Interview with Cover Artist Irina Kovalova5 min read


Russell Dickerson
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This month’s Apex Magazine cover artist is Irina Kovalova, whose beautiful piece “Melancholy” brings a personal sense to the broad nature of science fiction. Kovalova’s work with concept art and illustrations for children’s books shows her vast exploration of science fiction and fantasy.

APEX MAGAZINE: On the DeviantArt page for “Melancholy,” you mentioned that you wanted a more “polished,” more “finished” piece. Is that process only about cleaning up the brushstrokes, or do you alter the characters or content as well? Do you end up changing the emotions of the piece as you work, or is that something you try to avoid?

IRINA KOVALOVA: It is mainly about cleaning up the brushstrokes and adding details, yes. However, as I go I do tend to change designs and placement of characters or elements in the scene a lot. No matter how far I am into the detailing process, if something doesn’t work I’m usually not afraid to get rid of it or change it. I like to experiment with different color and mood variations when the piece is close to finished. Sometimes your original idea is not the best one.

AM: Your piece “Man-Eating Tree” evolved from a concept art challenge, something that many artists do for a myriad of reasons. How do those types of challenges affect your other works, whether that is in technique or content? Have you found challenges that are tougher to come up with ideas for, or even those that are so exciting that you end up with several pieces based on the prompt?

Man-Eating Tree

IK: These challenges are great. As artists we all tend to fall into a comfort zone (something we find easy/comfortable to draw) and these challenges help to get us out of it. They also add variety to your portfolio. Sometimes, though, they can be frustrating. I’ve had quite a few challenges where I wasn’t sure what exactly to draw, which is as equally frustrating as having too many ideas for a challenge.

AM: Your piece “ Death Is the Road to Awe” takes its title from a track on the score to the film The Fountain. The 8-minute track builds gradually to an explosively dramatic last minute, and I find myself suddenly painting more dramatically for that minute. How does the music that you are listening to affect the final piece, or even its parts? Do you listen to specific types of music for specific pieces, or is music more generally played as you work?

IK:  Music definitely affects HOW I paint, although to me it’s not so much the mood of the song, as the rhythm of it. For quicker sketching I prefer something more fast paced—be it a Metallica song or an Avicii remix. There have been days when I was working on children’s book illustrations while listening to some pretty heavy metal songs. The fast rhythm of a song just seems to make me paint faster and usually looser. If work requires a lot of design thinking I find it easier to listen to chill out music and songs with no lyrics, so I can fully focus on the task. Finally, if I’m doing work that is labor intensive but not very challenging, I like to keep my mind occupied with audiobooks and podcasts. Makes the time pass faster.

(Fel)Hounds of War

AM: The galleries on your ArtStation page differ between realism and a more laid-back style inspired by animation, and you seem to enjoy working with both. Do you have a personal preference, or is it based on the idea? Do clients approach you based only on one of your styles, or are they more open to your interpretations?

Bird of Tyaa

IK:  I don’t have a specific preference. I enjoy working in both styles, even though they’re so different from each other. I think that’s why I enjoy switching, because working in the similar manner can get boring after a while, so it’s fun to mix things up. Usually clients approach me when they like a style of a particular piece and they want something similar. I do have some sort of freedom to experiment, though.

AM: Much of the world is in turmoil in 2017, and creative people often have a unique view of things. How culturally important are artists who bring science fiction and fantasy to life, now or in the future? Is a mental escape the only thing that artists can provide to the public?

Dinosaurs in a Lab

IK: I think while mental escape from the harshness of the reality is important, to me science fiction and fantasy art is more about the exploration. It’s about the “What if …” question. I think that’s the most valuable thing that fantasy art can bring to society—ideas, albeit, sometimes crazy and unreal. I mean there have been cases of science fiction art or literature inspiring real world inventions! How incredible is that?

AM: Many thanks to Irina for her answers, and to view more of her work check out her galleries at, or connect with her at

  • Russell Dickerson

    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.

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