Olga Shtonda is an award-winning illustrator from Kharkiv, Ukraine, who loves to combine different graphic techniques with printmaking, ink, pencils, collages and digital. Right now, she's in Mexico visiting a friend. She went there two weeks before Russia invaded her country. She's now wondering if she'll ever be able to go home.
"I have a return ticket for April, but now I'm not sure if I'll be able to see my studio in Kharkiv again," Olga tells Creative Boom. "My hometown is constantly shelled by Russian troops and already destroyed. My family is in the Kharkiv region now, which borders Russia. It's very dangerous to stay there, they hear shots and explosions every day, but they don't want to leave their home. Many of my friends have fled to other cities or abroad because it seems that there is no safe place in Ukraine right now."
With everything that's happening in Ukraine and the situation changing every day, Olga has naturally felt sad and overwhelmed. But she has found some comfort through her art: "It's hard to focus on usual work when your friends and family are in danger, and your homeland is being destroyed," she says. "At first, I was paralysed. It was hard to realise it was happening, so I had to pause work on my current project. But then I felt that I have enough will to fight for Ukraine with my main weapon, illustration. I also admire my talented Ukrainian colleagues – illustrators who find the strength to work from basements during shelling and being in temporary housing away from home."
Creating work for children's books, plus illustrations and animations for various clients, including Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Yakaboo Publishing, Olga is represented by Inkling Illustration. Humans and nature inspire her work. "It is fun and cheerful because I like to make people smile," she says.
"I've never set the goal to find my style, and everything worked out by itself. I do not rule out that it may transform in the future. My aesthetic philosophy is based on whether the result is liked, and I am always listening to myself. I look at the world through humour and irony, and I love to make people happy and feel empathy."
Olga believes her visual style was influenced by studying printmaking and graphic art at Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Arts. "I use different techniques and materials such as China ink, acryl, pencils, hand-printed textures and combine them into a digital collage with beautiful textures and vivid colours. I like to experiment a lot, and sometimes it takes me a lot of time to finish the artwork, but I think that the process is as valuable as a result," she says.
Illustration was always seen as her destined profession, as Olga has been drawing since childhood. "Now that I'm analysing my early works, I realise I've always thought like an illustrator, but it took me a while to figure it out," she tells us. "After school, I studied design, but I didn't like what I was doing, and I even thought about leaving the art profession. Because drawing was the only thing I did well, I still embarked on a design course. Only in my third year of study, when the specialisation of book graphics began, I soon realised that illustration makes me happy. I have been in the profession for ten years since then, and I have never doubted that I am on the right path."
Olga has made recent artworks on the Russian invasion and admits it helps her cope and feel as though she's doing at least something to help: "Art is now the main thing that keeps me going, and thanks to my work, I feel that I can be useful for Ukraine. Lately, I've received many requests to use my illustration with hugging yellow and blue silhouettes for various charity events to support Ukrainians in this terrible time. Moreover, art is a powerful weapon that helps to shout to the world that the war in Ukraine is a global problem that costs human lives every day. I'm very grateful to artists and illustrators who express solidarity and support for Ukraine with their art."