I have had the pleasure of getting to know Zosienka over the last few years, after she swept my very good friend off his feet one New Years in Kenton-on-Sea. They are happily married and living in London now, and I have continued to keep contact with Miss Z as I fell in love with her illustrations and her fantastic person. Every now and then we reconnect in South Africa, and I hope to be able to visit her and her hubby in London town or that she holidays with me here in Spain, but for now we email each other inspirations and notes that make me smile.
Recently I asked her to answer some questions about her illustration and work, what inspires her, and what she is up to… the following is the result, I hope you enjoy!
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m an illustrator living in the East of London, making prints and paintings, specializing in foxes and portraits.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
Part of the week I spend assisting the production of bespoke biscuits at Biscuiteers Baking Company. I go walking and have American breakfasts with my friends.
What first made you want to become an artist and how did you get started in art and illustration?
As a school girl I had a mild obsession with the artist Basquiat so that lit up my path considerably. I wanted to recreate his world and was heading toward a degree in fine art, but switched last minute for an Illustration course, realizing I required some discipline.
Please describe your creative process.
Everything begins in my sketchbook in loose pencil scratchings, after which I assemble various combinations on a new page or canvas. The details take shape and when the picture is full, I scan it and adjust levels & colours in Photoshop.
Where do you do your work?
My work space is the tall window corner of the top floor of 89 Ridley Road. I share the airy room with an artist and a jewellery maker. It’s a very productive atmosphere and there are artists in all the neighbouring rooms too.
Do you work from life, from photographs or from imagination?
My imagination became a broken record once, so I switched it off and refuelled on life and photographs. I think I’m still learning a lot about form and light from the references I use and it will be a while before the imagination can take over fully. But where I’ve learned a good lesson, sometimes, I let the imagination in.
Mrs and Owl is an example. Mrs was a photograph from a vintage archive, but the owl sort of forced his way in to her arms and fixed his gaze on us unapologetically.
What inspires you? Do you have a favourite place or person you visit, which helps your creative juices bubble?
If I’m stuck, I’m stuck and I get mad looking at other things, so the best thing to do is sleep. The best lyric I heard was ‘when you’re asleep, you’re out on your own’ by Talking Heads. So asleep, I’m autonomous and can take credit for all my inventions.
And books are helpful in assembling scattered images in the dusty brain corners.
What technique/s do you use?
Pencil, pen and ink, etching, though it’s been a while, oil painting, and acrylic. Some collage, some photoshop.
You also create lovely wooden birds, can you tell us about them.
The wooden birds are a Polish tradition. In Warsaw there was a shop that sold many things in their plain wooden form and the birds were gathered in a great (wooden) dish on the (wooden) table and Mama brought home a bag of them as though they were cherries. I disentangled one and began drawing feathers on in my thin brown pen. I gave that one to Babi Jo and then started painting the rest.
The original birds from the mountains are painted in quick fat brush strokes and varnished with a blinding shine. We had many around the house and it was exasperating to observe the painted haphazardry on such delicate forms, so I gave mine a lot of detailed attention. They are slightly painstaking to paint, actually, so I don’t make them so often any more.
You have also worked in animation, how was the experience?
Animation requires extreme focus and a lot of time. I enjoy getting engaged in animation projects. As the illustrator, you have to oversee the continuity of the whole film and so there’s really little time to think of anything else.
(Ed’s notes: Florian was created by Andrew Gibbs and Zosienka Coombes with some editing and sound effects by Anthony Haenen and Neil Vermaak.
Two lovers meet one another on a bridge. All is well until tragedy rises from the water. The haunting music is by Cocorosie.
The Film was made using traditional cut-out animation. Everything was done under the camera, only some minor After Effects were added later.
Andrew and Zosienka created the film in South Africa in a home studio. It took 3 months to make. They constructed a 1.2 meter high light box and mounted the camera above it. The effect and mood is reminiscent of a paper puppet theatre, and quite beautiful.)
Have you ever had, or are you interested in having an agent?
I hear agents are money suckers. But it could be a necessary sacrifice for a few important contacts.
How do you promote your work?
I keep a blog that is updated with new ideas and drafts of work, and when I’ve written about that, I mention it on Facebook and on Twitter. Once you have a small audience in those networks, word can spread pretty fast.
What would you tell young illustrators trying to break into the business?
There are easy ways to have success which involve tagging along with popular themes and styles. I wouldn’t say I’ve broken in to any business myself and that’s because I’m very wary of falling in to that trap. I want illustration to be my livelihood but I’m happy to persevere and develop my work till the time is right.
The most important lesson is to keep making, keep experimenting, and never think your work is finished. Never be satisfied. The process is curiouser than the product.
Who are some of your favourite illustrators or creative people and why?
Tove Jansson, Edward Gorey, Ronald Searle, Michael Sowa, Quentin Blake all for their style but moreover their imagination and the capture of expression.
Name your top five books/ movies/ musicians/ websites.
This used to be my favourite question as five years ago I was well rehearsed and resolute. But after a moment’s re-evaluation…
Richad Brautigan – So the wind won’t blow it all away
Mikhail Bulgakov – The Master and Margarita
Andy Warhol – A to B and back again
Jennifer Clemente – Widow Basquiat
Françoise Sagan -Bonjour Tristesse
Peter and the Wolf
Lhasa De Sela
In ten years, where would you like to be?
It’s a difficult question. Here is great, but change is good so I’d better move on. Oregon.
Thank you so much darling Z for answering all my questions in such an honest, thought provoking way.