also convey an autumn mood to add more drama to my storytelling? Another day I think: I just want to draw the summer evening mood, what could appear on my illustration?

We love getting lost in our imagination and wonder if your characters all live in one big wonderful world or if they are all separate worlds?

I think they live in many separate worlds in my head.

A girl in a scarf and a hat holds a cup of hot Christmas clay wine. Snow falls.
Lada Chizhova

On your website, you mention that you work both digitally and analog; what informs your decision to pick either digital or analog mediums?

I think I choose different mediums in different situations. Some projects needs to be more “graphic”, some of them – more “free and artistic”. And another important thing is the deadline. Of course, when I have not so much time I choose to make digital illustrations. And I can mix two approaches. For example, use analog textures in digital illustrations, or add some digital details to analog drawings.

Another mention that piqued our interest on your website is that you also write poems. Do your poems and your own illustration work stem from a similar inspiration source or are they different creative outlets? And are there any similarities when working on finalishing a poem or telling a story in your work?

I thought a lot about that. And I think that there are some similar things in poems and illustrations. In my poems I talk a lot about the refraction of the forms of the external world and I think a lot about color. I perceive the world as visually as possible. And working with language seems to allow me to look beyond the outer edge of reality. I would put it this way: poetry is when you compress reality to its meaning and live this meaning artistically, passing it through your artist self.

The same thing happens in illustration, but only in part. Only in the transmission of form. But illustration is an applied art. Illustration always visualizes a specific narrative that must be understood by the viewer even without accompanying text. Sometimes there are free and maximally “creative” projects, but this is more about some book or personal projects. Also, of course, I don’t write poetry on commission, clients don’t send me riffs on writing poetry, so it’s about total freedom and my very personal perception of the world. It’s different with illustration. Very often I have a brief on which I “assemble” a visual image for a client.

A woman in a green jacket with blue stripes, flies are flying around her head, blue background, romantic mood.
Lada Chizhova

You mentioned that you recently visited the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and that your visit was filled with meetings. How was the fair, and do you have any tips and suggestions for other artists who are looking to expand their client network?

This year I was at the Bologna Book Fair for the first time. I was terribly lucky as I was there with the agency that represented my work. My agency made sure to schedule a lot of appointments in advance with a wide variety of publishers. And I didn’t have to stand in huge lines of illustrators waiting for portfolio reviews. It was a very valuable experience for me.

First, I saw many incredibly beautiful books that I had not seen before. Secondly, I had the opportunity to pitch my personal book project to different publishers. And I realized what and where I needed to improve in the project and in the pitching. Thirdly, I understood that different countries have very special traditions of book publishing. Fourth, I made contacts and received valuable feedback.

However, the most important thing I learned (and this will be my advice) is that I should do what makes my eyes burn and draw the way I like to draw. And in no way, not to remake myself for a particular market or style. Because only what you yourself believe in sounds genuine.

Do you have any goals or plans that you are excited about?

I still feel like a new illustrator on the international market and my biggest goal right now is to build my work to get a less stable number of commissions that would allow me to work on personal more experimental illustrator projects. And of course, I want to publish my children’s book.

What is your motivation/driving force to create your work?

I think my biggest motivation is my interest in the world around me. When it’s just really interesting to live. When in every place, person, detail you can find something that surprises you. That’s what motivates me the most. Because illustration is mostly about “looking” and very little about “drawing”. When you see something that makes your heart tingle, it makes your hands tingle. And the better they draw, the more attentive your eyes have been.

If you could execute any idea — with no budget restraints or logistical limits — what would it be?

It’s a very difficult question. I would definitely like to do something that makes a difference in the world. For example, my biggest dream is to work with the UN. And it’s about the mission. Characters who would stand up for diversity, inclusion, community, cooperation and world peace.

Do you have any hidden talents besides creating your wonderful work?

I’ve done a lot of things in my life, honestly! For example, my husband and I had two hostels that we made with our own hands. And I just loved cleaning the stucco of the 19th century from the whitewash, inventing the interior, and most importantly, receiving guests from all over the world. I love working with people as much as I love sitting at home and painting in solitude. I’m sure I know how to inspire people, as funny as that sounds. I guess I just have a lot of energy and I’m always ready to give it to others. I’m a good organizer and have several big city festivals under my belt. I also love to promote projects and marketing interests me a lot too, which has always helped me.

How do you make sure that your work still stays enjoyable and that you don’t burn out on creating new content?

I have burnouts, like all other illustrators. There is only one option – rest, search for new inspiration. And there are only two ways to use this option – before burnout or during. Of course, it is better to do this before burnout. But we all understand that not everyone can stop on time. I can’t do this at all!

What is the one bit of advice you wish you had known from the start?

The most important advice would be this: look as carefully as possible and be yourself, because you yourself are the whole world, which is valuable in itself.

Creative blocks can happen to everybody; what works for you to get out of them?

I don’t draw! Just don’t draw. I do anything else. Because when I have a block, I won’t draw anything good. And even if I draw something good, I won’t like it at that moment. From this, frustration will increase even more. So I just go and walk, read, chat.

Is there something that you can not go without while creating new work? And why is this so important?

Research. It’s the most important. Before each project, I need to find references and create a moodboard. You can avoid this process. But now I know that then the illustration will turn out worse.

Do you have any advice for contributors just starting out at Stocksy?

Read the briefs that Stocksy publishes. You can find a lot of ideas and inspiration in them, which will help you adjust your work.

Discover more of Lada Chizhova's work