Finally finding someone with a weird obsession as me for the beautiful west coast of Canada made me feel good. Just, you know, I am not alone to enjoy the West Coast better than the East Coast, especially when it’s all about surfing. Discovering new artists that aren’t well known is always a challenge for me that I love to take, this is why during my last trip to Vancouver, I tried to discover more people.
There she was, Olga Stern.
I can’t remember how I found out her work, but as soon as I saw her painted surfboards and her illustrations, I knew I had to talk to her. The kind of people you know before they even tell you something that you will be friends with them. Maybe it’s just a weird thing from East Coast people, oh well. Anyway, she makes art and she’s good at it, giving us inspirations about the world and her adventures are part of it. Exploring the world of an artist is quite complexes, but let’s try to do our best.
Where are you from and how did you get involved with art?
I am originally from USSR - Growing up in between Odessa (currently Ukraine) and Kaliningrad (Currently Russia). Escaping the collapsing political state of USSR my family immigrated to Toronto, Canada. Once I was making money, I found myself constantly away travelling, surfing and exploring- Always drawn to surf and to the ocean. At one point I realised how often I was gone from Toronto and why, so I quickly moved myself to beautiful British Columbia. And although I am in love with the Pacific North West, I know that my drive to explore will definitely have me living in many more places around the world in the upcoming years.
I have been immersed in art since I was very young. I think that growing up in my family it was basically impossible not to be involved in the arts or be a lover of nature. I have vivid memories of being extremely bored and restless if I was not either out roaming free exploring the world or at home paint brush in hand painting up a storm. This feeling of being STAGNANT if not out exploring or painting has remained a driving force in my life to this day.
My parents were both part of the Theatre and the art scene in the USSR. My mother directing plays for the Local theatre in Kaliningrad and both my parents acting in various productions. Their friends who surrounded me in my childhood were actors, musicians, costumers, puppet makers, and visual artists.
I lived in a world in between the theatre and the wild. In my early childhood we spent a lot of time on the beach, our flat in Odessa was 15 minutes from the Black sea and Kaliningrad is home to the beautiful Kurshkaya Kasa National Park on the Baltic Sea.
The constant stimulation of the arts and the beautiful mountains, seas, and forests were so inspiring that once indoors as I child I would start to feel like something was missing.
Creating art became my way of keeping that STAGNANCY away by recreating to the best of my ability that feeling of awe I experience while exploring the world around me.
Once I have a brush in my hand the world is my oyster - any place I could dream up in my head could become reality once I am able to set it down on paper.
I was sent to a specialized "arts" school since the age of 5. Once we moved to Toronto, Canada I was accepted into ‘’Claude Watson School for the Arts’’. From grade 4 until the end of high school my education - on top of the regular workload of academics included Mime, Visual Art, National Dance, Orff, Drama, jazz, Musical instruments, Choir and Musical Theatre. After high school, I was accepted into Sheridan College for Animation.
Since graduating, I have been lucky enough to make exploring and art not only a lifestyle but my career.
How would you describe your artwork?
I would describe my artwork as the mirror into my inner happiness, sadness, love, adventure and hope at that point in time. I use art as a voice with which to document and share the wonder of the world around me.
I believe living in beautiful British Columbia must give you inspirations for some of your work, but where do you mainly get your inspirations from?
Most of my inspiration comes from exploring, from reading, from learning, and from the people who surround me at a given time.
I am always running from that feeling of STAGNANCY I experience when left too long in once place. I have learned that to feel healthy and create my best artwork I need at least a one month surf trip a year to some new wonderful place around the globe. I need to see something new, meet someone new, and learn something new.
And yes, I am really lucky to call the Pacific North West my home. British Columbia has yet to leave me feeling bored. Every weekend is a new trip and a new adventure.
It seems like you are touching to a lot of different things, doing illustrations for books, films, magazines, etc. Which one do you like the most? Why?
I have always been drawn to telling visual stories. At first I thought working as a Visual development artist was the only thing I wanted to do. I equate it to the same feeling I had as a kid when I could make any world I imagined a reality just by drawing it. As an adult it was super thrilling to see the worlds I would imagine come to life through film.
However full time work in the film industry creates a lifestyle that is conflicting with the life I envision for myself in the future. And I am currently in a transition phase taking on more freelance work, and clients that will eventually allow me to live with less routine and more freedom.
So even though I love working in film and I am super happy at my current full time job - amazing team- talented, inspiring humans- I would have to say that I prefer illustrating for magazines and children’s books simply due to the freedom it creates in my life. I could easily be travelling with my laptop, pencil crayons, paper while working remotely. And this is exactly the type of life I imagine for myself in my near future.
