Maria Lebedeva's decision to become an illustrator was made very gradually. "I have always loved drawing, but wasn't quite sure how to carry that through into a career," she recalls.
She was drawn to illustration during her degree in information design at the University of Pretoria, eventually going on to complete a master's in illustration at the University of Stellenbosch. After graduating, she set up her own studio at home in Johannesburg.
"There were uncertainties about how to make it work, but it all came down to me admitting to myself that there is nothing I love more than drawing, so I had to give it a try," Lebedeva says.
I feel incredibly lucky to be doing something I love for a job!
She also loves the fact that her job allows her the freedom to set her own schedule, as well as the fact that every day is different.
"Working from home, it's also great that I can get away with working in my pyjamas, while consuming countless cups of tea, which would probably be frowned upon in an office environment. I try to keep my space very neat and simple – I find clutter very counter-productive – with a few illustrations on the wall, and a shelf above my desk holding my latest favourite picture books, and jars of brushes. My laptop is always on, and I usually have either music or a movie playing, because I can't concentrate in total silence."
In her portfolio is both editorial and commercial illustration work – she recently completed a range of cards for Stuff From Africa (available at Exclusive Books stores) and some editorial illustration for British Airways' High Life magazine, and is working on a t-shirt design for a food brand. She is about to publish her first children's book, Mu's Wolf Problem, available in stores later this month.
"My love for illustration started through picture books (I am an avid collector), and the two picture book artists who inspired me to pursue illustration as a career were Oliver Jeffers and Shaun Tan," she says.
Lebedeva, who was born in Moscow and moved to South Africa at the age of six, says she finds inspiration in her family history and heritage, and often references Russian folk tales and memories of her childhood in her work: "I am mostly influenced by personal experiences and memories in general, and I love adapting the people I meet and situations I find myself in to illustrations."
Her delicate and layered style is achieved using a combination of watercolour, pencil, acrylic and gouache.
"I start all of my projects in a sketchbook, where I write notes about the brief. I then research my topic, and find images for reference and inspiration, and make initial sketches. After that I make more detailed final sketches on good drawing paper, and will usually paint directly onto these," she explains.
It is clear that for Lebedeva this is a real passion and she immerses herself in the world of illustration, following the work of several local and international colleagues. "I have recently fallen for the work of Isabelle Arsenault – I am absolutely obsessed. I also admire the work of Elena Odriozola, Jon Klassen, Joanna Concejo, Pablo Auladell and Beatrice Alemagna. Locally I love the work of Katrin Coetzer, Kirsten Beets, Lucy Stuart-Clark and Kirsten Sims."
"Mu's Wolf Problem" available for online purchase here.
Maria Lebedeva was a part of the 2014 Emerging Creatives programme and exhibited her work at 2014 Design Indaba Expo. Appy for the 2015 Emerging Creatives programme here.