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Interview with Cover Artist Ekaterina Zagustina

September 1, 2015

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Russell Dickerson has been a published illustrator and designer since the previous millennium, creating works for many genre publications and authors. He has also written many articles for various organizations in that time including Apex.

For this month’s Apex Magazine, artist Ekaterina Zagustina (aka KatjaFaith) provided her beautiful piece, “Traces of Absolute.” A Russian illustrator and photographer, KatjaFaith bases most of her works on photographs, digitally manipulated and/or mixed with digital painting. Her work has appeared in many publications, including Apex, BigMag, Sugarkiss Magazine, and many more.

APEX MAGAZINE: This month’s Apex Magazine cover art, “Traces of Absolute,” features the same or a similar character in different poses and actions. At what point in the creative process do you decide how to show a character, or does it evolve differently for each piece you do? What are the challenges of featuring the same or similar character in a piece of art?

EKATERINA ZAGUSTINA: “Traces of Absolute” is a part of the Homonymous series which tells a story about the so-called self-created Universes of the human brain. My aim is to show some integral, whole story in each of the pieces. Using a combination of sci-fi, scientific, historical, philosophical, and fantasy/fairy-tale elements, some non-existing Universes are created as “puzzles” or kaleidoscopes, so that one single still can reveal the idea of a short motion picture of an “altered reality” within it.

In fact, I usually take a lot of pictures for any idea when it comes to either personal or commercial projects. Sometimes there’s no precise focus, so only some of the details are clearly stated, and there are no strictly defined frames for the flight of fancy. Just like in real life or even motion films, I like to see the characters in my art live their own lives, have their own special features, feelings, and emotions, no matter whether we’re talking about more photorealistic or “cartoon”-style material. Like in this piece, I think that in order to get a more thorough understanding of the story or concept, or even a character, it’s better to use some kind of a diptych or triptych. At times I also use a half-diptych—that is, a piece featuring the same character in one piece, but trying to avoid any strict borders, as if it were two different parts of one picture

The real challenge to me is avoiding the need to tell all the stories lying behind any piece or a character separately, operating just with the images and their titles themselves, leaving the viewers the right to use their own thoughts, imagination and stories that they see behind them.

AM: Some of your digital pieces are closer to the look of painted illustrations, and others are left with more of the photography intact. Do you have a different approach to each style as you are working, or do the same methods and ideas apply?

EZ: I started my first digital photography efforts back in 2004. Though I’ve probably always loved drawing and painting, back then I had no idea there were any means (or maybe even reasons) to combine these genres. Much later, through different experiments, I realized the camera itself served as a means to portray single moments in unique and unexpected ways. I felt this was not enough to show the ideas or even whole little worlds that started to emerge and I experimented more. There is an idea that the subconscious plays a great role in the way the visual “language” of any individual is formed. Though I really love both photography and painted illustration as a viewer, my goal as an artist is to “flow” somewhere in-between. The concept itself is creating the altered realities that seem more or less real to the viewer, at the same time being unreal, that can at least be seen by the technique.

When it comes to what it depends on… The commercial projects usually determine the style that is preferred. As for the personal ones, well, it probably depends on the mood and the current ideas and aims for their further use. For the last few years I’ve probably gone toward a “golden middle” in order to fit more into international photography contests.

AM: The color palettes you use seem to be important in the overall vision of each piece, with your pieces ranging from vibrant to subdued. What is the importance of color in your works? Could you see experimenting with different colors in any of your current pieces, to create a different effect than the original?

EZ: The color palettes are of great importance to me. My father was an amateur photographer when I was a child, so I spent lots of time in a dimly lit bathroom watching something that seemed miraculous, the emerging of whole images from NOWHERE. These images were black and white, as were most other photographs that were kept in family albums, some of them dating back to the very beginning of the 20th century.

I also adored drawing. Even now, I look inside one of my childhood albums that I still have. It has a really sweet, colorful and amiable drawing on the cover which contrasts greatly with the dark, mostly monochromatic and somewhat strange drawings and characters that I filled it with.

I start the coloring process with almost desaturated original pictures. This makes it easier to see what I want to create. I use mostly brushes and color splashes, which makes it a manual process to a certain degree. Each color can speak on its own, I believe, if we’re talking about vibrancy. Some bright, some “unexisting” in the real world around us, some kaleidoscopically combined splashes to work right for the mood that I want to create. As a rule, the reason I choose the subdued or almost desaturated and just slightly toned color palettes is the desire to concentrate more on the subject itself, —I believe that vibrant colors can distract from, just like in showing something way too nostalgic or moody itself, for instance. I believe that such things look similar to the way I remember that almost monochromatic light in the bathroom, with all those black and white images and the feeling of silence and contemplation. It seems it can speak then.

