Mariya Prytula is an illustrator based out of Austin, Texas. Her work ranges from wildlife illustrations, children’s books, and more. This interview was conducted by email in August 2017. You can find more of her work at http://www.mvprytula.com.
Interview with Maggie Ivy
MI: Thanks for doing this interview Mariya! You started freelancing full-time as an illustrator in 2015. What brought you to this point and make the leap into freelance?
MP: I’ve always enjoyed art. I ended up studying it quite heavily in high school, starting the AP Art program in our school, but the instructors were less than stellar and art school was really expensive, so I ended up going to school for something a little more “practical”. During those years though I picked up a book by Charles de Lint based on John Jude Palencar’s cover (“Waifs and Strays” check it out), loved de Lint’s writing, followed him on Facebook. Around that time he was collaborating with Charles Vess on “Cats of Tanglewood Forest”. So I followed Charles Vess as well who posted about Illuxcon and Spectrum’s portfolio reviews. Since Spectrum’s tickets were only $40, I talked a friend into going with me, booked my tickets, and signed up for portfolio review. After all I’ve never heard a professional opinion of my work.
I’ve combed internet for tips on how to put together a portfolio, printed one off from Blurb and put it under everyone’s nose once at Spectrum. Everyone was incredibly encouraging. Tim Kirk and his friend George Beahm gave me a lot of their time and really encouraged to just dive into illustration.
So I came home. Signed up for a local children’s illustration course, took a few months to get settled in and put together a picture book dummy, and haven’t looked back.
MI: I also noticed in your biography that you are a self taught artist. Originally you went to Baylor University and completed a degree in Biology with emphasis on Medicine. What brought on the career shift? And have you found your education to have influenced your art in some way?
MP: Toward my last year or so in college I came to a realization that medicine, with its extreme education costs and lack of personal time among other issues, would not provide me the flexibility I wanted in life. I still love the field, but I realized that being a woman, I probably would not have the down time to create artwork until retirement, if at all. And that was very unnerving.
I worked a few years in medical device regulatory company, working with contracts, CEOs, registrations, and with some company changes, a lot of responsibilities had fallen on me. When you start crying during Frozen because it seems like “Let it Go” is about you, you know you need a career change haha.
Some of the Biology basics do apply. Even though I have never taken anatomy for the artists, I didn’t realize how much anatomy I internalized from my anatomy classes. Chemistry is great for figuring out how mediums and pigments work. And I love examining animals and plants from a naturalist standpoint in my artwork as well. I always try to put them in the right environment.
MI: Your go to choice of paint is watercolor, When did you land on this particular medium?
MP: I’ve actually dabbled in oils in high school, but I’ve never had a well ventilated studio space. Watercolor was better for my health, but it also just felt a lot more natural. It’s also an incredibly diverse medium. You can paint with a more of a wet technique, or multiple layers, dry brush it or use it very opaquely. Just so incredibly diverse. And I also really love the simplicity that it’s just paper, paint and water. That’s it. You can get a lot with very little. You also don’t need a huge space for it.
MI: You are involved with many projects, collectives and committees. Could you tell us alittle about what you do, and how you balance all these groups?
MP: Am I? Haha. It always seems like I should do more.
When I was planning my wedding, I realized that I was pretty good at event planning and started my own company. Around the same time I found out that ICON9 was coming to Austin and Marc Scheff was on the events board, I volunteered to help him, and they invited me to be on the team as a local advisor which was great!
Then I really wanted to get a group of women together for an art retreat, so I put one together. This year has been our second gathering. It came together from Ian McCaig saying that to be a great artist you need to experience life, and travel and do all that jazz. When traveling with non-artists you don’t have a whole lot of opportunity to stop and sketch, so I thought well let’s get a group together and capture those experiences.
I feel much better when I have a lot of different things going on at the same time. That way I don’t sit at home staring into the ceiling over analyzing my art. And even though I like my alone studio time, I love hanging with art people. Since I’ve never went to art school, it’s so amazing to hear people’s stories and learn from them. Doing all this stuff is how I cobble together an art education for myself.
