Interview and Portrait by Rosie Brand
Hi Yuliya! First off, can you tell me a little about yourself, where you’re from, where and what you studied, and where you are at now?
I’m Yuliya Gwilym, aka yufrukt, a Ukrainian living in the Netherlands. I arrived here 9 years ago to study graphic design at the Royal Academy of Art. I tried my hand as a graphic designer once I finished school but then realised that I was far more intrigued by storytelling, sequences of images and the magic world of childhood.
Your work is so beautifully dynamic, can you tell me more about your approach to colour, texture and combining different mediums? It seems there is a lot of influence from different printing techniques.
I like to use ink and collage. I use simple lino stamps every now and then, or prints from everyday objects like a vegetable or a fingerprint (something I took from my work with kids). I love to create my own textures from things related and unrelated to art materials. In the end my work is a combination (a mess) of different parts. I almost always assemble it digitally so it’s fun to use printing techniques like silkscreen to bring my finals back to the wonderful world of analogue.
It feels stronger when I work with just a few colours: primary colours come more easily but I try to search for other colours too. Lately I have been drawn to black and white.
You primarily make work geared towards children, both in the realms of children’s book illustration and designing DIY activities for young children. You also have had some experience in the field of teaching activities and working directly with kids. Can you tell me about these projects and do you feel that these experiences influenced your approach to making stories and illustrations for young kids?
Yes! Working with kids helped me learn a lot – especially about storytelling! Sometimes it feels like I’ve learned more from children than I did from art school. When I discuss my ideas with kids they help me see unexpected turns, they also simplify things and sort of see the core of them. Kids inspire me to think of weird and unknown and sometimes dark things. And of course kids’ art has inspired artists throughout history!
I know that you like to attend or appear at Bologna Children’s book fair. What has been your experience of this expo, and how has it helped to develop your work and sense of illustration as a business?
Bologna Children’s Book Fair is one of the biggest worldwide events in children’s illustration and literature. When I went there for the first time I was astonished by the amount of beautiful and sophisticated work – it made me feel overwhelmed and a little scared as if I felt there was nothing I could add… But when I came home, I felt motivated; it made me feel part of a bigger world where everyone is interested in similar things and all of these people are real grown ups and those are their real jobs! So I started going every year for inspiration and the opportunity to network because at the fair you have a chance to meet with art directors and editors from all over the world. It’s an opportunity to perhaps find your perfect match with a publisher or hear a reflection on your work from a specialist you respect. You also learn a lot about the industry by just observing.
Your work is so unique and definitely speaks to your sense of colour and story, yet you seem like you are still evolving and playing with every project. Can you tell me about your journey to finding this point in your work, was there a moment when it all clicked into place? Do you think you are still searching?
I like to try new things. It took me some time to stop consciously searching like I used to. At that time I was determined to try every single crayon, paint and paper to see what feels right, what would be “my style”. Now I feel like I’m at peace with myself, with what I make and I just let it evolve naturally with practice without over-thinking.
What are your thoughts on the pressure to fit into a fixed style, to attract an agent or a certain type of client?
I think this pressure overtakes new artists’ minds a lot, and it can be quite traumatic to force yourself towards directions you wouldn’t naturally go. In the ideal world I think finding a client that would appreciate your work rather than tailoring your work around a client is best, but I know that sometimes it doesn’t happen quite as easy. But I believe if you’re good at something and you keep practising, you will eventually find your niche.
A few of your projects have an emphasis on diversity, with your characterful little arch exploring how personalities are made of all types of characteristics in ‘My Color is Rainbow’ and a joyful celebration of collaboration across cultures in your project with Kaori Pie, ‘Spirit Chimeras’. Can you speak to the importance of cross-cultural influence in your illustrations?
My life is basically a cross-cultural experience! I live in a foreign country, have to speak a few languages with my family and am surrounded by artists from around the world in my studio. I believe diversity is the strength of every community! In the current political climate of the world I think we need to be constantly reminded not to be scared of our differences, as well as to notice our similarities. Diversity, equality, peace are the subjects that trigger something else in me, something that is more powerful than just creating art.
What was the project that you feel you learned the most from?
When the goals are set for each new project, I feel excited but then I feel uncomfortable and unsure and now I’ve learned that it means I’m about to overcome something and grow from this experience. Recently I’ve been working with a Chinese client, and some of the illustrations I gave them just didn’t work, because the imagery – the symbols, metaphors – just didn’t translate to their culture. So I’ve been learning to create more universal images because of that, and that’s been an interesting challenge for me.
Are there any other projects you have worked on recently that you are really proud of?
I’m very emotional (and I think I will be proud once I’m done), about a book I’m currently working on with a Korean publisher. It’s a picture book for preschoolers about different kinds of families, a project very close to my heart.
What is the best piece advice you’ve had, in regards to illustration or otherwise?
“Stop crying Yuliya! Everything will be okay, I promise!”
All images are All Rights Reserved © yufrukt 2010-2017, except the first portrait © Rosie Brand 2017.