9 Questions with Onessa, Illustrator and Cultural History Student

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For our “X Questions With” series, we’re speaking with talented individuals from around the world who have inspired us with their creativity and passion. If you have a story to tell or someone you’d like to see profiled, let us know in the comments or on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter!

Today, we’re chatting with Onessa, a cultural history student and budding illustrator we met on Instagram. Onessa has been drawing for years but has more recently begun sharing her art online. To see more of Onessa’s artwork, check her out on Instagram: @onessanovak!

1) Please tell us a little about yourself

Name: Onessa
Age: 24
City: Utrecht, the Netherlands
Places: I’ve only lived in Utrecht, but I’m going to live in Tallinn (Estonia) for a semester after the summer for my studies. I have traveled far and wide. Favorite destinations include Split, Kyoto, Rome, Prague, Istanbul, Tallinn, Warsaw (Eastern Europe is my preference mostly).
Passions: I have a lot of interests, and I wish every day would have 24 hours more so I could give everything I am passionate about enough attention!
Education/Training: BA History at Utrecht University, now busy finishing a MA Cultural History of Modern Europe at the same uni.
Occupation: Tour guide at the Dom Tower in Utrecht (it’s the bell tower of the local cathedral, this is my part-time student job)
Favourite Quote: “Never trust anyone who hasn’t brought a book with them” – Lemony Snicket in Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid.

2) We saw on Instagram that you often post #WhatIWore photos – but with a twist on the classic hashtag. These are illustrations! What inspired you to start this series of posts?

I started drawing them when I was 12. But didn’t start posting them online until early 2016. At that time, they were meant as a sort of visual diary – they were also a bit different than the ones I make today: I would write about my feelings next to the #WhatIWore drawings and the character would be drawn ugly if I felt bad, and would be beautiful if I felt good. I stopped making them briefly when I was about 20, and then I started uploading them on Insta 1.5 years ago. Because I started sharing them with the world, I decided to make them less gritty and personal and more outfit-oriented. But as you can see on my Instagram profile, some are still a bit autobiographical like in the old days. I started making these again to get myself out of my art-block I had for several years with the idea that if I practiced drawing familiar stuff I would eventually break out of the block (before I started making the #WhatIWore drawings, I did do some small graphic design jobs for my uni, but they didn’t seem to help). My friends and boyfriend, who loved the little drawings I made of them, are the main reason I decided to start posting my art on Instagram in early 2016.

I guess I was inspired to make them all those years ago because I wanted to keep a diary. But since I’m a very visual type it was easier for me to draw my feelings accurately than to write them down. Apart from that, I also wanted to keep track of the outfits I wear.

Style-wise I am inspired by Japanese manga/anime, @maisdue (my all-time favorite online artist, I have followed her for over 10 years now), Barbara Canepa and Alessandro Barbucci (artists of W.I.T.C.H. and Skydoll), and John Kricfalusi (Ren and Stimpy, but was mostly an inspiration for the pre-Instagram era of my #wiw’s).

3) What type of journal are you using for these illustrations?

Paperblanks Parisian Mosaic: Mosaïque Safran in Midi and Silver Filigree: Natural in Midi. And for the next one, I have my eye on the Daphnis & Chloe: Chloe (in Midi again).

4) You mention on Instagram that you used Copic markers. What do you like about using these to draw?

As you can see on my account I started out using colour pencils. Although they offered more possibilities with colours (blending was easier), I didn’t manage to reach the desired effect and wanted to try other materials. Because of the illustrative nature of my characters, a clean look seemed to do the trick and that is why I switched to Copic markers. Which was a great idea since with Copic markers I finally managed to create what I was aiming for. And I must say, your paper is the best sketchbook paper I have encountered for this medium (always annoyed when I use my other sketchbooks and the colours bleed and don’t blend the way I want them to).

5) Aside from your #WhatIWore posts, it seems like you’ve been pushing yourself out of your “comfort zone” lately. Can you tell us about these #DoodleTimeWithKaroline posts?

#DoodleTimeWithKaroline is a monthly Instagram doodle-challenge organized by @karolinepietrowski (an amazing artist I follow). This month’s theme is “summer” and every day of the month there is a topic/idea to doodle. I decided to do the challenge to force myself to doodle every day to practice my drawing and to have daily creative breaks from writing my MA thesis.

6) How did you get into drawing and illustration?

It’s a really cliché answer, but I started drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil. But since my dad is a professional artist, I assume he was my initial inspiration (his art: borisnovak.art-portfolio.nl). Perhaps it just runs in the family (my brother, for instance, is a professional illustrator). Style-wise, as a kid, I was strongly inspired by all the anime shows on TV in the late ’90s and early ’00s.

7) Have you received any formal training in the arts?

No, I am a cultural history student. Drawing, reading and gaming are the things I mostly do in my free time. About 10 years ago I did join the art lessons my dad used to give to pre–art school students to prepare them for art school. That helped me develop my skills.

8) Has anyone, or anything, in particular inspired your creativity and artistic passion?

As stated above: mostly my dad and anime/cartoons/comics (and the artists I mentioned).

But as I am a big art- and (pop-)culture lover, I guess everything I see that appeals to me inspires me. This could be anything from aesthetically pleasing films/shows (Wes Anderson, Tarantino, Brian Fuller) to books or beautiful historic patterns and buildings. Although not everything I am inspired by is represented in my style, it does give me the drive to create.

9) Any advice you would like to share with fellow developing artists?

Although I did it myself for a few years: never stop making art! If you ever find yourself in an art-block just push yourself by drawing something familiar (which in my case are the #WhatIWore drawings) and in due time you’ll find yourself experimenting with new stuff! (Side note: I never did completely stop, my notes for uni are for instance completely cluttered with doodles, but with “stopping” I mean that I stopped making time to draw daily.)

About Paperblanks: 25 years ago, we created Paperblanks to help keep book heritage alive and vital in our modern age, and to offer an inspiring space for people to express themselves. Thanks for joining us on this journey! For more about Paperblanks, go to our website at paperblanks.com.

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