Poking our nose into the artist’s studio

Artist spotlight on Vitali Konstantinov, illustrator of Genius Noses

According to NordSüd editor Andrea Naasan, one of the nicest outings of all is a visit to an artist’s studio. In this artist’s spotlight, she reports on a trip she made one summer’s day in 2022 to have a chat with Vitali Konstantinov. At the time, Vitali was working on the illustrations for Genius Noses: A Curious Animal Compendium.  For this collection of strange animals, author Lena Anlauf had assembled some truly remarkable facts and anecdotes, and Vitali was tasked with bringing the animals to life through his vibrant vignettes. This post has been translated from German by David Henry Wilson, with light editing for clarity.

The visit began with a steep climb up a winding staircase to Vitali and Lena’s attic apartment, situated in an ancient and impressive building in the old quarter of Marburg, Germany. “We’re living in the Middle Ages here,” says Vitali with a grin, as he welcomes me to his very special, neat and tidy home, which is set on a narrow, cobbled alley. In 2022, Marburg celebrated its 800th anniversary. To mark this occasion, Vitali illustrated two books about the town. I’d already seen copies in all the shops before I met him.

The Artist’s Studio

Without further ado, Vitali takes me straight to his drawing table. From here he has a wonderful view over the Lahn Valley.  It’s essential for him to have perfect conditions to work in, and he finds the constant tapping from a hornets’ nest in the woodwork extremely irksome! 

Our conversation focuses quite intensely on which seat is ideal to sit on while working at the drawing table. We also discuss the merits of the aluminum curtain which keeps the sun out when it gets too hot.

Vitali at the drawing table, with the aluminum curtain on the left

I see the drawing paper spread out on the table. Choosing the right paper is a basic decision that every illustrator must make. The first one he chose for this project proved to be too cool for the effects he wanted to achieve. The paper he’s now using has a pleasant, creamy tone and the texture is perfect.

Working in Stages

The illustrations are produced in stages. The first colors are done in India ink, and these are later developed with crayons. All Vitali’s work is analog, which demands 100% concentration. Unlike digital work, it’s very difficult to make changes if the picture is found to contain mistakes.

On the wall he has hung a view of all the book’s pages, showing each individual chapter with its respective illustrations. He has neatly marked off all the pictures that have been completed– a special type of calendar for an illustrator trying to meet the book’s deadlines!

The Creative, Give-and-Take Process

For the next phase of my visit, we move to the table in the cozy kitchen. I want to touch on what might be a sensitive subject. The publisher wants Vitali to make changes to the cover illustration. We digress a little when he asks how much freedom he has for this illustration. Our approach at NordSüd and NorthSouth is straightforward: We want a joint decision on what sort of cover would make the best impression. Sometimes this leads to a disagreement over which theme would be ideal. However, as publishers we would never insist on something the illustrator disagrees with.

There are several criteria that need to be met. The cover theme has to be eye-catching, reflect the content of the book at a single glance, and fit in with the title. It also needs to be effective when reduced for a catalog, and so on.

We have already discussed a few sketches for the cover of Genius Noses, but we’re not convinced that we’ve hit on the best possible version. I’m looking for a tactful way of preparing Vitali for the fact that we want him to try again. But he’s one step ahead of me. He’s not satisfied either, has had several ideas, and would like to start again from scratch. I’m surprised at how self-critical and open-minded he is, and once again I’m delighted by this very special, give-and-take collaboration. 

once again I’m delighted by this very special, give-and-take collaboration.

Andrea Nassan

Both of us watch over the wonderful development of the project, and we can already anticipate the sheer joy we shall feel when it’s complete. We simply know it’s going to be something great!

P.S. On the way out, Vitali shows me a piece by the US artist Mark Wagner, who makes collages out of $100 dollar bills. It’s a very different form of art, but the greenish color space and the unusualness of the work are reminiscent of Genius Noses.

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