International Artists at the Royal Drawing School: Olga Tkachenko
I am a multidisciplinary artist, designer and creative director from Ukraine. I also teach graphic design part time at the Ukrainian Online Creative and Tech Institute, Projector. I mostly work with media including collage, drawings, participatory projects, installations and media art. Though most of my practices are visual, music has been a part of me for a long time: I make songs and sing.
In my work I explore themes including human vulnerability, reflexivity, personal stories, interaction with others and with the world, the creative manifestations of the individual, regardless of their backgrounds or the field of employment. Since the beginning of the full-scale Russian-Ukrainian war, I have been trying to spread awareness about the brutal invasion of Russia into our land through my visual art, music, and graphic design works.
What role does drawing play in your practice?
Drawing is a crucial part of my profession. Both in my art practice and in my designer's work it’s important to catch, brainstorm and depict my ideas visually, particularly through drawings. I always carry a sketchbook and drawing materials with me; I want to be able to fix ideas that can come to my mind at any moment.
I’m 32 now and I started actively drawing when I was 17. I made a conscious decision to gain academic drawing knowledge when I was a student of the Kryvyi Rih National University and studied town planning. I attended the evening drawing classes at Kryvyi Rih Drawing School for four years, where I received most of my basic technical drawing and painting skills and had a couple of my first personal exhibitions.
When I was 23, I moved to Lviv and started managing a group of Urban Sketchers and organised the meetings and events for the community. During this period I really improved my skills. Since then drawing has always been with me.
Tell us about how you came to the Royal Drawing School, and your connection with Artists at Risk.
By living through the Russian full-scale invasion and war in my country, by chance I’ve heard about the Artists at Risk (AR) community and decided to apply through their website. I didn’t expect anything, but decided to give it a try. It was a period when we had constant blackouts in autumn and winter 2022, as Russians were attacking our energy and civilian infrastructure and it was hard to live and to work properly. And then I heard from the AR representative Tatjana, who introduced me to a couple of art residencies, among them was Bosla Arts. It felt like a perfect match, and we proceeded with the visa application and organisational process, which took approximately 3 months. After many adventures and challenges behind the scenes I finally was in London in the middle of April 2023.
Bosla Arts is an organisation that supports and promotes art activists worldwide. I was provided with a space to live and to create and endless support. I would like to thank Bosla Arts, particularly Georgia Beeston and Hossam Fazulla for giving me a precious opportunity to work and develop my artistic practice in a safe, friendly and fruitful environment.
Among the many other activities I was taking part in, I attended the 10-week Drawing Intensive and was provided with a space at the RDS studios alongside the Drawing Year students. From the many courses that exist at the RDS, Drawing Intensive students are able to choose 4 courses they want to attend to create their own unique programme. I already had technical skills in drawing and painting, so wanted to explore more of the visual approaches and learn new techniques I had never tried before.
Which courses did you most enjoy and why?
Immersive Narratives (taught by David Gardner and Katy Papineau) has given me so much in terms of perceiving, reimagining, interpreting and visualising stories. Each class we had some narrative as a starting point. It could be the Cinderella fairy tale, the Beauty and the Beast film (1946), the legend about the Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, or the opera about Orpheus and Eurydice. I was fascinated by the drawing scene set ups David and Katy provided and by the new techniques and approaches they shared.
The Transforming Observation: Memory and Imagination course (taught by Constanza Dessain, Charlotte Mann, Danny Markey) was a pure joy, constant surprise and out-of-the-box state of mind. We literally drew a renaissance perspective grid on the floor of the studio, drew in an unfocused vision state, incorporated the movement and body feelings into our practice, used random everyday objects as a trigger for a plot creation, worked with our subconscious, and did many other curious things. The results I got from this class are my favourite.
I also took the Experimental Printmaking course (taught by Jasmine Pajdak and Sam Marshall) and Etching classes (taught by Martin Shortis and Rossen Daskalov) because I had never done any printing (apart from digital) before. It was very special to try all of the possible printmaking techniques and experiment with them. I especially enjoyed the class with Jasmine where I was greatly inspired by the monoprint techniques and we investigated various unexpected materials such as acetate or tetra pack leftovers, which I feel enriched my visual language greatly.
