The first time I met Sasha I learnt he was a Russian living in Romania and that’s all I bothered to remember. After that we bumped into each other a few times, chit chatted about this and that, mostly out of politeness, and that was it as far as I was concerned. But several years later I discovered his beautiful illustrations and immediately wished we worked together. So I sent him a message and proposed that we did a story book together. It was only then we truly began to know each other. We started to meet more often, our conversations gained substance and one day, as I was leaving to meet him I found myself smiling at the thought that I was going to see a dear friend.
Sasha has been living in Romania since he was one year old, but he was born in Grozny, Russia. He says home comes with dear people and with a space he feels safe and comfortable in. He studied at a Russian school in Bucharest and only after finishing high school he started making more Romanian friends.
In the beginning I was knows as the Russian, he laughs, but I never felt discriminated.
At 16, Sasha attended the Bucharest University of Economic Studies where he also followed a master’s degree program. During that time he began working to pay for his studies too. Now he’s a technical specialist at the Oracle University where he helps students to prepare for their classes.
But more than anything in the world, Sasha loves drawing. Under his fingers, robots and animals come to life and express emotions and moods that transcend the barriers we sometime use to look at them. His passion for drawing followed him since childhood, yet only in the past three years it turned into something more significant. Drawing is one of the very few activities he does naturally and his art is his own way of helping others and spreading joy.
I’ve reached a point where I can draw anything that crosses my mind. It might not come out perfect from the start but either way I manage to get something out of it. Sometimes all I want to do is express my own feelings and emotions and tell someone who’s going through something similar “hey, you’re not alone in this”. I also like surprising people with a drawing in which I include small details from a conversation we had at some point or something they’ve told me”.
Through projects like Gritty Owls and Free Art Friday or attending events like Comic Con, Comic Fest or Street Delivery Alex learnt a great deal. Finding himself more and more outside his comfort zone, he met all kinds of people and artists from which he learnt or with whom he started lots of projects and collaborations. Now he’s happy he found his own style on robotics and he’s thrilled he’s able to learn and evolve on a continuous basis.
I wanted to know more about his work and the things he’s learnt by now, so we met on a warm august evening and this is what followed.
You’ve worked by now on both individual and collaborative projects. What are the differences between the two and what have you learnt from each of them?
When you work in a team the Ego has to go. You leave it behind, it doesn’t matter. What matters is to be empathetic, to understand the other person’s point of view and the point of view of the entire group and to analyse it. You mustn’t embrace NO from the start and, most importantly, you must bring arguments and solutions. If you don’t come up with a solution, just saying No doesn’t help you at all. Working in a group also implies the decisions are to be made in that group. It’s very important to have a common goal and to be organised. You must also consider both your personal interest and the interest of the group, and your own interest should be very important too, because that means you will invest time and attention to that thing.
How important is a leader in a team?
Very important. A leader must go with the group, not tell it what to do. He or she must get involved, offer trust and inspire. The leader must make everybody understand the thing they’re working for is very important just as important as their role in the team is.
Tell me about your work process.
The environment and the mood are very important to me, so I prefer working in a quiet place rather than a noisy, hectic one. When I’m at the studio I turn off the ceiling light and use a more powerful desk lamp. Then, depending on my mood I listen to some music or a podcast. If I find the podcast interesting I pause it and leave it for later when I can pay attention to it. I usually prefer instrumental music and the genre can vary from metal to rock to electronic, classical or jazz.
I get my ideas from everything: my interactions with other people, a song that made me feel a certain way, a movie I enjoyed or something that got my interest on my commute. Even if my time is limited, I also like to draw things for other people. For example, when it’s someone’s birthday and I know what they like, I use those details in a drawing. Other times I sketch many things and chose one of them to draw that day.
After I decide on the idea, I exercise my hand for about half an hour to get in the mood. I draw a few heads, a few human sketches, maybe some robot models. I try on different tools but I usually use the pencil. I add a little bit of brush pens and after all this is done I start the sketch. I initially make many small ones to get an idea about the concept I want to follow. Afterwards I make the drawing on a bigger scale in pencil, then ink, colours and ink one more time to make it more visible. The time I need to finish it tends to decrease, but this also depends on the complexity of the drawing – the fastest I can do a drawing is an hour and a half but it can also take several hours.
What role does discipline play in your work?
Discipline is very important and inspiration needs to be trained. It’s not a thing I have today and tomorrow disappears. I learnt how important discipline is the moment I started my Inktober project when I made a drawing every day for an entire month. If you don’t do it constantly you get rusty and need time to get back on track. If I stop drawing for a week I’ll need three or four days to get my rhythm back.
This is how I also learnt to avoid the artist’s block. I’ve researched this subject a lot and one thing I learnt is that the best solution is to keep drawing. It doesn’t have to be something amazing, but only if I continue to draw I’ll get over the block. It may take a day, a week, or whatever necessary, but afterwards I get back on track. Besides, it’s also about the time it takes to get good at it. If you draw once a month you’ll need more time to get as good as you’d get if you drew every single day.
