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Anna Sokolova’s (Delft) Blueprint For Dream Fulfillment

Apart from klutzy kitties chasing after ill-fated moths, there are very few things that conveniently land in our laps. Those who rise through the ranks – such as Leningrad-born, Berlin-based artist Anna Sokolova – know that passive finger-crossing isn’t the best way to effectuate one’s dreams. That’s why the fine art and mixed media illustrator decided back in her college days that she’d become an unceasing tour de force. With a recent Maison Margiela couture collaboration under her belt, we had to learn a lot more about the long-term sweat equity that she’s built into her practice, since – clearly – it’s been paying off!

Anna-Sokolova-Dark

For the past 15 years, Anna has kept her nose to the grindstone and – as you’ll soon learn – her career coups are worth shouting from the rooftop. Still, we tend to buy into the idea that once-in-a-lifetime opportunities will somehow just materialize. This art world fairy tale has particularly glittery wings:

Once I announce my artistic intentions to the universe, my loftiest hopes and dreams will magically manifest. My unparalleled creativity will then make an indelible mark on the world, society will reward me with great riches, and I will live happily ever after, eternally fulfilled by my artsy awesomeness!

The logical side of our minds can tell us that gilded opportunities will never careen through our window like a blazing comet, however we will still hold out for a celestial miracle because there is something quite appealing about not having to break a sweat. Anna Sokolova stresses, however, that “it truly takes years (…and years and years!) to get where you want”.

Building “a sustainable, profitable, dream career” is absolutely possible, she says, as long as “you think a bit harder and more strategically.” Among the most essential ingredients for a fruitful art career, Anna believes that “a deep passion for creative self-expression” and “legitimate talent” must be present. If an artist doesn’t back those qualities with “determination and persistence”, she cautions that dreams run the risk of remaining nothing more than fanciful notions.

Art is as essential to me as dreams. Creating new worlds that didn’t exist before gives me the greatest fulfillment.

Before you tuck yourself into a fetal position and lament how hard and unfair the art world is, Anna Sokolova – whose signature Delft blue paintings have been commissioned by some of the world’s top brands, including Netflix, Wired, and ImagineFX – is here to say chin up, buttercup. The multi-award-winning mixed media artist designed her own career, on her own terms, with zero connections in the art world. Heck nooo, it hasn’t been easy, but her many victories have certainly tasted a lot sweeter because she earned them. Come on everybody, let’s get the scoop!

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Was there ever a point when you didn’t know your life’s purpose? Has your art path always been as obvious as a pulsing neon sign?

Art is an organic part of my personality and philosophy. Of course, there were long moments of doubt, but I have never doubted my talent. I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to figure out the most practical way to apply my skills so I could realize my dream.

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Your visual aesthetic and voice were already present as far back as your teen years. How did the teenaged YOU land on such a distinctive Delft style?

Even when we’re as young as 11-13 years, we already love certain things deeply. I’ve always been thrilled by porcelain figurines and intricately painted narratives on ceramics. One of the greatest gifts as an artist is revisiting our younger days, thinking about the things that truly enchanted us, and then giving those treasures new creative life.

Were you ever a rebel…as a teenager, or even creatively?

Only a rebel against stupidity! I can barely endure ignorance.

Good work takes time, but absolutely, I believe that everything we can imagine is achievable.

Anna-Sokolova-Netflix-Delft-Blue-Tiles

You were commissioned by Netflix to create 25 different Delft Blue paintings depicting many of their movies and shows. Your art was then transformed into a huge, tiled mural that is currently located in Netflix Headquarters in Amsterdam. What was it like to see your artwork reincarnated as wall tiles?

I was speechless! You know when you see something coated with a thick layer of transparent, glossy varnish? Everything just blooms and gets a three-dimensional feel. That’s what it looked like.

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That particular Netflix project pays homage to Rijksmuseum’s 17th century Delftware tile installation. While sketching each of your 25 works of art, did you modify certain classic Delftware flourishes or did all of the design elements emerge from your own imagination?

Delft Blue, as well as other porcelain and ceramic manufactures, draw their inspiration from Chinese tradition. I did extensive research in diverse genres, including tapestry and wood making. The iconic pattern on those tiles is called a cobalt net, which is a combination of intersecting cobalt blue lines with inverted teardrops.

My first step – as always – was to brainstorm ideas for my imagery. Then, I created several thumbnail sketches without using any references. I moved onto planning light and dark patterns, plus I studied value control. Once I had a solid idea, I looked for particular (and sometimes unexpected) elements to incorporate.

Was it challenging to make 25 pieces of art look cohesive and yet not seem like carbon copies of each other?

Each story is unique! The same approach works for paintings. There are literally thousands of ways that the same visual story can be told by different people.

Art is an organic part of my personality and philosophy. Of course, there were long moments of doubt, but I have never doubted my talent.

