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Russian illustrator Eya Mordyakova creates images that evoke a sense of dreamworld

Illustrative Chronicles: Investigating Eya Mordyakova's fairytale-inspired illustration approach as it appears in children's books, and discovering what drives her as an artist.

by Rahul KumarPublished on : Sep 21, 2022

Eya Mordyakova is an artist and illustrator currently based in Moscow, Russia. She earned a Master of Arts in illustration at the North-West Institute of Print in Saint-Petersburg, Russia, and also studied art at the University of Hertfordshire (via BHSAD Moscow). Mordyakova specialises in children's book artwork and has worked with prominent publishers both at home and abroad, including Harper Collins (UK). Her silent picture book Beyond the Stars was recently named one of the worldwide Silent Book Contest's 13 finalists. Also, her work was recently exhibited at the International Illustration Fair alongside 100 artists in Guangzhou, China.

Eya Modyakova’s magical realm through illustration | Illustrative Chronicles | STIRworld
Eya Modyakova’s magical realm through illustration Image: Courtesy of Eya Modyakova

1. Would you consider your work as ‘illustrations’ or ‘art’? Is there a difference according to you?

I am not a huge fan of categorisation of such kind - sometimes I think that all those terms and boundaries were made up for people to have something to argue about. There is a lot of snobbism around the term ‘art’ and what we should consider art and what not. When we talk about so-called ‘contemporary art’, we usually expect to see, both in form and content, something surprising, mind-blowing, creating new visual language, something complex and innovative, sometimes a riddle full of references to contemporary culture which the viewer is supposed to unravel. Such works are great and I really love them, but I believe that art is not limited to this. In fact, I think that art includes all the ways of artistic expression, including illustration, in all shapes and forms. Something simple, nice and cosy can have as much value as something striking and complex. And in children's book illustration, which I mostly do, I feel free to explore this side of art. In my illustrations I strive to comfort the viewer rather than try to amaze or surprise him. I want to make the viewer feel at home in imaginary worlds that I create, to bring him magic and beauty through my works. As I believe that all aims of artistic expression are equally important, I don’t really mind being called an artist or illustrator. What matters to me is that one can find comfort in the works that I create and relate to them.

Julia Jen single cover, Illustration, Eya Mordyakova | Illustrative Chronicles | STIRworld
Julia Jen single cover, Illustration Image: Courtesy of Eya Mordyakova

2. What is at the core of your expression? How do you aspire for your work to be experienced and interpreted?

I think that my art is escapist in its nature, which pretty much reflects who I am as a person. Since I was a child, I have often found the outer world unwelcoming and hostile, which made me turn inwards, where I found peace and beauty. But this escapism is not only about hiding from life and the world around, but rather about reflecting on it, living through and processing difficult emotions such as grief, pain, sorrow, loneliness and pain. In my works I reflect on mythology and folklore of various cultures, create elaborate and detailed designs with a mixture of textures, and strive to create a dreamy world full of magical characters, where you can come for the purpose of healing and inspiration. Reflecting on difficult subjects, I consider myself a magician - I sometimes take something which can be ugly, painful or frightening - and transform it to something beautiful and magical instead. In my works, I strive to create a home for the viewer - a special fairy-tale dimension which one can visit, find comfort and refuge, take some rest, make magic, travel around, and come out to the real world stronger and kinder.

Goat Carol, Digital Illustration, Eya Mordyakova | Illustrative Chronicles | STIRworld
Goat Carol, Digital Illustration Image: Courtesy of Eya Mordyakova

3. Please tell us about your creative journey – how has your style evolved over the years? What/who are your biggest influences?