How do you take criticism?
I don’t take it very well and I tend to be a little defensive at start. Some people know this about me and stop before I tend to do it. But when I’m alone I think about what someone said and accept when they are right. When that happens I talk to them and apologise. In the same time, I value constructive criticism and arguments instead of someone just telling me they don’t like x or z.
What is failure to you and how do you overcome it?
I see failure as an experience. It’s true, when it happens I might not feel very good, my day seems gloomy, but that means I’ve made a mistake and I do my best to find out what it was, learn from it and try not to do it again. I’m not saying I’ll stop doing it at once, but I fix it in time. Every experience gives me something to learn from, and regret to me is just useless, wasted time. Instead of crying for myself I rather do something and work.
You have an office job that’s more technical and also your side projects that are creative and artistic. Did you acquire any transferrable skills from them?
I used to be very shy before I had my first job. I was really scared of talking to people and afraid I might say or do something wrong, but I’ve got passed that in time. Now I can easily have a conversation with someone, about almost anything and those frequent, awkward silences are mostly gone.
My hardware skills and knowledge were largely self taught, and during my job as a trainer, I had to open up many laptops to teach and better explain things to my students. This thing is present in some of my drawings – for example I had a totem illustration where I inserted motherboards. And the other way around, my drawing skills were useful when I had to make my presentations more appealing.
What in your opinion is the most important skill an artist should acquire?
Discipline. At first, your tools and imagination are not as important as the technique is. You must learn the basics and continue working on it, otherwise you won’t get where you want to. Then it’s very important to set an objective, and this can mean anything, from I want to learn to use a certain tool to I want my comic book to be published. You don’t necessarily need a timeframe, but you need a higher goal. Then you divide it in small steps or actions and say “ok, this week I’ll do this for x hours”. In time you’ll get where you need to.
Deadlines and timeframes are important too, but not as important if you work to improve your skills. Not to mention you’ll have enough deadlines from your clients. You don’t have to self impose them, although this way you’ll get used to them and they will help you figure out how much time you’ll need to do certain things. If someone comes to me now and asks me to draw them a dragon in my own style I’ll know that this will take me two days: a couple of hours to think about a concept and the rest to do the drawing. I know this now, but if you were to ask me last year I wouldn’t have known what to tell you.
In a time where we can and try to make our voices heard, it seems like we need to learn more than our own craft. What other things do you think an artist should learn?
In my opinion they should focus 50% on work and 50% on networking. There are a lot of artists on the internet, only a few of them know to make themselves noticed and this matters a lot. The percentage of people who will randomly discover you is small. You need to learn to socialise both online and offline. Jake Parker talked about this in a podcast: you need to set aside an hour a day to interact with other people, go on their profiles, leave a comment, express an opinion. And often, an honest comment has more value than a Like. You don’t have to compare yourself with other people or feel inferior. Most of the times people are opened and willing to talk and help you.
It’s also good to meet new people, go to conventions and interact, don’t just sell your work. It seems that people don’t do it too often and I noticed this at Comic Con too. They sketch or sit there without talking too much with the public or their possible public and this thing kind of gets you down a bit and makes your interest drop.
Do you have any advice for starting up artists?
Show your art. Even if you don’t think highly of it, show it. Maybe not everything you do, but this step allows you and others to track your progress. You might not like this work after a year, but an artist who learns, learns continuously.
It also helps to make a video or a making off and you don’t need fancy tools to do this. It’s good to give access to your creative process and your life. Naturally, you mustn’t overshare but you can talk about how you got inspired to do a certain piece. I also find it important to include a small story next to your illustration, how you got the idea for it or to invent a story for your character. Another thing that was very useful for me was to be a member of all kinds of online groups and communities, for example an anatomy one, because that’s where I received a lot of critique.
When does a piece of art become important? Do you need exterior confirmation or is it intrinsically personal?
I believe you must like it first because you’ll invariably find people who’ll like it and people who won’t. This is what I’ve learnt the past year.
Do you want to make a living out of this?
Yes and I’ve thought about this but I don’t have a deadline yet. I want to take it slowly and my plan for the near future is to make lots of prints and show my art as much as I can, everywhere I can. I’d also like a job in the field to learn how things work and afterwards do it on my own.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Drawe more, take more risks, get outside your comfort zone more often. The first time I did this was when I joined the school’s drama club. There I learnt how to sing too and after school I joined a band as well. This thing helped me with my shyness.
What would you have wanted to learn in school that you haven’t?
Maybe more on how to interact with other people. I don’t think I received a lot of values on this direction. Studying in a Russian school meant we didn’t interact a lot outside of it, we were very closed. My friends and I used to hang out outside school and had some Romanian friends and this wasn’t exactly seen as a good thing.
What I did like though, was that every student received the attention he or she needed and as we grew older the relationship with our teachers evolved as well. Some of them got to be really close and dear to us and we saw them more human and perceived them on equal levels rather than superior.
How would you like people to remember you?
I want them to remember the good times and smile.