One thing that we particularly liked at Nouvelle Vague is your art work related to skateboarding and surfing. When did you start being inspired by these sports?
I fell into my love of surfing by accident 7 years ago in Costa Rica. I’m sure I was destined to run into it eventually. The whole family tried surfing for the first time on a vacation. I could not fall asleep that night because all I wanted to do was keep surfing, and ended up dreaming about it for the next month until I flew myself back out to the surf. Everything about the lifestyle associated with the sport made sense to me. The beauty of waking up early to catch the glassy waves, evenings out in the lineup as the sun sets into the glistening water, the healthy exhaustion and good night’s rest that follows a long session. I have never felt more at home and at ease then in the presence of the humans that make up the global surfing community. I have met so many incredible people that all experience the same un-describable connection with the movement of the ocean as they surf, as I do. It is hard not to be inspired when it comes to surfing. Immediately I found myself drawn to painting the surf, surfers, surfboards, skateboards always trying to capture the joy and the mystical connection that surfing allows you to make with Mother Nature. It was easy I just fell into it-fell in love with it.
For all the people trying to reach their full potential in a career related to art, would you say it's a hard challenge to get a full-time job in this area?
The challenges are vast, and maybe this is a corny thing to say, but they have as much to do with a person growing into themselves as they do with external forces.
Probably the most difficult things to get past are the subjectivity of art and the acceptance that although there are certain establishes tastes within the field there are no correct path and no accurate grading system. Therefore popularity and acceptance are as full of grand achievements and also massive depressing failures as are the other aspects of my daily life. I have found my artistic career to be a fine balance between using my unique inner tastes and gut choices and using the established norms of what the industry today considers to be mass appeal. For my personal work, I completely disregard the latter and therefore feel free to make more mistakes which to me makes art more enjoyable. For work you have to be able to think fast draw fast and make something appealing in a certain time frame with minimal mistakes along the way. This is a difficult thing to learn as most artists are perfectionists and creativity is a hard animal to harness. Some days I am just not in the mood or not inspired to draw, but the work has to get done.
What kind of projects have you worked on? Do you prefer being alone on a project or being with a team to share ideas?
I have worked on so many different projects at this point in time - as an animator, a storyboard artist, a painter for backgrounds, an illustrator selling my work in galleries, a graphic designer for surf and stand up paddle boards. Currently I am working as a Set designer for the Puss In Boots series for Netflix and just wrapped up illustrating a children’s book for Simon And Shuster NY called «Edward Gets Messy " written by Rita Meade and I just illustrated some spreads for Owl Kids Chirp magazine June issue.
I enjoy both working for a team and working alone. Either way you are always learning something new.
These days, everyone travel to go on different adventures. If you are a surfer, you must chase the swells no matter where you go. Is travelling being a help for your art?
Travelling and surfing have a big impact on how creative I feel and definitely have a major influence on my art. It’s amazing how many places Surfing can take you. It makes our world seem so small and united when you can travel to almost every country and find a community of surfers that feel just like home. The knowledge and personal growth that comes through the people met and the experiences made travelling are absolutely priceless. I think my most treasured pieces were created either during or directly after a long surf trip.
Do you have anyone in the industry that has been an influence for you?
It is very hard for me to pinpoint specific influences within the industry. I feel like my influences tend to be quite vast and often all over the place varying all the time.
But I guess if I were to narrow down a few contemporary influences. For graphics I really like the work of Stevie Gee, super edgy and playful. For illustration I really like Kitty Crawther also for being playful.
What would be your dream goal project to work on?
I don’t really have a dream project as much as a dream lifestyle. It is really hard for me to separate the two, as without their marriage, I can’t see myself being fully happy.
In the future, I see myself working from a cob house perched on a remote surf break. Surfing in the morning and evening and working during the day remotely illustrating for surf/skate magazines and brands and children’s books. Immersed in nature, with schedule not bound by 9-5, surfing every day and painting definitely sounds like a dream.
So, what's next? Any projects coming up for the rest of the year?
I just wrapped up the children’s book for Simon and Shuster «Edward Gets Messy." I loved working on this book and I am excited to look for projects similar to that right after I catch my breath.
The next project that seems to be coming up is Some Background painting work for a commercial with Studio AKA in England.
I also know I will be travelling and surfing on a month long trip sometime in September or October. I have narrowed the location down to El Salvador but knowing me, nothing is solid until a week or 2 before! I am excited to paint a few more surfboards during that trip and create some new art inspired by living on the beach.