Interview: Ballpoint pen artist Rebecca Yanovskaya



BLACK MAGIC by Rebecca Yanovskaya


It’s been a while since I’ve done an in-depth artist interview for the site.  It’s always great fun to do them, but strangely enough it’s difficult to get most of my subjects to commit to them.  Usually they’re afraid they won’t have anything to say (never turns out to be true).

Fortunately I’m very patient so, eventually I find a few brave souls to get in the chair.  It’s always worth the time I put into getting these interviews though as there’s always something new to learn from each person’s background and experiences.

So, with that…this will be the first of hopefully a great many future interviews that I’ll be sharing.  My subjects are artists that I admire greatly from all backgrounds and specialties. Sit back and enjoy the read, I know I did.


Question) What is your earliest memory of being creative? Do you recall the first thing you drew/made?

Answer) The earliest memory I have is creating a book with illustrations about a horse with a gold hoof (?!). For a 7 year old it was pretty rad. As I recall it had a pretty nihilistic ending, but at least the illustrations were cool.

Q) Do you come from an artistic family? How nurturing were they of your interests?

A) My family is Eastern European, so they had a certain appreciation for the arts (dance, music, and fine art). They were very supportive (putting me into art classes from a very young age because I wanted it) and for that I am extremely grateful. They didn’t even protest when I said I wanted to go into art school for college, mostly because I was very headstrong and sure of myself. That being said, there was a fairly persistent buzz in the background to get a “safety degree” or go to law school, medical school, or what have you.

Q) What were your artistic influences earlier in life and how did those change (if at all) leading to the present?



A) As a young child, animation was my biggest inspiration. I loved classic animations like Robin Hood and watched a lot of anime and cartoons. As I got older I was exposed to masters like Mucha, Klimt, and Greek and Roman sculptures, which became my inspirations.

Q) Are you self-taught or do you have formal training? Where would you say you gained most of your skill as an artist? In or out of school?

A) I received most of my training from art lessons when I was very young – starting at age 7 I had weekly group art lessons with a friend of the family. I practiced at home a lot of the time, as well. After high school I went on to college, studying Illustration, however the skills taught there were less about technique and more about how to think.

Q) What is the biggest lesson you learned in school?

A) Although I didn’t realize it at the time, what I was learning in school is that it’s important to never fall in love with one piece. Always moving forward and creating more work for your own catalogue is the key to progress and having a healthy career.

Q) What was your first professional gig; describe the experience.

A) It wasn’t in my current style, but my first professional piece was for The National Post, where I worked as an intern between my 2nd and 3rd years of college. I did a few illustrations for articles and page spreads. The experience was very exciting, although the deadlines are tight and sometimes I wasn’t given much feedback (good or bad).

Q) How much leeway did you have to place your own creative stamp on the work?

A) Since I was an intern and they didn’t give me many restrictions, I actually had a lot of creative freedom. Because I was a young student, however, I didn’t feel comfortable taking the liberties I could have!

Q) How did your first work experience influence your outlook on the profession?

A) I had nothing but good experiences while working there, although it did reinforce the idea that being an editorial freelancer takes a lot of perseverance and can take an emotional toll on you.

Q) How would you describe your personal style to those who are unfamiliar with your work?

A) I would say that I have a classical style, with an emphasis on strong and expressive motions.



Q) Was this personal style a gradual evolution or a deliberately chosen direction based on your interests? How did you settle on this style?

A) It was both a gradual evolution and a choice. I saw that I kept going back to that particular way of drawing and expressing myself, so I chose to focus on it exclusively. As for how I ended up there, I suppose my inspiration comes from my favourite artists (Mucha and Klimt).

Q) Let’s dig into your technique by using one of your pieces as a case study. I love the piece you did called “The Guardian”. Tell me about the inspiration for it. Most inspiration comes from several different sources, but tell us what became the biggest driver for you to literally put pen to paper.

