Taking a Leap of Faith: An Interview with Anna Sokolova

Anna Sokolova is an award-winning contemporary artist who creates artworks in Modern Delft Blue and Imaginative Realism styles, and she has been blessed to work and collaborate with many esteemed brands, such as Netflix, throughout her career. Having completed a formal art education, Anna realised her passions lay in Illustration and she has managed to carve out a fantastic career and reputation since then.

Keep reading to find out Anna Sokolova’s experience how she managed to collaborate with Netflix and develop into the artist we know her as today!

Anna Sokolova

I remember mentioning to my husband in between coffee and dessert something like “Hey, by the way, I got an e-mail from Netflix, they want to suggest something” and the reply was “Hmm. interesting”. And then it was time for canelé dessert right away, like nothing happened.

When did you decide you wanted to make creating art your career?

You won’t be surprised! I’ve been drawing as far as I can remember, spending hours just exploring every printed imagery starting from family costumed vintage photographs to questionable advertisements. :)

Though I heard a lot of constant appreciation it was hard to imagine a career as an artist. The art school didn’t inspire me much and, to be honest, drawing the same object without any given goal for hours wasn’t suited for my character. I still remember that dreadful feeling of spending countless evenings in a poorly heated old manor of the art school, which was someone’s home before the Revolution.

The whole process had nothing to do with pleasure and happiness — the main purpose of art.

At the same time, I was tremendously inspired by illustrated books and museums. Strolling around the streets of Leningrad (St.Petersburg) I soaked the artistic atmosphere both in Hermitage and in the “Dostoyevsky districts”. Then I discovered a Publishing degree, which combined both practical and artistic disciplines with so many path choices.

Meanwhile, technology and freelance way of working started to bloom and I very quickly realized that it’s exactly my way! It was still foreign for many creatives and even the word “illustrator” didn’t exist in the legal market — it was still “creative editor/technical artist/painter” from Soviet times. At the same time, the possibilities of the international creative scene were unlimited if you can do a variety of styles and have skills. I took that leap of faith!

Have you always wanted to be an illustrator/painter or have you experimented with other mediums?

While studying publishing at Peter the Great Polytechnic University I did a lot of commercial design and illustration work to support myself. At that time, I took all the work I could find including questionable website designs, logotypes, posters, etiquettes, self-published books of poems, graphomaniac literature, etc. I even have a log of hilarious freelance client requests received over the years (the ones you can find on Clients from Hell website).

This experience was invaluable and not only taught me discipline but showed me exactly what I enjoy working on.

It makes me appreciate a lot what I’m naturally doing now.

Anna Sokolova artwork

What have been one of the top experience in your career?

There is one that changed the way I perceived artistic career possibilities. As a freshman student, I got a commission to illustrate the edition of “The Devil’s Dictionary” by Ambrose Bierce (also known as The Cynic’s Word Book, 1911). The publisher just found me online on some freelance work sites. It was a heavy leather-bound gift edition for a big construction company with more than 50 ink artworks + ornament cliche for cover.

I was very nervous, finished everything in time, and enjoyed the process of reading and creating so much (experimenting with pen and ink on paper and inkjet).

The client saw the results.

After two days I got a letter from the editor that they had a briefing and decided to double my honorary. This not only helped me to cover current University fees but build stone confidence and self-trust so needed for creative development.

How did you get your gig with Netflix? Did they approach you or did you submit?  Tell us all about it!

When guys from Netflix contacted me, I couldn’t believe it. They just found me online.

I mean I get a lot of e-mails every day and you’ll laugh to see how many “important” “producers”, “stars” and “soon to be milliners” are there wanting a free or low paid work.

I remember mentioning to my husband in between coffee and dessert something like “Hey, by the way, I got an e-mail from Netflix, they want to suggest something” and the reply was “Hmm. interesting”. And then it was time for canelé dessert right away, like nothing happened.

So, the next week when I had a quick chat with the head of the marketing department his first question was “Do you know what Netflix is?”. The funny thing is I don’t watch series at all. With my type of brain, I get immersed and distracted a lot so I don’t have a TV and I’m very selective choosing the type of content that I consume.

