Curious narratives by illustrator Masha Manapov

Born in Baku and raised in Tel Aviv, Masha Manapov is now based in Bristol where she works as a freelance illustrator specialising in editorial, publishing and surface design.

With her artworks, Masha aims to blur the boundaries of reality and fantasy, the comic and the tragic to conjure up surreal environments and tell visual stories. When creating, Masha does not limit herself to any set medium, creating a diverse and distinctive portfolio of work. This multi-media approach to image creation has won her multiple awards and commissions and allowed her to exhibit her work all over the world.

Hi Masha – Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your career so far?

In the past few years I have been working as full time illustrator focusing on print and press media. Lately, I had the chance to dip my toes into animation and surface design. My current life in Bristol started very recently and it’s a whole new experience for me. It involves mowing our lawn, actually having one, wearing long sleeve shirts in the middle of July, and hearing the giant seagulls laughing hysterically outside my window. I guess time will tell if I can call this new life my own. For now I’m just making stuff and trying to enjoy the process. I do actually stop to smell the roses even though I’m 95% anosmic.

What three words would you use to describe your illustrative style?

Conceptual – sensitive – textured…Not so long ago I would simply say: “Dreamy meets Creepy”

Can you talk us through your creative process?

The process always starts with a brief, so I usually brainstorm with myself away from monitors and any distractions.

I toss many ideas aside, trying to find the balance between the too obvious and the too suggestive.

I enjoy this stage but yet try not to over think stuff, since the simple ideas usually are the best. After a round of sketches and choosing one course I start working. Since the colourfulness has a very important role in my work, setting the composition and choosing the colours happens almost simultaneously.

The rest really depends on the time frame and the chemistry with the clients. Sometimes I’m expected to “deliver” very specific results and sometimes there are times for adventure. I like to push the boundaries of my comfort zone which makes things a bit more thrilling.

Illustrating can be a very emotional process sometimes. It easily raises my heartbeats when I find the perfect solution or reverse mode in seconds.

How do you go about promoting your work? What is your strategy for getting new commissions?

I don’t really have a strategy since most of the mile stones in my career happened completely by accident- My first editorial gig was basically handed to me based on a few samples of my personal work, the first children’s book deal happened after the editor saw an illustration of mine in a financial newspaper, two of my agents signed me up after discovering my work online and so on. Even when I do try to promote my work on different channels it is usually followed by some awkwardness and brings very poor results. But I DO strongly believe in producing your best work and putting it out there.

You describe illustration as just another way to tell a visual story. How big a part does story-telling play in your work?

For me the story is everything, this is how the illustration earns its individual right to exist.

Lately, though, the visual appeal also plays a part.

Have you always loved telling/ making seeing/ reading stories?

I think that most people like stories and my parents were great at telling them (they still do).  My real affair began at the age of four when I started to read as same as every other normal soviet child with some spare time on her hands. But I never thought of myself as a storyteller in a traditional way. It’s funny that you ask this now because I have recently started to make up characters and stories all the time. Maybe it’s the lack of company in my new place of residence.

Were you creative even as a child? What is the first piece of art you remember making?

Yes I have been drawing and making stuff since I was little. I remember drawing a Weight lifter who had a special small device in his huge-e weights that sprinkled water to freshen him up. Apparently I was very worried about the weight lifters conditions back in the days (where I grew up there were only sports and news programs on the tv) and I was convinced that it was the best thing to happen to the sports world since the invention of the ball.

Where does inspiration for you work come from? Are there any writers, artists or designers whos work you particularly like?

The inspiration for a piece usually comes from unexpected places from things caught in a moment. Lately I’ve been seeking daily life inspirations that will keep me motivated and I find them in design, children’s drawings and creative podcasts online.

Concerning the artists, there are so many great talents out there but I usually don’t follow someone’s work for long. Keith Negley nails it time after time, Maira Kalman is a joy to listen to, anyone who were ever involved in creating and producing an old school Russian animation is a genius, Mouni Feddag is my latest illo crush and there are many others.

Do you have a favorite project from your portfolio?

I usually tend to like the recent projects that I’ve worked on, while it’s still fresh therefore today I like this work for So Foot magazine (below) but next week it might change.

What is next for you? Any creative projects you would like to mention?

It is an exciting time for me since my first children’s book is about to be published in the US and my first collaboration with a fashion brand is about to take shape. Recently I was also informed that one of the projects I have hoped to work on for a long time is about receive a funding. It’s called “The Fine Print” and deals with the terminology of products, labeling and packaging.

Finally, what’s your dream job/commission?

I’m still at the point of my career that I’m very enthusiastic about every commission that I get but a dream job would probably involve a paid trip abroad on a visual research or documentation mission. Also, any creative team work on an environmental-social project would be very welcome. I really miss that.


Posted on Jul 28th, 15 by

Greg McIndoe - also known as Headless Greg - is an illustrator and design writer based in Glasgow, Scotland. He regularly writes for design magazines and online platforms, interviewing fellow illustrators and leading creatives.

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