Interview with Illustrator, Mateja Kovač

How did you get started doing what you do?
It all started at the end of my study at the Art Academy when I made a computer sketch of something that would later be produced in some of the classical techniques that would help me shorten the process. In time, I started to discover all the advantages of digital tools and gradually the sketching turned into digital painting (digital illustrations) which took me in the direction I wanted. I found the art form to be the perfect way for me to express my sensibility. Unlike most illustrators, my beginning in illustration was independent of any publishing or graphic design. I’ve been developing my illustrations in my specific style and as an independent art product from the start. I was mainly working on art prints for sale. My first portfolio was made out of those art prints and then the business started to grow. Aside from Behance, I promoted my work through all the different social networks: Pinterest, Facebook and then later started to sell on Etsy. It took several years for all the links from all the networks to spread and for me to become visible to my clients which then started to contact me.

How would you describe your creative style?
My illustrations are always positive and unburdened. The main characteristic of my work is gentle, ethereal, melancholic, dreamy, calm, decorative, romantic and feminine expression. I often choose light motifs, pastel and precisely matched colours, warm textures and lots of patterns. That type of style helps me build an atmosphere and it lets me transfer emotions I want to show. I believe that the ambience in my work is much more important than the content. I could even say that my choice of motifs and colour is made by considering the ambience I’m trying to achieve in my illustration. When I don’t work for clients, my creative process from idea to illustration is very intuitive. Mostly when I’m starting the process I have no idea what am I going to do and I like to play. In times like that, I like to depend on my mood or emotion that I build in a very simple, everyday and unpretentious scene.
Interview with Illustrator, Mateja Kovač on Jung KatzInterview with Illustrator, Mateja Kovač on Jung Katz

What’s your inspiration?
I have many sources of inspiration but they change as I evolve as an artist. As a professional, I am in the position where I have to accomplish equally successful solutions no matter how I feel. The projects I work on are various and they all demand a different emotion. You could say that I tend to surround myself with sources of inspiration that awaken a necessary emotion in me depending on the project I’m working on. For an example, if I’m working on a fashion editorial then the inspiration would be the old masters of fashion illustration. If I’m working on the illustration of a city then it would be old photos or vintage postcards and posters. Sometimes I’m inspired by trends or other people’s work from different areas of art and design. Sometimes it’s very personal, my emotions and experiences. There are no rules in it.

What is art to you?
A constant research, play and daydreaming, having a lot of fixed ideas and finding a way to express them through a certain form and always in a unique way.

What does your typical day look like?
My regular work day looks like anybody’s usual workday. I get up early, go through my emails, social networks, news, etc. and then I start to work. I work every day from 9 to 17/18 o’clock in the evening. Sometimes a project demands that I work longer hours or to be available for the clients with different time zones. Of course, as a freelancer I have the luxury to sit in the afternoon sun in the spring and read a book or ride a bicycle, drink my coffee with friends during the day, but I don’t have a chance for activities like that very often.

Interview with Illustrator, Mateja Kovač on Jung Katz
Interview with Illustrator, Mateja Kovač on Jung Katz

How long does it typically take for you to finish a piece?
From the idea, the first sketches through the development of all elements, drawing to finishing details, it takes me about 1-3 days of work.

How do you keep motivated?
The need for creative expression is almost physical, like the need for food or sex. Not to express creatively in any way would be very frustrating. You could say it is an engine that drives itself. But in my case, it is the very opposite that happens. Because of too much creative work, I sometimes burst and really need to take a break. As soon as I’m rested mentally and physically, the motivation and the passion returns automatically. I just need to make room for new ideas.

How would you say your surroundings have influenced your work?
I live in a little state that came out of a war 20 years ago whose economy still hasn’t recovered and the market for my product still doesn’t exist. From the beginning of my career, I was forced to look for my audience far from our borders and make people notice me in the sea of leading foreign illustrators. I had to work very hard to compete with them because I didn’t have anybody to compare myself with and to learn the necessary skills from here. I was improving my technique on my own, very slowly and it took years of hard work but, finally, it produced my unique style. In terms of inspiration, my work is mostly affected by things that are new and I know nothing about, it is harder to find beauty in the things that surround me directly because I am used to them.

Interview with Illustrator, Mateja Kovač on Jung Katz
Interview with Illustrator, Mateja Kovač on Jung Katz

What do you want others to take away from your work?
In the many years that I have been doing this work, I have constantly followed the work of other authors. I have seen hundreds of authors and thousands of their works and I still adore the moment where I fall in love instantly with someone’s work. That moment where I feel something completely new, a rush and a short euphoria, is priceless for me. Today, people are bombed daily with different information, perfectly edited photographs, very powerful movies, extraordinary visual and sound effects. We are getting much harder to impress or touched by something simple and unpretentious. When my work succeeds to produce that kind of emotion even for just a moment, I find that to be a great accomplishment.

What, if anything, would you tell your younger self?
Don’t worry so much!

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Unfortunately, in my line of work, I didn’t get much advice from anyone but had to learn it the hard way on my own. I’ve learned not to underestimate my work, to choose my clients carefully, and that constant progress, education and different approaches are very important.

Interview with Illustrator, Mateja Kovač on Jung Katz
Interview with Illustrator, Mateja Kovač on Jung Katz

Any words of wisdom to aspiring artists who want to pursue a similar career?
Be computer literate and publish your work online. It’s very hard to depend on the local clients, and it is very important to be available on the world market. Learn the basics of Photoshop or any similar graphic program. Even if you work manually, you have to know to transfer your work into a digital format with a suitable resolution so you can send it to your client. Follow the trends of modern advertising and communication. Be responsible, protect your work, and manage the financial part of business. And always have in mind that in this work there needs to be time for progress before somebody notices you. In general, the work of an illustrator is not especially glamorous no matter how glamourous the project you are working on is. It demands a great self-discipline, never-ending education and specialization and numerous hours of isolated work. For that kind of work you have to be very passionate and a bit obsessive in your approach.

What are your thoughts on art school?
In my student days at the Art Academy, I mostly felt lost because I couldn’t fit into the strictly conceptual and somewhat elitist approach to art. I had no desire to make art that is intended for a gallery display. I was always leaning more toward commercialism and to a decorative or applicable approach which was considered a lower level of art by the academy. It was only after the academy that I stopped caring about the philosophical and conceptual form of my work and just started to do what I love, to play. I have more to be thankful for from the internet for my career than to the Art Academy.

What’s your dream project?
I don’t think much about it because that wish changes parallel with my personal development. I often outgrow my dream project before it happens.

Interview with Illustrator, Mateja Kovač on Jung Katz
Interview with Illustrator, Mateja Kovač on Jung Katz

What art supplies do you use?
All my work is made exclusively in a digital form in Photoshop.

What’s your process like?
The process depends on the assignment, but mostly it starts with the research of the subject, gathering the materials that can be useful for the inspiration or as a reference, and in the end, the short sketches and the final performance.
All of my projects are different and they all demand a different approach and an application of different styles. Very much alike as the designers approach. Usually, the clients first send me a request over an email. Then after we have the preliminary conversation, I start to work in the arranged terms. Most of the projects I finish in two or three days, but the bigger ones can last up to a month or two.

How could the art industry become better in your opinion?
I think that forming a bigger and more transparent international community of artists would contribute to better rights and laws for artist benefits. That kind of community informs and educates the society and a potential buyer about work issues, and improves the communication. On the other side, it serves as a way to support the artists that are often isolated because of the character of their work and left on their own to manage.

Follow Mateja Kovač on Instagram and Facebook.

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