Embracing The Weird
In the world of Illustrator and Designer Olya Ivanova, embracing the weird is not just encouraged, but celebrated. Her works, including her distinct monsters known as "freakys", invite you into a realm of whimsy, wonder, and curiosity.
As you explore her journey as an artist, you'll discover that Olya's art is an ode to the unconventional, celebrates the unique, and honors the beauty of individuality. With her authentic approach, Olya invites you to join her on a journey where the ordinary is transformed into something extraordinary, and the strange becomes a wellspring of inspiration.
What lead you to pursue a creative career?
I was 20 in Budapest, Hungary. I was staying there for the summer but I didn’t have any money. I only had 50 euros when I left Russia. I stayed at a hostel working there for room and board. After the first week though I was out of money. So I needed to make money. I also like the pressure of having to get out of my comfort zone. This is when the best things tend to happen.
This was the best path, because every day I’d draw for hours and hours. The first time I sold an illustration was unforgettable, the best feeling. With selling art, no one guarantees you anything.
The first day I didn’t sell anything. The second day I also did’t sell anything. But I remember the third I walked out of the hostel telling myself, okay I have 5 euros left. I have no money to go back to Russia. So I decided, If I sell something today, I’ll take myself to the Theatre. I needed something to motivate myself with. That day I sold 3 drawings! And when I went to the Theatre I sold one more drawing. From that day on, there wasn’t a day that I didn’t sell one of my drawings. I learned then on that I could live off of my art.
There as never any other path. I painted as a kid. And my mother was also a painter and had always had an artistic side and a lot of creativity. She always had her own style. These were some of my first memories, painting with my mother. As a kid whenever I was asked what did I want to be when I grow up, I always said a designer. At the end of last year I finally found this path. Doing things with my own clothes and experimenting. But before getting here, I took painting classes around 10 - 12 years old. I then studied decorative arts at university in my city in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
I also started travelling by myself quite young at the age of 16 I first went to Sweden and Czechia. Then at 18 I started to hitch hike and couch surf around Europe. I was never scared, I knew it was worth it and my parents always encouraged it. To travel, to seek something better for my future. I did everything on my own and after travelling to many places I understood that if I wanted to stay longer in a place and travel I needed to make money. I started to make and sell art on streets. And I always loves sketching. Buildings, architecture. It takes my around 15 to 30 minutes, and helps me remember the places I visit. I can have a cup of coffee while I sketch and etch that place in my head. It adds a personal and tangible memory of my travels.
"One must fight for what they love."
How does travelling and new environments impact your creativity?
Travelling helped me accept myself. The characters that you see in my drawings, are my little monsters. They’re a bit freaky. When I was younger I never felt like I fit in. But now I feel great being an artist, in tune with my own style. I never wanted to do the same thing that other people did. I spend a lot of time alone walking around cities and reading books.
If you feel like you can’t find people that understand you in your city, that doesn’t mean that these people don’t exist somewhere else. You just have to be open and also have to be fragile. You have to be vulnerable.
In Sevilla, I would sit at the Cathedral. People and tourists would take pictures of me or men would ask me strange questions. I learned how to defend myself because of these interactions. I built this defense mechanism. If you don’t have something like this, these comments could ruin your entire day.
I’m a girl on the street just living through my art. But somehow this would upset people. People who aren’t brave enough to follow their dreams or people who are insecure about themselves. But I also learned that there are people who will always want to help you too. Yes, I learned to defend myself, but I also learned to not close myself up to others.
What inspired you to reimagine city maps?
My Berlin map was like an homage to the city because I was living there for 3 years already. I’m not the person that invented illustrated maps, but when I saw them I thought they looked too touristy. They weren’t maps I would put on my wall. I thought I could add something to this, I could add my style to it. Without also needing to add the street names.
I wanted to make something for the city people and for the foreigners that actually lived there. When I illustrated the Berlin map, I sold it for a year before leaving Berlin for Barcelona. Then when I arrived to Barcelona, I drew this map right away. I remembered the drawing experience in Berlin and how it was the best way of connecting with people.