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Anna-Sokolova-Annihilation-In-Progress

You were highly commended by the 2021 World Illustration Awards for your “Annihilation”-themed Netflix painting. You’ve won all sorts of art contests, though, haven’t you? How do you maintain a level head and keep refining your talent rather than resting on your laurels?

Awards, recognition, and financial success are all very important and gratifying. However, the process of creating something special is my biggest inspiration and the main reason that I continue moving forward!

Your Netflix work is so aesthetically commanding, but has it resulted in you being ‘typecast’ specifically as a Delftware artist? 

My Netflix collaboration helped me to explore my creative vision on a new level. Additionally, it paved the way for other fantastic opportunities. So, I’d be happy to “do that” again and again!

You’ve enjoyed quite a few career highs, including hand painting Loes van Delft’s Pjipje sculptures with your illustrative patterns. How did that opportunity arise?

Loes found my Instagram account and loved my Deft aesthetic. I was fortunate enough to meet her in person at a huge art fair in Frankfurt called Creativeworld, which is where our artistic collaboration was exhibited.

Was painting on a three-dimensional surface ceramic surface – with so many curves and crevices – a bit nerve-wracking?

Considering the intricate style of the design, it was definitely challenging! I didn’t want any lines to be visible. The trickiest part was working without a preliminary sketch as is typical with paper or canvas.

Would you offer us a few behind-the-scenes details regarding your recent collaboration with Maison Margiela’s creative director, John Galliano? It must be mind-blowing to know that your art is an intrinsic part of their Fall 2021 “Artisanal” Couture Collection!

I was so impressed with the thoughtful and professional communication I had with John and his team. His artistic vision was fascinating. The goal was to create contemporary illustrations in the Delft Blue style, distorting that classic imagery using motifs that look pretty from afar but reveal a more sinister reality when studied in detail.

One of the greatest gifts as an artist is revisiting our younger days, thinking about the things that truly enchanted us, and then giving those treasures new creative life.

anna-sokolova-maison-margiela-delft-blue-sweater

Which specific pieces in Maison Margiela’s couture collection are adorned with your designs?

I hand-painted Recicla waders spliced with wooden Tabi clogs using my modern Delft Blue signature style. My designs were also applied to various other garments in their autumn couture collection such as their embroidered, handknit tiled sweater and the lining of a coat.

What is the best way for us to get a closer look at your fantastic art on Maison Margiela’s equally dazzling garments?  

The entire autumn 2021 couture collection can be seen in the Olivier Dahan-directed film, “A Folk Horror Tale”, which is based on an original concept by John Galliano.

Is there anything that could possibly top that dream opportunity for you…or could you die happy right now?

I want to publish a book, and I’ve been thinking about turning the Blooming Deer character from my Annihilation painting into a sculpture.

Do you view your goals – even the biggest ones – not as a matter of ‘if’, but rather as a matter of ‘when’ you will achieve them?

I do! Good work takes time, but absolutely, I believe that everything we can imagine is achievable. My goal, as always, is to create something that will still be relevant as the years pass.

Do you think that any artist can accomplish really high tier goals by consistently doing a few key things without fail?

There are no guarantees, of course, but it helps a lot if you have a strong entrepreneurial drive. A great first step is learning more about your dreams/goals and the type of work required to get there. Consistently creating good art that is reflective of a high level of effort always yields positive results.

If you’re serious about establishing an enduring career, even committing to smaller projects will provide you with invaluable experience with respect to planning, negotiations, expectations, self-discipline, and time management.

Awards, recognition, and financial success are all very important and gratifying. However, the process of creating something special is my biggest inspiration and the main reason that I continue moving forward!

Which aspect of your art is the most fulfilling…and which aspect is the most joyful?

Art is as essential to me as dreams. Creating new worlds that didn’t exist before gives me the greatest fulfillment. I also love sharing knowledge and seeing the unique way that someone else incorporates it into their art practice. As for the most joyful part of the artistic process, the very beginning of each new project is wonderful.

From the onset of your creative career, your desire to manifest your goals has been unrelenting. Is there just one area in your life where you simply cannot exercise discipline?

I am guilty of hoarding art supplies. Have you seen just how many ink bottles I have? It’s almost like I’m an alchemist trying to change common pigments into golden ink (even though I’m not).

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Anna-Sokolova-Aggretsuko-Process

Anna Sokolova Social Media Accounts

Website | Instagram | Twitter

About Author

Longtime eco-journalist, art wordsmith and creativity connoisseur. Anything that hovers in the right-brained spectrum or is born out of unbridled imagination elevates my spirit. I probably revere mother nature's ever-changing shazaamy brush strokes more than the average humanoid. Technicolor art supplies make me weak in the knees, as do wet-nosed luvvies.

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