A) The inspiration for “The Guardian” came from a painting called “The Priestess”, by John William Godward. It’s long been one of my favourites, and I wanted to do an homage to it. The image of a strong stance, slanting gaze and guarding a mysterious portal appealed to me. To go along with the strong pose, I wanted something very chaotic behind her, and I have always found nebulae to be incredibly beautiful. I thought the two would work well together.

Q) How fully realized are the ideas before you start the actual work or are you the type to go with the general idea and then the rest comes to you as you’re going through the motions.

A) It depends on the piece, but usually the compositional elements are always set in stone before I begin with the pen (where things go and how they interact). However, the actual textures (rocks, clouds, cloth) can sometimes be worked out on paper. I have a very precise idea of the feel I want a piece to give off, but sometimes I shoot off the mark in that respect.

Q) What are your tools of choice (medium, brands, specs)? Both broadly speaking and then more specifically what you chose to use on this project.

A) I rely very heavily on Photoshop, of course, as well as tissue paper for sketches. My favourite paper is Moleskine paper, and my favourite brand for sketching is Bic Crystal pens, although I can use anything, really. My finals are usually done either in the Bic or a Schneider Fine point cartridge. A good foam board is also important to lay the paper on. I rely on a small light table to transfer my printed sketches to the final.

Q) When did the idea first come to you to use Gold Leaf? Especially with your work it’s a striking (and fantastic) choice placed against the ballpoint. Was there a particular artist whose work you saw that drove this choice?

A) I have always loved the look of gold (Rococo furniture and ornate frames are my favourites), but I had never thought to use it in my work until I saw what Rebecca Leveille-Guay was doing with her newer personal pieces. Seeing her use of the gold gave me the idea to try it myself, especially since one of my favourite artists (Gustav Klimt) used it to great effect as well.

Q) As a general rule, what part of the artwork do you usually tackle first? Do you have particular weaknesses that you try to leave for last, for example, or do you attempt to beat those into submission right off the bat? Do you work your way from a certain point on the canvas or is it random each time?

A) I will usually tackle the backgrounds first, not because I dislike them but because it gives a sense as to how dark the darks will go in the overall piece. I sometimes use the background as a way to procrastinate on very sensitive areas that I only have one shot at (the face, hands, etc). What I love about pen is that I can always jump back and forth to any area of the piece that I want to work on and not worry about smudging or messing up dark/light layers.

Q) You’re known for your selection of ballpoint as the drawing medium, but the layman and in fact most people might not immediately realize that this is what you use. Chief reason for this is that you have an ability to get a great range of detail in your pieces using this chosen medium. In “The Guardian” as example, how did you achieve the very convincing smoky-milky backdrop to your archangel?

A) I’ve always liked texture and abstract details, it is very calming to work on since there’s not much you can do to mess it up. That being said, the background to The Guardian is supposed to be a space-scape with nebula.

Q) Also, along those lines I’m interested to know how your physical technique changes as you recreate a smooth surface versus a well chiseled detail. You picked a rather challenging subject for your style in the piece where you draw a boat load of delicate feathery wings, the aforementioned smokey scenery and then the various marble and flowing cloth. How long did this piece take to complete from start to finish?

A) The piece took 2 weeks to complete the pen portion. Physically, when I am doing a large area my grip on the pen lightens and I try to glide it over the surface very quickly. A darker, more detailed area, I will press a lot harder and make much more deliberate marks.

Q) Have you already started on a new piece of personal art? What manner of wonderful madness can we expect from you in the near future?

A) I have several ideas for new pieces, one being a very large and ambitious classical piece. The other is another triptych as a continuation of the Winged series. At the moment I am doing private commissions.


Thank you very much to Rebecca for being a good sport and answering these questions.  Can’t wait to see more work from her, there’s far too little of it as it is.  For those interested, check out more of her wonderful art at and make sure to click the blog link on the site as she gives looks at her work in progress pieces, as well.


Original surviving founder of Fanboy Confidential, the podcast, and this supporting website. This is the fruit of his labor, created while on his off days from saving orphaned children from forest fires.

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