"For me, art is a form of speaking but in a silent way."
Can you walk us through your creative process of making maps?
Normally, I’ll start off writing a list of places I knew I had to include in the map. During the day, I’m always making little drawings that take me around 2 to 3 minutes to draw with different characters or concepts. At the end, I’ll search for all of my drawings that I’ve made throughout months and I’ll cut them out. Then, I try to make the different combinations of characters and places. It might not be the most conventional process but it’s my process.
Through the different characters, I also wanted to represent the people of each district. The easy thing would be to add the street names of places to fill in the space, but I wanted to substitute these spaces with characters. I also wanted to leave room for interpretation about the characters for the people that buy the map. It’s always nice to listen to everyone’s take on it. See the stories they come up about the places and characters. I’m really proud that people from Barcelona also buy it. It’s worth so much more when people from the city buy it and appreciate it. For me, it's a responsibility drawing about this city. I don’t want to come off as someone who just wants to monetize on Barcelona or something from Gaudí.
What do you hope your audience takes away from not just exploring new environments but exploring creativity as well?
I think that people like my monsters because they aren’t really cutesy. I think more people feel more accepted. We are all exceptional and we all have something weird about ourselves. Something that maybe we only share in confidence with our friend or our family. I kind of want to be like a friend to people or a big sister and tell them to enjoy what you have. embrace the weird. For me art is a form of speaking but in a silent way. People can come up to me and ask me about my art or they can enjoy it in a personal and silent way.
I think at the beginning I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my style. I didn’t know if it existed or not. My style didn’t exist yet. Sometimes, we think we have to mold ourselves to look like other people or draw like other people, but you don’t. You have to be very connected with yourself and with whats inside and try not to copy what others are doing. You can learn from others, but you have to evolve with what you have.
For example last year, I remember it was really hard for me when the war started. I remember sitting in front of the table in March. I had a drawing finished in front of me and I wanted to add color to it. But I couldn’t. I started to cry. I thought that the person inside me that loved color and was so happy had died. I felt it wasn’t honest. Honesty reflects what is inside of you. Inside, I wanted to scream. I went through many phases of my art processing my emotions. I only just started painting again with water color only a month ago.
My friends that have followed me since the beginning have seen how much my style has changed. From using so much color to just using black and white, to now returning to use color again. They have always supported my journey.
My art has also been about my connection with the person that buys it. People created storires with my drawings. And they’ve also travelled all over the world. They are creating new stories around them.
The last week I was living in Berlin, I made a mural inside a house. A girl from Venezuela living in Berlin saw my map and she asked me if I could draw something like it inside her house. I thought to myself that I had so many things on my plate that I was very hesitant and scared to do it. How was I going to draw on a wall in someone’s house? I was scared to screw it up. I had to do my research on how to do it, what I needed to buy and the right products for it.
Then afterwards I was at a market and two guys from Venezuela came up to me. I told them about the mural I was painting for another Venezuelan girl and connected them with each other. Now, they are the best of friends! So through this mural I was able to connect people with each other. A year later, all 3 of them visited me at a market and told me about it. Now this mural has made another story.
When I start doubting myself. I suddenly am reminded about this mural and I remind myself I’m on the right path.
That’s why I also started to experiment during the lockdown. It was my last summer in Berlin, and I started to teach classes. It was more therapeutical and donation based. I wanted to offer something different. I was more like a guide than an instructor. It was so marvellous. I stayed in contact with most of the people that took my classes.
And last year, when I was back in Berlin to sell at markets for a couple of months, I started the classes again. I met these two Ukrainian girls who were refugees. They also wanted to meet new people, because their lives changed so suddenly and were forced to flee their country. In the future, I want to be able to have a studio to give my classes for people who actually need a creative outlet. Give them an escape, a breath. To discover other worlds and another part of themselves.