MI: How is your work space set up?
MP: I might have taken over our small apartment ^_^. I have a large drafting table and a desk next to each other taking up half of the living room, and then I have my editing desk with my monitor, scanner and printer taking up half of the bedroom. My artwork is stored flat under the bed in portfolio folders, and packing supplies are in the linen closet. Needless to say my husband is very sympathetic.
Each one of my desks is nearly always a mess. I usually give them a good clean and a polish before the start of a new project, but let’s be honest it doesn’t last long.
I also like working late into the night.
MI: Do you listen to anything when you work? Music, podcasts, audiobooks, trashy tv?
MVP: *blush* majority of the time I have Lord of the Rings soundtrack playing. Hearing “Concerning the Hobbits” just automatically calms me and says work time.
Lately I’ve been into classical music, and I also love 30’s-50’s music. Occasionally if it’s something I already know how to do well, I’ll listen to Russian tv talk shows or Great British Bake Off. But honestly more and more I’ve been finding that I am quite content to work in relative silence.
It’s a little sad that I can’t listen to podcasts or audiobooks when I draw. I’ve tried to, but it is too distracting. Maybe it’s something to do with English not being my first language (I even like watching movies with subtitles even though I am fluent) or maybe because I think in pictures and those just clash with what I’m drawing. I’d be nice to multi-task.
I occasionally watch movies while I’m editing or making prints though.
MI: How is the art scene where you are now?
MVP: I live in Austin, Texas. There seems to be a growing fine art scene, but illustration is still like a red-headed step child.
I am in love with our Wednesday Sketchnight. It’s every week at 7pm, Starbucks on Anderson Lane. So if you’re an artist, swing by and say hi!
MI: What other artists inspire or interest you?
MVP: All of them? No seriously there are so many different ways to see an object and interpret a theme, and if someone is putting out good work dear lord that’s awesome. That takes guts!
I really love a lot of modern art installations – there is a room done by Cai Guo-Qiang in Houston Museum of Fine Art that’s amazing. I always try to stop by and see what’s new if I’m in town.
I love Alan Lee’s work, Gennady Spirin’s compositions, Peredvizhniki’s use of color, space and narrative, Sulamith Wulfing’s ethereal softness, Robert Bateman’s incredible wildlife art, and let’s throw everyone from the Golden Age of Illustration and Andrew Wyeth’s watercolors for a good measure. And have you seen the amazing depth Ed Binkley gets in his sepia works?
I have so much to learn.
MI: What would you like to see more of in contemporary Fantasy art?
MVP: I would like artists to create their own IPs. That’s why Changeling Artist Collective is so wonderful, because even though the auctions have a loose theme, a lot of the work produced and offered is so personal.
I’d also like artists to be compensated fairly for their time and expertise by companies. Unfortunately, nearly always there is someone who offers less than market rate for a project and someone willing to take on that project, which brings everyone’s wages down. Know what you’re worth. Get this https://graphicartistsguild.org/handbook 🙂
MI: What’s your dream project?
MVP: I don’t know if I can allow myself that :). So much is defined by timing, being at the right place at the right time and etc. But if I did dare to dream, I would love to see my artwork/characters/story inspire a set design or a movie, and for me to get to walk in it. That would be amazing *sheepish smile*
I’d also love to get to speak in schools. That would make me very happy as well.
But there might be something in the works in 2018.
MI: What’s next for you?
MVP: Well right now I am working on an amazing picture book called “Little Moss and Big Tree” with M Yap Stewart. It’s an incredibly heartwarming story filled with nature, passage of seasons and lots of wildlife. It’s going to be large format, and look amazing. I still have a lot of work to do on it, but Kickstarter is coming spring 2018. So be ready! You can check out the progress on my instagram @mariya_illustrates (https://www.instagram.com/mariya_illustrates/) and sign up for updates here http://www.mvprytula.com/current-project