1883 Magazine

1883 interviews the multitalented Elisabeth Alekseevna Bukanova on fashion, London, and what it means to be an artist.


I meet 24 year-old fashion illustrator Elisabeth Alekseevna Bukanova in the center of London’s hipster hangout, at Shoreditch. For someone who describes herself as "melancholic", Elisabeth is all smiles and full of energy, wearing a long-sleeved sparkly dress to match sparkling eyes. She apologizes for being overdressed, telling me she has two more parties to attend tonight after her earlier going-away work party at Le Book London. We get drinks first and I ask Elisabeth to choose; She picks tequila Desperados with a mischievous grin on her face. The Russian-born, German-raised trilingual artist is sad to be leaving London, which she calls "the city of goodbyes". But don’t tell her I called her an artist; She hates the term.

Tell me about what you do. You are a fashion illustrator?

I don’t really like the specification fashion illustrator. My drawings might be fashionable at some point - but they’re not purely fashion. I don’t like the word artist either, I am not an artist, I’m not really an illustrator; I’m just someone who likes to draw. I would say that my job, however we call it, is to get people to blow my mind and I put it on paper. Everyone kind of affects you, every strong feeling you have, and if it’s a good or negative one it doesn’t matter, I reflect it in my drawings. This is probably why my pictures are so emotional.

Why don’t you identify with the label of fashion?

Because fashion is something different for everyone. I was always kind of the outsider, so for me it was about looking for something where I could be crazy, where I could be different from everyone else. For me fashion wasn’t about dressing up, it was more reflecting my inner feelings to the outside. I studied fashion design and my fashion design studies of course developed my style, which is probably why people call me a fashion illustrator. But I don’t like the word fashion, as it can mean so many different things. Everybody should kind of see it as their own expression.

What made you decide to start drawing? And why did you study fashion as opposed to drawing?

I’ve been drawing ever since I could hold a pencil. My father always said ‘you will never be able to draw’, because the way I hold a pencil in his point of view is wrong. He was at the Royal Academy of Arts in Russia, so he basically had a very conservative art education. He was always like ‘you are just doodling around’. But I knew that I wanted to draw, I wanted to do something creative. I didn’t dare study art, so I decided on fashion. I thought I should do something “proper”, you know how parents would say.


What inspired your fashion designs?

My biggest inspiration is Dadaism. It just blew my mind. They were the first people who took the collage as an art form. It didn’t exist before. Dadaism was an expression for the 1st World War, the artist’s reaction. They said ‘okay, we need to do something that’s quick, we need to react to our environment’, and so they started to take newspapers and put it into their art.

How did you start out getting illustration jobs?

When I came to Hamburg I was absolutely alone. I used to order my records in this record shop and I became really good friends with the people who’d been working there, who became popular musicians, and they said, ‘Hey, you are drawing, do you want to do something with us?’. So I worked alongside with them designing, tour t-shirts, developing a bit of a corporate identity and other artworks for their record label. I’ve also designed drawings for several retail houses, I’ve designed flyers, and fashion illustrations. Loads of little things. I used to ask illustrators, ‘Oh my God, how did you become an illustrator? I so want to be one’, but you actually start with a flyer for a friend and in the end you end up with the big projects.

What’s your favorite medium to work in?

Just a simple pen, a ballpoint pen, preferably from Bic. And of course then some watercolours, which I get from Russia, because they have honey in them so they are very strong colours. And Photoshop.


Can you tell us a little about the inspiration behind the pieces you’ve done for 1883? What do they represent?

I had this image of my head of all the people in London. I mean if you go to Shoreditch High Street and Kingsland Road, everybody is like a photographer. They are all hipsters, they all try to be Terry Richardson. In one of the images of Terry Richardson, which I have never forgotten, he is kneeling above a girl, a naked model, and he’s taking the picture. So this is kind of the “theory”, the “want to be” of a photographer, you know, having whiskey and photographing naked models. But what is the practice? The practice is being a wedding photographer somewhere in Sussex, not fashionable at all! So this was one of the illustrations. I don’t want to show only the down sides, you know, however it’s not only about talent. It’s about being on top of things, being patient, but also being Very Very driven. A lot of creative people, who do incredible work, think that one day someone will just knock on their door, but really it’s about being driven and ambitious. Never stop doing it and believing in yourself, because how can other people believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself?

Do you think people are born with a God-given talent? Are some people just born creative?

I think its not a God-given talent in terms of you can draw or that you can paint, its just creativity on its own. If you look at many artists, I could name several, they are good at everything; writing, drawing, several things. A very small amount of people are creative in just one medium, so I think its just creativity itself.

What else inspires you? You said Dadaism…

People, music and art. I am a very melancholic person. I think this is kind of the nature of Russian people. Melancholy inspires me a lot.

It seems that artists often have a dark side…Do you think that melancholy is part of being creative?

I hope not. Sometimes I am a bit worried about myself because if I do the best illustrations, I am just in pieces. I am really deadly sad. Comfort makes people lazy. When I’m happy and all is fine, I don’t need to draw. When I’m sad, or I’m aggressive and angry, I put it on paper. Everything that is an intense feeling, I want to, I have to draw.

Who are some other illustrators or artists – I know you hate that word – who you admire?

Who I really respect is definitely Tina Berning, she’s one of the biggest German illustrators. And definitely Egon Schiele, and old Russian advertising.

So you said you need ambition as an artist…what are your future goals? What do you want to achieve?

My friends always laugh about it because I say art director. Why? Because I don’t see myself in a special box. I was a fashion designer. I like parts of it, but just parts. I worked in photography. I liked parts of it. I am a person who is interested in everything, and I see myself in everything, but I also need something new every day. I like the word art director because it doesn’t specify anything. My biggest goal in my career is for people to ask for my opinion. That would be my biggest dream, that in any kind of creative decision, people ask for my opinion. Is that a job?

Interview by Emma Freed

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