A separate discovery and joy for me was a linocut. I liked the easiness and meditative feeling of cutting out the lino and revealing interesting surprising results. I instantly bought the set of materials for it, as I am pretty sure I’ll proceed with exploring this technique further. Many thanks for the push and inspiration I received from Sam Marshall.
The School also provides two mentorship and two tutoring sessions for students on the Drawing Intensive: one in the middle of the course, one in the end. For me it was really precious and supportive, especially considering the challenges and constant tragic news I received from my country. Special thanks to Rachael Neale for her support and giving advice on my practice through the prism of her experience.
I also must also say thank you to the life-models at School who are brilliant - really professional, inspiring and easy to work-with.
What did you learn that you will take away with you?
I was very curious to explore and learn from the Royal Drawing School not only as a student, but as a mentor and a teacher. The approaches I’ve experienced here at RDS are different from the ones I had back in my country during my earlier art studies. Particularly I would like to take away regular group crits and some of the approaches for mentoring sessions. I personally gained a lot from them. And, of course, I expanded the tools and approaches to brainstorming and new ideas generation, which is very useful in all creative practices. I am fond of combining things from different spheres and making new unexpected solutions.
What was it like to study in London, what did it bring to your experience?
London is a great place to be, even for a short period of time. I define London as an unbelievably interesting “organism”, that gives you a lot of inspiration, creative tools and food for your brain, but at the same time it takes away a lot of energy. So it is a place where one should learn to balance these two aspects.
Without any doubt, time spent in London was rather transformative for me. One of the reasons is that I was lucky to fall into a fertile environment and to meet a lot of wonderful, supportive people. During my art residency I had a chance not only to push my art practice further but I also had time and space to direct a music video with my friends from Ukraine (unfortunately, at a distance, but the result is beautiful, all that's left is to edit the video).
Another big and important project was the production of a a magazine called 'The Brink' in collaboration with Bosla Arts. I curated the issue and featured only Ukrainian artists from different parts of the country, it focussed on the impact that the invasion has had on their life and work. This magazine serves as a testament to the profound impact of war on the artists but also the eruption of unity and community by the Ukrainian people since the invasion. The magazine was designed by the Ukrainian graphic designer and wonderful musician, my friend Nazar Haiduchyk.
We wanted this project to be somehow impactful. So it’s aim was not only for Ukrainian artists' voices to be heard and their practice to be known outside Ukraine, but also to help Ukrainians who suffer from the Russian genocide - 15% from each purchase went to humanitarian charity Save Ukraine.
We presented our magazine during 3 days-popup events at Yorkton Workhops. It was a series of great events, among which we had a night of music and poetry and a The Outside documentary film screening by the Ukrainian director Olha Zhurba.
During my time in London I was also able to spend some time on my music practice. I received a sponsorship for the vocal lessons and thanks to the popup events mentioned above, I had a chance to perform some of my songs in front of an unbelievably supportive and kind audience.
And, of course, the most precious treasure I revealed here in London are people. People from all over the world who also are in London in an open state of mind, seeking to reveal their creative selves and support each other. That is fantastic.
What does the future hold for you at the moment?
Unfortunately it has become hard to plan very far due to the Russian invasion in my country. The situation and the priorities can change every minute. For the second part of August I went to Ukraine to see my loved ones and in September I am starting my studies at the Central Saint Martins (UAL) where I am enrolled on the MA Narrative Environments course. I am very happy and excited about my future studies. I’m looking forward to gaining new knowledge and experiences here and to be able to share it with my community and my future students in Ukraine. After Ukraine wins I would love to take part in the development of this sphere there.
Apart from that I am planning to work on my further projects as an artist and as a curator, and also explore as many things as possible here in London. Soon, my friend Nazar and I are planning to have some new music releases. And I also feel it’s not my last interaction with the Royal Drawing School!
Endlessly thankful to Bosla Arts, Artist at Risk, the Royal Drawing School and Dash Arts for the experiences.