People: Mykola Tolmachov – illustrator of “Kateryna”

In autumn 2018, we will publish Shevchenko’s “Kateryna”, illustrated by Mykola Tolmachov.

Mykola was born in Boyarka, and used to draw and paint from early childhood. At the age of 20, he won a grant to enter the National School of Fine Arts. His works are part of the permanent exhibit at Da-End gallery in Paris. Curently, he lives in Ukraine. Mykola paints with watercolor.

How I understood, whether to be or not to be an artist

I have been drawing since I was a small child. For me it is as natural as eating or breathing. It all started as with any child who likes to doodle in textbook margins.

At the age of ten, I was listed for art school, and there I discovered what it’s like to draw what you are told to. There, I understood that cones and cylinders are not my cup of tea. Therefore, I thought being an artist wasn’t, either. I thought I would be a historian or a playwright, and I finally went to study graphic design.

During my freshman year, I adopted quite a serious interest in art and history of art. Then I understood that my place is in art, although I didn’t have the slightest idea how to get there. Watercolor was always the easiest for me, so I decided to pick it as my primary instrument.

I learned to draw myself, and I started to search my own style. It was a difficult, but perhaps the most interesting stage of my artistic life. Back then, every piece of work was a discovery: of myself, and the possibilities of the paint. I started painting and I never knew what the result would be, eventually. Now I can easily plan everything, I understand the technicalities.

My art

I never have thoughts like: “I want to paint, let me think of something to paint.” I sit down to work, when I have a full vision. The desire to put on paper things I have in my head kind of gets grip of me. At moments like these, I feel like I have wings.

At the same time, I want to share all these images with others, so maybe that’s why I paint. It drives me a lot, like a lottery. For myself, I can scribble and doodle, when images come to my mind in the middle of the night. I think ideas should be written down, sometimes with just one word that will remind you of everything later.

The idea and the aesthetics are important for me. In times like ours, it’s quite difficult to create something entirely new. You need the detail that will make your work speak up.

On the tools I use: I paint with the colors that I feel the world with. There is no explanation more precise. My works are always mellow and pastel. Perhaps, I didn’t try enough LSD to have splashes of color. It’s a joke, of course, but it has a seed of truth in it.

During my studies, I understood that in art, everything is much simpler. You don’t have to search and create added complications. The point is you are doing something that is yours only. If there are people who take interest in that, who like that – it means you’re doing it well.

Studying in France

Fortunately, I happened to win a grant, and it became a game-changer. I won the money for residence, so I had to enter the school of my choice myself. At the award ceremony interview, I blurted that I wanted to enter L’École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts de Paris. It is the oldest and the most prestigious art educational institution in France. There was no way back. I was awfully worried, and I couldn’t imagine how everything would go, let alone the fact that I didn’t speak French when I applied for admission.

A year ago, I met a girl who was one of the members of the jury when I performed. She said: “We saw your works and understood that you don’t need the school. You already had your style. But you spoke about France with such eagerness, you wanted to stay here so much that we decided to take you.”

The key thing to know about French art colleges is that you do whatever you want there. The university resembles a micro-republic, where everything is allowed. There was no feeling of academism at all. There, everyone is interested in retaining your style, first of all. Sometimes it is inconvenient, because if you wish to study something new, you will have to do it yourself. And of course, no one would ever tell you: “You should add a flower here, and re-draw a bit there.”

It would be wonderful to take the best from our teaching system, where people want to teach you something very much, and from their system, that gives you as much freedom as possible. I believe it will happen here, when a new generation of artists gets to teach in Ukraine.

My returning to Ukraine

I came back to Ukraine not in order to pave a path for myself; I just wanted to live here. In fact, I don’t know now whether I can see myself in the Ukrainian art world. I am rediscovering it for myself. I have been living in Ukraine for a year now, but I keep sending all my pictures to my gallery in Paris. The gallery gives me a feeling of stability.

Unfortunately, unlike France, Ukraine does not have a middle class who would take interest in art and be able to afford collecting it.

On books illustrations and dreams

Illustrating books is something I wanted to do for a long time. Back at school, I started to make pictures to go with texts from the curriculum. In a word, I was very happy when Anya Kopylova offered to work together.

I have to admit, working on “Kateryna” was difficult. I looked for the necessary images for a long time. I had to do a lot of work to clear up my visual perception. I had to let go of Shevchenko’s image to let his text closer. I tried to think in a way that would spur imagery, but leave the author an abstract figure.

I would love to illustrate texts by Wilde or Baudelaire. I feel close to them. In the future, I’d like to try graphic design again, and, perhaps, art management and fashion.

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