Ever since I was a child, I loved picture books and illustrations. When I was a teenager, I got an idea, which turned into a dream - to become an artist. From a small Siberian town I travelled to Saint-Petersburg to study at North-West Institute of print, where I got my Master of Arts degree. Later I moved to Moscow to develop my illustration career, and got a second illustration education at the University of Hertfordshire (via BHSAD Moscow), as I wanted to further develop my skills and personal style. I fell in love with children’s book illustration, which became my primary field of work. Through the years I have worked with major publishers and brands both in my home country and abroad, including Harper Collins (UK). I also explore various mediums, such as comics, animation, sculpture and embroidery, and teach illustration courses to help aspiring artists fulfil their dreams. I perceive my creative journey as constant self-studying and search for inspiration, so my style is constantly evolving. Even in one particular time period I slightly modify my style in different projects, trying to find the best way to express the idea. I am mostly inspired by works of such artists as Shaun Tan, Paolo Domeniconi, Julia Sarda, Rebecca Green, Joe-Todd Stanton, Vera Pavlova and many others. I also find inspiration not only in works of contemporary art and illustration, but in art history. My greatest love is the Arts and Crafts Movement, Pre-Raphaelites and Art Nouveau. I also draw much inspiration from medieval art, orthodox and catholic Icons, romanesque sculpture, folk art and ancient art, including Greek, Egyptian, Hittite, Minoan and Mesoamerican art and sculpture, and also Stone Age art - most amazing shapes and expressive means can be found there! As for subjects and ideas for my work, my greatest inspirations are folktales and fairy tales, magic, myths and beliefs of various cultures from all over the world, and works of contemporary fantasy artists, exploring magical, mythological and folklore topics and characters, building their own worlds.

Happy New Year, Little Mice, Digital Illustration, Eya Mordyakova  | Illustrative Chronicles | STIRworld
Happy New Year, Little Mice, Digital Illustration Image: Courtesy of Eya Mordyakova

4. A body of work you created that you are particularly proud of? Please share details of how you conceived of it.

I am extremely proud of and happy with the latest personal project that I have made - a silent picture book Beyond the Stars, which I created for the Silent Book Contest 2022 (Gianni de Conno Award), held by Carthusia Edizioni and Bologna Children book Fair (Italy). I am proud that my project was chosen to be among the 13 finalists this year. This book is a very personal story about living through the loss of a pet. My beloved cat Busya passed away in 2017, which was extremely painful for me. Trying to cope with grief and find inner peace and acceptance I came up with the idea of this book. The story is not documentary, but magical: a main character’s dear friend, a cat, passes away and she doesn’t understand where it has gone. She starts to see the cat everywhere, in rain puddles, shadows, clouds… and the cat becomes huger and huger. When the time comes, it takes her on a journey beyond the stars, where they meet a little kitten. The girl understands that she has to let her friend go. When she wakes up, she finds out that the kitten has been left on her front porch. For several years I have been refining the idea, collecting references and developing the plot, before I felt that I was ready to bring this project to life. I hoped that this book might comfort someone who is grieving. After it was exhibited at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, I received a lot of messages from people all over the world, about how meaningful this book was to them. I hope that soon the book will be published, and more people will be able to find consolation in it.

Four Witches Tarot, Digital Illustration, Eya Mordyakova | Illustrative Chronicles | STIRworld
Four Witches Tarot, Digital Illustration Image: Courtesy of Eya Mordyakova

5. An upcoming project that excites you? Or an unrealised project that is close to you? Please share details.

Now I am working on several projects, some publisher’s commissioned and some personal. The one I love most is a tarot deck, which will be published this winter. It is my personal interpretation of the classical Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck. I am completely in love with magic and tarot, and fascinated by how many mythological archetypes are explored within the deck. I have been studying tarot systems as a hobby for several years now, so this project is a very exciting and important step for me, both professionally and spiritually. In order to create this project, I have been studying and collecting tons of material and references, mostly in mythology and ancient and medieval art and various spiritual and esoteric traditions, and analysing analogues among contemporary and historical tarot decks. In my deck I chose to preserve most of the important iconic symbolism of Rider-Waite-Smith tarot, while bringing in my own interpretation of some archetypal imagery and incorporating my own associations and details in the cards. I tried to keep the antique vibes of the deck by imitating engraving style and using muted colours. I also brought some innovative ideas to my deck, such as using a separate colour spectrum for each suite, and creating four specific characters, one for each suite, which appear in all cards of minor arcana, so it would be easier for the viewer to track the hero's journey through the suite. I hope this deck will be loved both by tarot readers and artists all over the world, bringing magic, inspiration and healing to their lives.

Portrait of Eya Mordyakova, Digital Illustrator | Illustrative Chronicles | STIRworld
Eya Mordyakova, Digital Illustrator Image: Courtesy of Eya Mordyakova
Eya Mordyakova working on a mural illustration Video: Courtesy of Eya Mordyakova

Click here to read more about Illustrative Chronicles, a collection of STIR articles that examine illustration as a discipline for narrating stories of the contemporary urban.

(Research Support by Vatsala Sethi, Asst. Editorial Coordinator (Arts))

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