AM: A number of your pieces, such as “The Quiet Waters of Delictum,” feature more sexual and erotic imagery. Do you find that the public approaches these works any differently than your other pieces? Are you encouraged, or even discouraged, by the way the internet (or people in real life) reacts to your artwork?

EZ: My goal is to try to see art as itself, beyond any technical, cultural, epochal stigmatization or borders. Though I truly respect different points of view, worldviews, and traditions, I rather tend to see the world through the approach of trying to catch different emotions and feelings in their true nature. I do believe that there are also different reasons, approaches, and ways to show any material or any sorts of contents in art. I tend to see it rather from the point of view of the Rennaisance art concepts mixed with some modern or even futuristic ideas. I mean that I’m interested in the beauty and plastics itself, as well as in symbolism, shapes, lines, and colors of whatever subject or matter we’re talking about. I think that the very idea of showing any subject connected with fine-art nude is to show the character(s) without any links to their cultural or social backgrounds, any personal preferences in fashion and all the matters that link them to some clearly stated or fixed positions in what can be put as real life—to put it straight—just to reveal the beauty and plastics of the body itself, having no superstitions about the subject.

When it comes to “interactions” I’d rather say that I’m not into showing them too much or often in my works and talking about pieces like this, I try to find balance between artistic expression and some other emotions or concepts beneath it instead. I do have some difficulties understanding if any expressed border line is present between what should be considered simply fine-art nude and where it starts to be perceived as sexual/erotic. It is difficult to a certain extent to point clearly as to whether we deal with erotic or sexual content in cases when there’s NO nudity present, but certain elements of what is visualized might lead the viewer to this idea anyway, be it of interrelations or just single characters, you know.

What I have a certain idea of is that there is a significant difference between what is shown as fine-art and what is just “commonplace, popular, everyday” style, or, that is, what is more commonly called as “obscene” or “vulgar.” The reason attributable to incapability of some viewers to distinguish the aims of any material, not only visual, lies in the fact that the world we live in is usually perceived through the prism of dualities, “static” and sometimes too *idealized* to the point of actual inexistence of them, the way it is “preferable.” We talk about right and wrong, or good and evil, and so on. These concepts have been cultivated so much, that it is sometimes really difficult for different people to understand somebody or something without great misunderstanding of the true meaning, which is deprived of any irrelevant stereotypes or emotional barriers.

For the last few years, I’ve been trying not to engage in any particular quarrels or disputes concerning the public approach. As a rule, the people I’m engaged with in a business or mutual artistic attitude have no reaction to such material. It is completely useless to worry about it, as I understand that there are millions of different points of view and opinions and that viewers always have a choice of what to watch. I think it is much more necessary for the beginning artist to understand this. Negative reactions without any particularly stated foundation or recommendations are much more difficult for the new artists who might have some talent and motivation, but no substantial support or guideways. I’ve experienced this firsthand during my time as a teacher.

AM: Some groups of your works feature a very soft, blurred effect, such as “ButterFly”, while others, like “The Child of Progress”, offer up a much sharper vision. Is that a technique that has evolved over your career, or is it a phase of sorts, or does it represent experimentation with different styles?

EZ: The more blurred effect is rather characteristic of an earlier period of my career. I guess the intention of mostly avoiding the use of sharp outlines or some distinct backgrounds was to show some instability, contrasting with the soft effect of statics due to the central position of the character and some isolation from any environment which could distract from it.  It was all about the absence of gravity, the unreal, and souls without physical bodies. Though I try to maintain some formed and recognizable stylistic traits and features at any period of my career, changes in my life, my visions and goals. I think the reason is more or less clear, for as soon as you get to something more stable and clear in real life, I mean, both in career and personal aspects, you start to see the goals and future plans much more clearly.

You get to the point when the technical questions that once seemed difficult to implement or the absence of either necessity or even enough fantasy to make something more complex, or understanding of any other “what’s, how & why’s” are no longer the problem, your vision expands. As I’m mostly into freelance, I’d also add that, on the one hand, it gives one the freedom and right to develop any stylistics without the constant necessity to fit to any particular stable demands or standards, but on the other, it’s always great to know that there are people, both personal acquaintances and business ones as well, who have played a role in my life and have stayed through all the changes that I have got through with the art itself or just as myself. It’s valuable for me.

© Russell Dickerson