I had the pleasure of chatting with Ukraine-born, Edmonton-based artist Nadiya Maznychka this past weekend. It was a wonderful conversation about her and her art, which is very clearly part of her DNA. Currently, she is known for her amazing pet portraits.
I suspect she didn’t realize it during our chat, but she shared some profound insights about the art community. I hope, when you read through our chat, you come away with that impression as well.
[Featured Artwork: Assorted pet portraits by Nadiya Maznychka.]
The following responses are lightly edited for length and clarity.
01. Rock, paper, or scissors?
*Does rock-paper-scissors motion off camera*
02. What are three interesting facts about you?
A. I’m originally from Ukraine. I was born there and moved here (to Canada) when I was 16. I think that has changed my life completely.
B. I have a Goldendoodle — Pixie. *turns camera to show her on the bed* She’s my little assistant. Anytime I’m painting or working, she’s always here.
C. I love everything outdoors. I love hiking.
03. What is the main medium you work with?
Acrylics on canvas or on canvas panels.
04. What inspires your art?
I haven’t always painted pets, but the first time I did a pet portrait it was really random. I wanted to give a present to a friend. It was a friend’s dog that I painted and I saw how much joy it brought them. They were very excited about it. To me, at first I didn’t see it that way. Then, I got a dog myself.
Doing that painting for a friend and then getting a dog myself really made me want to paint people’s pets because I just know how much love they bring to peoples’ families. Having a painting of their pets means a lot to some people.
Overall, I just loved painting. When I was little my mom was going to school back home for art. So, I grew up with paint on my fingers, I was painting on the walls, I would secretly watch my grandpa sleep and sketch his portrait — that’s just how I grew up.
I don’t know what inspires it. It can be very random. I can have a deadline, but some days I just can’t work on a piece. I can’t explain it. I don’t know if it’s lack of inspiration, but it’s just like something’s missing. But then, another time, I’ll wake up at midnight and I’ll finish it that night. That’s how it goes for me. One moment I’ll feel very creative and another moment I won’t feel like it, so I won’t do it because it’s not coming from the heart.
05. Are you more productive at night or in the morning?
I’m more of a night owl. Even yesterday, I’ve been working on some Christmas pets for people and I had all day and could totally do it during daylight, but I didn’t have that feeling. Then at 7 p.m. when it’s already dark, I had to turn on my lamps and that’s when I did it. At night is mostly when I get inspired and when I’m mostly productive.
06. Is your art your career or a hobby? Something else?
I think it’s something else. It’s not quite a hobby; it’s not a full-time career. It’s just something I do when I want to do it, when I feel inspired to do it, and when I have the time to do it. I have other hobbies, but art is more than a hobby for me. It’s therapeutic in many ways. It’s when my mind relaxes. With my mom being an artist and it being a part of how I grew up, it’s just a part of me.
07. What is the most unique thing about the city you live in? (Edmonton, AB)
There’s a lot of trees on the streets. If you go to older neighbourhoods, they’ll have these gorgeous, tall trees around the streets. I love that. My family lives in Calgary and when my friends from there ask me what I loved about Edmonton, I always tell them about the trees.
I also love that there’s so much nature. The river valley is huge. It’s everywhere and it’s easily accessible.
And another thing I love is that Edmonton has a lot of activities you can do as a family or as a single person. There’s always something going. There’s not a day that you’re super bored and have nothing to do. I know with COVID that it stopped for a little bit, but now it’s all coming back. There’s lots of farmer’s markets, there’s a huge Ukrainian festival, and the Heritage Festival.
And the people. I find the people are very down to earth and easy to talk to in Edmonton.
08. What kind of training do you have?
In Ukraine, I lived there up until I was 16. From the ages of 11 to 16, I went to an art school. After your regular schooling, I would be there for 5 hours at night pretty much every day of the week. I graduated from that. It was five years of training and they teach you everything — acrylics, pottery, pencil, art history. But I never went to that next step of going to university or college. A lot of my friends who stayed back home did and pursued their art Masters, but I moved here so I have a different life story that didn’t play out that way for me. I would say I have basic skills and history training in all sorts of art.
09. Where did your passion for art start?
It started with my mom. When she was pregnant with me she was in her 2nd or 3rd year of university studying art. There’s something they say, “Whatever your mom is doing when she’s pregnant with is the path you’ll be set on.” I don’t know, maybe that’s crazy, but I believe maybe that was passed on to me because, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved painting and was one of the reasons I loved going to that art school.
I remember that my dad put me in piano. I hated it, but I finished it. I did seven years of piano, but art was always natural. I was always excited to go to art school and spend time with other people there.
So, I think it started with just my upbringing, my mom being an artist, and me having access to art school.
10. What is your favorite drink?
For non-alcoholic drinks, I like Earl Grey tea. For alcoholic drinks, beer. It can be any beer, just not really like dark beers.
11. What household chore do you actually enjoy?
Actually, I like washing dishes. I find it somewhat therapeutic. And mopping floors too, but I have this trick I do. I have these shoes with mops on the bottom. You soak them and then you just dance around. I don’t like mopping it with my hands or a mop, but with the system I’ve got going, I love doing that.
12. The art is one thing, but what’s your secret to generating interest and ultimately selling your art?
For me, it ended up being word of mouth.
I started with that friend I mentioned and did a few more pieces for friends, particularly with the pets. But, I think the first time I thought maybe I could actually sell my art was when I did these Art Battles. You paint for 20 minutes and then your piece is auctioned off. You get 50 per cent of it and Art Battle takes 50 per cent. That was the first time that I thought, “Oh wow! Somebody wants to buy what I paint maybe I should look into that.”
So, I started researching. Because pets was what I liked doing and people enjoyed it a lot, I narrowed it down to selling pets, if I was going to sell my art. Then, I just followed other artists in the States on Instagram, learned about them, watched YouTube videos on how they did it, and learned how people sell on Etsy.
I started off small with contacting a few friends and seeing if they could spread the word about it. I printed out some ads that I put up at Sobeys, which has been a very good source of clients. I had a lot of clients from Sobeys. *laughs* I also went to a few pet stores and showed my samples to the managers who put them up with a full description of who I am.
Now, I’ll get a cousin of a previous client. I keep a spreadsheet of everything I do — what kind of paint, what kind of dog, what their name was. I have my babies all around Edmonton. *laughs* I don’t have to advertise as much anymore because of word of mouth.
13. What’s something you’ve been meaning to try but just haven’t got around to?
I was actually talking to my partner about it today: Martial arts. I would love to try some type of martial arts.
14. What would be the most annoying thing about having yourself as a roommate?
*laughs* I’m slightly OCD. I like things a very particular way when it comes to where I live. But when it comes to my art space, it’s not organized at all. There’s stuff everywhere. And that doesn’t bother me. But if I saw it in a different room, if I saw a mess like that somewhere, it would bother me. I think it would be really annoying to live with someone like me because it’s hypocritical of me to stress over other mess while making a mess in my corner.
15. What is your go-to band or singer?
You probably wouldn’t know them, but they’re called Okean Elzy. They’re a Ukrainian soft rock band.
16. What app do you use most often?
I think Instagram is a big one and I like podcasts too.
17. What is one common misconception about being an artist?
I think a lot of people think that artists are never business-savvy people. That they’re just artists and don’t know how life works and how making money works. I think a lot of artists do know how that works, but not everyone is meant to be a businessperson.
18. What do you hope people get out of your art?
When they see a piece, that it brings them joy for years to come.