The only series I watched was “Stranger Things” (ahh I love sci-fi and that Carpenter vibe!!). And of course, now I had to watch “The Witcher” since Sapkowski’s books are amazing with a mix of folklore and fantasy fairy tale futurism.

So… we discussed it a bit and I started to work on my dream project right away!

It was real.

How has your work with Netflix influenced your career?

It definitely opened new doors and unexpected collaborations!

For example, I’ve collaborated with an inspiring Dutch contemporary artist Loes van Delft to paint over her fantastic Pjipje character sculptures. We had them exhibited at the Creative World Frankfurt right away and got such an amazing instant response from the audience. You can imagine busy industry people hurrying around, it’s not easy to grab their attention.

While giving this interview, I got a letter that the Netflix project received Honorable Mention in 3×3 International Illustration Awards. It was also recognized by few International Jury shows and I’m still anticipating some results (pant, pant!).

I should mention that it really took a tremendous amount of work and these days you have to “do it all yourself”. Submitting to art competitions, creating opportunities, and collaborations —it’s all part of being the engineer of your creative career. 

Anna Sokolova surreal artwork

You’ve had a fantastic career so far, with lots of achievements and awards, but if you didn’t choose this career path what would you be doing?

Thank you! I recently got a postcard from my friend saying “Be yourself. But if you can’t be yourself be Batman”. Jokes aside, the artworks of early Batcomics influenced me a lot, so I can hardly imagine doing something that doesn’t involve creativity.

Anna Sokolova surreal artwork

What is something you still aspire to achieve in your career?

I want to illustrate a book of fairy tales! Some beautiful solid edition with remarkable polygraph work (hint, hint to the Universe!)

If you could interview any artist/creative living or dead who would it be or why?

I would love to have a chat with Giorgio Vasari since he could tell a lot about the company, he spent time with. I’m sure you know what I mean — it’d be so interesting to know which of his writings have a ring of truth and which are absolute fiction; like a story about a painted fly on the surface, which older masters tried to brush away. It’s attributed to so many famous artists and turned out to be a Greek tale.

Honestly, I can’t forget the feeling in the Uffizi gallery in Florence. I felt that I can literally speak to the artworks and read the signs that were left by the authors. It can’t be compared even close to the reproductions seen in books.

Who has been your biggest inspiration in your life? (answer only if it’s a different answer to the previous question).

The spirit and possibilities of art in general. Regardless of your abilities and genre.

I would say the inspiration to me is a constructed homunculus of several artists of past and present. At first, I was mesmerized by the works of Ilya Repin and Ivan Bilibin. I so clearly remember spending countless silent moments in front of the “Sadko” painting in the State Russian Museum. This painting along with other folklore artworks influenced the international performance scene. The recent premiere of epic opera “Sadko” by Dmitry Chernyakov in Bolshoi is a great example of such modern interpretation.

Berlin charmed me with its Museum Island. In Gemäldegalerie there are some rooms where you can literally spend time with Raphael alone. I hardly can imagine another place where this is possible.

Yuko Shimizu is a tremendously inspiring contemporary artist and educator who shares not only her technique but the conceptual approaches to art careers in general. She inspired me to teach online on an affordable platform to share a passion for art and give back to the creative community.

Anna Sokolova surreal art

How has COVID-19 affected your life and career?

My husband works in a huge hospital ICU in Berlin’s city center. So you can imagine the whole situation is constant stress. We had to build a decontamination zone in our apartment at the very beginning when so little was known.

I stopped visiting public spaces right after they had the first deceased COVID patient.

The whole world is a different place right now. Considering the unquestionably horrible real situation in Russia and closed borders, it takes a lot of effort not to think about it all the time. But it’s hopeful to see that when the recommendations of reasonable scientific people are followed, things are really working and are getting better. Many art and trade shows were cancelled. Berlin’s art branches are suffering but the help of government is also huge, now everyone’s figuring out how things will look like in the new future. Definitely, the role of digital is getting bigger again. I’m happy to have established a part of my business online so I can be better prepared for the coming changes.

Where do you see yourself and your career in the next 5 years?

I see myself as a better artist — whatever that means! :D

The rest will just come along, hopefully.

Anna Sokolova surreal art

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