I met Ira in Chicago in 2016 at the Lokal workshop. By that time, she lived in the city for almost two years. To be honest, I still regret that I did not find her earlier in the vastness of Instagram, because a month after our acquaintance, Ira returned to Russia. At the moment, Ira lives in Moscow and works with agencies around the world. On Ira’s client list, there are names like Russian Post, Forbes Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Qatar Airlines, Soho House London, Tommy Hilfiger etc. and she continues to grow and develop! I’m sure she has a great future!
DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT YOU WANTED TO BE WHEN YOU WERE A KID? HOW DID YOU COME TO ILLUSTRATIONS? WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST STEPS IN IT?
AS FAR AS I CAN REMEMBER, I’ve always been into drawing. I graduated from an Art School in Konakovo city, Tver region. It’s my hometown. Then I graduated from Venetsianov Tver Art College. Later I graduated from the Higher School of Graphic Design in Moscow. So, I could say I’ve been studying art most of my life. At the beginning of my studies, I still did not quite understand who exactly I would become (a painter, an artist, graphic designer, interior designer or something else), but I liked the process of figuring it out very much.
In fact, I came to illustration as a profession only about 3 years ago. Before that, I worked as a graphic designer for almost 10 years. I took my first steps in illustration in Chicago. I had more free time there. I left my work in the office and started thinking about a freelance career. I always wanted to draw more and decided to try that out.
So, I gave myself the task of drawing at least one sketch a day. No excuses. I sat down and drew no matter what. Sometimes I almost forced myself to do it.
The objects were simple – food, animals, portraits of celebrities and my friends. When I liked the result, I posted it on Instagram, separate from my personal account. So, the birth of my portfolio as an illustrator began. I was experimenting with styles and materials. I was engaged in original searches. After a while, reviewing my drawings, I realized, here it is, my working style. The style which will be relevant in the art world and interesting to me.
IF I UNDERSTAND CORRECTLY, YOU HAD A KIND OF GROWTH FROM GRAPHIC DESIGNER TO AN ILLUSTRATOR, IS THAT RIGHT?
FOR ME, PROBABLY, YES. It was growth. I left the office and found myself in illustration. Now I work for myself, not depending on anyone. I still take direction for branding and design, but illustrations are encouraging and inspire me much more.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO MOVE IN THE DIRECTION OF ILLUSTRATION?
IT HAPPENED BY ITSELF, to be honest. I always drew. I liked to draw icons and small accompanying illustrations when I was working as a designer. Usually, a client gives away that kind of work to different specialists. I gladly did it by myself. It seems then I did not even realize it. I could draw, and I drew. Not all designers can draw.
SO, YOUR FIRST INDEPENDENT STEPS IN ILLUSTRATION HAPPENED IN CHICAGO. TELL ABOUT YOUR FIRST CLIENTS, HOW DID YOU FIND THEM?
THE VERY FIRST WAS Mexican restaurant/bar called Antique Taco. I saw the announcement that they needed to paint the wall and sent an email with a proposal and examples of my illustrations. And they hired me. In general, I was sending out a lot of emails, and I still do that. I understand that sometimes people may just not have enough time or opportunity to find me.
While I was painting the wall at Antique Taco (it was 3 full days), many people approached me and asked for my contact info. After the wall was completed, many people asked the owners about me. So I started to draw for 5 Rabbit Brewery thanks to Antique Taco. Also, I met the guys from LowRes Studio. They are great. I did small projects for them, and we still communicate. I like their sense of style in everything!
And, speaking of Chicago, it was there that I made my first small exhibition at Next Door. It was very cool!
I HAVE ALWAYS ADMIRED THIS WOMAN. I do not remember many details now, but I remember my emotions and impressions of her. Zaha was a very charismatic woman. She had an incredibly subtle sense of humor and energy! She talked about her projects and the process of working on them. It was incredibly interesting to hear all this from her personally. I still can’t believe I saw her.
DO YOU HAVE AN ILLUSTRATOR WHO IS A KIND OF ROLE MODEL FOR YOU?
YES, IT’S CAMILLE WALALA. I really love her patterns. She graduated in Textile Design from the University of Brighton. She is invited to various projects around the world now. Camille has worked with such large companies like Nintendo, XOYO, Koppaberg, Bompas & Parr, Darkroom, Barbican Festival and Land of King, Giorgio Armani. She works with large spaces, inscribes her art objects into interiors, and even transforms whole buildings and streets. It’s very impressive!
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DRAW MOST?
I REALLY LIKE TO DRAW PORTRAITS. Probably, if I were a photographer, I would be a portraitist. I like to watch people. I like cheekbones, an outstanding form of the eye, unusual faces, and delicate hands. I love people! Apparently, that’s why my first illustrations were portraits.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE?
I THINK IT’S MINIMALISM. I simplify all forms as much as possible. I like to use very simple forms. My illustrations are like icons but illustration. I do not use watercolor stains, shadows or gradients in my drawings. I love clean, harmonious, pure colors.
WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO CONVEY THROUGH YOUR ILLUSTRATIONS
MOST OFTEN I PAINT WHAT I SEE AROUND ME. A simple life. I like to enjoy everyday moments. Here a girl drinks coffee. Here another one, she takes pictures of something and she is wearing a hat. The third girl reads a book at home in a chair with a cup of tea. It can be hundreds of different scenarios. It’s all so simple, but it’s wonderful, in my opinion.
CHICAGO vibes 2016
A lot of people recognize themselves in my illustrations. “Oh, it’s me!” – I’ve heard that expression a lot from my acquaintances at the sight of this or that illustration.
DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVORITE PROJECT?
THE FIRST THING THAT COMES TO MIND is the order from Wired in 2016. It is one of my favorites. At that time in my portfolio was a pretty big collection of portraits, and apparently, because of that, they came to me. They asked me to draw 6 different portraits. It sounds pretty standard. Someone can say it’s just portraits, nothing special. But the main thing was in the people. The people were unique. Every person, by his or her activity, changes something in our world. I remember it was fascinating to read about everyone. For example, a woman studies love. She writes books about her research. Can you imagine? She studies LOVE! Another person makes school and education accessible to children in small, poor villages, in Asia and India. It’s so great!
I remember it was one of the most significant moments in my career. I thought, – Wow, the Wired wrote me a letter, that’s so cool!
TELL US ABOUT YOUR WORK DAY, WHERE DOES IT BEGIN AND HOW IS IT PLANNED? WHERE IS IT MOST CONVENIENT FOR YOU TO WORK?
THIS IS MY FAVORITE SUBJECT, to be honest. After 3 years working from where I want, I am still in love with these moments. I can wake up at whatever time I want and do not rush anywhere. But in fact, everything is pretty standard. Every morning I walk Chipo – my dog. Then I make myself breakfast, take a shower and sit down to work. No hurry and running around. Everything is in the rhythm, as it is convenient for me that day. This is very important for me now. There are such days when I can spend almost half a day to get together and get ready for work. But this is preferably a matter of self-organization. If you want to become a freelancer, you must understand that you will have to learn this otherwise nothing will work.
Sometimes the way out is to go to a co-working space. There it’s even a bit embarrassing to open Facebook, for example, because everyone around you is working themselves to the ground and you want to do the same.
I try not to work on weekends. Because you can go crazy that way, really. I do not work after 11 pm. Sometimes a customer can call me in the evening and ask to draw an illustration by the morning next day. I do not take projects like that.
And of course, the undoubted plus is that I can always get out to a meeting with my friends and family. Here, of course, everything will depend on my workload, but in general, it became much easier to organize.
WHAT DOES SUCCESS MEAN TO YOU? HOW DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN THE FUTURE?
PROBABLY, THE REALIZATION of my success will come to me when people start to invite me to some projects to another city or country. They will only need me for the project. That will be my success.
Also, when people start calling me to lecture, to share my experiences and my vision of the world.
In the future, I will have my studio. I have not decided yet, it will be an office or just an art studio, but I know for sure that it will be the place that will inspire me. There, everything will be thought through on the details.
Oh! Last thing! I would also like to draw a cover for The New Yorker magazine.
HOW DIFFICULT WAS IS TO RETURN TO MOSCOW AND START LIVING IN A NEW PROFESSION WITH A CLEAN SLATE?
TO BE HONEST, AT FIRST, IT WAS NOT EASY. Looking for an apartment, looking for clients, even understanding what I want to do again (illustration or maybe graphic design). It was a at first, but somehow I recovered. Moreover, it became much easier to look at the change of residence in general. So, right now I’m quite fearlessly thinking about the possibility to go somewhere else and the opportunity to return to the USA. I became an independent person due to all these difficulties.
I also work with agencies in Russia, Ukraine, England, Germany, and United States in addition to my private projects.
Illustrations for Forbes Magazine
Illustrations for Qatar Airlines
illustrations for soho house london
Illustrations for Cosmopolitan
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ILLUSTRATORS-BEGINNERS?
MY NUMBER ONE RULE is self-promotion. I know quite a few illustrators who sit without projects, and they do not promote themselves in any way. In fact, the world of illustrators and designers is the same show business as the world of musicians or actors. Someone is more successful, some less – the same rule in any creative activity. So, for any success is a lot of work.
NEXT, I repeat once again, draw every day. Look for your unique style. I remember how one day I realized that you could sit forever and wait for an inspiration to come, and it can happen in half a year or a year, or it may not come at all. You need to sit and draw, and inspiration will come.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST – when you find your style, stick to it. Yes, you can draw anything you want in any manner. But leave it in your sketchbook for now. All the illustrations in the portfolio have to be in the same style. The agency and the customers should understand, before opening your portfolio, what exactly they will receive from you. They will get an illustration in your unique style, not a surprise in a box with a bow. It’s very cool to find your style. So people will come to you because only you can do it.