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This is Yelena's interview for her fall 2011 show on Buy Some Damn Art with Becca Stadtlander.

Cat Nap

First of all, how do you know each other? 

Becca and I met in class during our sophomore year at MICA. We both secretly wanted to be the other's friend for a while, and when we finally confessed our mutual friend-crush on one another, we knew it was meant to be.  Sometimes you encounter a person that suddenly makes you feel relieved to have met them. I guess that's what we call soul mates. 

What are some things you two have in common... or don't have in common?

Our tastes and interests aren't exactly alike, but we appreciate a lot of the same things. We are forever gushing about small, precious objects, about beautiful books and films, little houses and natural landscapes.  We both have a strong sense of home and an ability to nest, to value simple, cozy things.  Becca and I find drawing small details and meticulous patterns to be very meditative, often to the disbelief of others. And despite all of our carefully cultivated aesthetic values, we both enjoy a good and trashy reality TV show ("Tough Love" is a mutual favorite!)

What are you listening to these days? 

I'm listening to Oh Land and Blonde Redhead, with sporadic bursts of ABBA and Ace of Base for positive motivation.

Kindling

Tell us about the work in this show.

This collection is based on the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, and simple, rustic life in general. We are both drawn to the different aspects of this concept. I like Leonard Koren's interpretation of wabi-sabi as "exactly about the delicate balance between the pleasure we get from things and the pleasure we get from freedom from things." The idea is that all of these scenes, interior and exterior, belong to the same world.

You both create artwork that, in my mind, has strong folk art influences - would you agree?

Yes, and it's been said before that Becca is clearly influenced by American folk art, and I - by Eastern European folk art. It's a generalization, of course - our influences and interests overlap and come from all over - but it makes me happy to know that the things we love and look at the most show through in our work.  Folk art, to me, is very much about humble concepts, craftsmanship, and making something for one's own joy and amusement before anything else, and I think our work is founded on those principles. 

Becca Stadtlander's The Overgrown Garden 

Tell us a bit about your studio space and work habits.

My workspace is a large desk in the living room of my Baltimore apartment.  I don't need much space because I work very small, and I like to organize my desk (and often the whole room) before I get started. I love research - it's one of my favorite aspects of illustration - so my MacBook is open in front of me for quick reference. I listen to music, audiobooks, podcasts, radio shows, or watch movies and TV shows. My process is like this: loose pencil sketch, tight pencil sketch, lightbox onto watercolor paper, go over lines with micron pen, begin painting, hate it, cry, throw out, start over more wisely. I use a discontinued brand of watercolor cakes called "Leningrad," and I drink lots of tea while I work.

Detail from Collections

Can you name a few artist crushes?

Brecht Evens, Genevieve Elverum, Carson Ellis, Jon Klassen, Lizzy Stewart.  Becca Stadtlander!

As illustrators do you make any distinction between illustration and fine art in your own practices? 

I don't like to use the words "artist" and "art" in reference to myself and my work; I always call myself an illustrator, even though most of the work I do, even if it is in response to text, can stand on its own and is often very personal. I suppose I make some distinction, but the lines are blurred and I don't think it matters that much what I call it. 

Describe a perfect weekend.

I round up my two best friends and we drive to New England on a perfect autumn day.  We get up early the next day and don cozy sweaters and rubber boots to go apple-picking and hiking. We hug some sheep. Explore a small town, peruse antiques shops. By evening there would be twinkle lights in the trees, and we'd settle in and drink hot cider and the three of us would talk about beautiful and exciting things and make happy future plans.   

What's your kryptonite?

Thin skin. I'm sensitive and I internalize everything.