Young and Talented: Pavlena Mateeva talks About Her Art

Pavlena’s art is mesmerizing. Unlike anything I have seen from such a young human, her illustrations are full of soul. I can’t imagine what kind of monsterous artistry she will come up with in the future when she is mature. Her art comes with charming personality and so I will let you go on and read our conversation.

Why did you decide to pursue Illustration?

In school, I was always known as “the girl that draws”. Often I didn’t find school very interesting and I would constantly draw to make the time pass faster whether that would be in my notebook or straight onto the desk. I’ve always known without a doubt that I was going to pursue art in some way ever since I was little. In high school, I had to decide what I’m going to do with my life. I asked my art teacher for advice – Kamelia Markova, to whom I’m very grateful to this day for everything that she has done for me. She was the one who pointed me into the world of illustration. After that, there was no going back.

I find being an illustrator is incredible because you have the freedom to work and create in a variety of industries. You can be a children’s book illustrator, you can work for newspapers and magazines, you can create designs for packaging, album covers, book covers, movie posters… the opportunities are endless. That’s what grabbed me and made me passionate about pursuing illustration.

What kind of message do you want to infuse inside of your art?

I’ve always been wondering what my purpose in this world is but I never seemed to find an answer that would satisfy me enough. Three years ago, I started doing voluntary work for organizations like “За Земята”/ “Friends of the Earth”, “Estestvoizpitateli” and “Greenpeace”. It was amazing to meet and work side by side with all these people who are passionate about helping the world be a better place. The time I spent there made me think about how I can help the world with my art. I decided that whatever I create I want it to be meaningful, to help people in some sort of way.

 I like to think that I infuse my art with a sense of freedom, protest, and a love for exploring.

Who/what inspires you? Do you have any rituals to spark the creativity inside of you?

There are so many things that inspire me! Nature is a big part of my life. It influences a lot of my work. Nature and people’s relationship with it. I also have a burning desire to help the world in whatever way I can so I’m interested in issues that need more attention like climate change or social problems like poverty and discrimination. Other things that inspire me a lot are the people around me, their beautiful souls, and life itself. Also old movie posters, vintage textures, music, and the work of various artists like Owen Gent, John Holcroft, and Evens Brecht. I guess I get inspired by a whole lot of different things!

Although I’m very inspired by all of that I often find myself stuck. Especially when I draw just for myself in a sketchbook. When that happens I do some creative exercises, just to push myself to draw. Something I paint when I have an art block is flowers and leaves. They are so helpful for getting back your creativity and also have a relaxing effect on me. Another quite popular exercise that I do is putting blobs of color on paper and try to find and draw something. 

What is your dream project?

I dream of working with an organization like Greenpeace or Amnesty International and create protest posters or anything really that would inspire people to be better and act on. I dream of making album covers for awesome musicians, book covers and movie posters. I’m a bit of an art mess when it comes to dream projects and I just want to try everything and decide later haha.

Tell us about your illustrations so far.

This year has been life-changing for me. I started university, which opened my eyes to so many things. What’s most important was that it provoked me to think about the illustrations I made and not just create something that looks beautiful (although the world needs that too). I started putting deeper meanings behind my artworks which gave me a much more rewarding feeling after finishing a project.

One of my favorite projects I’ve done called “During comrade Todor Jivkov’s time…” was about people’s false nostalgia towards communism, as it is a terrible period in Bulgarian history and its flaws often get dismissed. I found some people’s fond memories of a communist regime to be an interesting anomaly that I wanted to explore with this illustration series.

Whilst doing the last project I had at uni I did a lot of research on Modern slavery in Africa, which I was surprised to find out was still a very pressing issue. I found out about children there traded for cows, forced into marriages, being raped, and having kids against their will while they are still underage. This, combined with many other social problems that are happening in Africa like children being kidnapped to become soldiers, sex trafficking, forced labor was something that I found outrageous and thought I had to do something about.

I created four posters exposing these concerning issues and hoped to inspire people to take action or at least educate themselves about what is happening. To achieve this goal I had to think a lot about how I was going to convey all the information I had gathered into one simple image that would make people interested in the topic and potentially inspire them to take action against this problem.

This year I learned a lot about commentable illustration and the use of metaphors and consistent visual language. I learned to employ different techniques in my illustrations and to never underestimate research. I hope to continue to learn and evolve with every illustration I make!

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The last project I did during my first year at AUB #aubmakers #aubsu #aubl4is During this unit we had to think about what kind of illustrators we want to be. I realised that the most important thing for me is that my work is meaningful. Art influences people's opinions, their values, expresses their emotions and inspires them. Artists often are the first community to speak out on behalf of human rights and against oppression. I'm interested in commentable illustration and how through the use of metaphors and consistent visual language an illustrator can form an opinion and influence people. Artists shape how the world looks and thinks. Which is why I chose the topic of social sustainability for my project. I decided to create a series of protest posters exposing the Modern slavery that's happening right now in Africa – children forced into marraiges, child soldiers, sex trafficking and forced labor. My goal was to raise awarness about these issues by creating risograph posters (which I couldn't print because of stupid Covid!!) for a potential client – Amnesty International. Plus risograph prints to sell for charity. While researching this topic, I found out that Modern slavery is not a problem of the past. It's happening right now. Today there are 40,3 million people living in some form of modern slavery, which is more than 3 times the amount of people captured and sold as slaves between the 15th and 19th centuries. Can you believe this?? Can you believe that there is a completly different world in which parents sell their daughter for cows and keep them uneducated so that they can adjust better. As if you can ever adjust to being raped and forced into having kids when you're not even 15 years old. Thankfully there are organizations such as Amnesty International that are doing everything they can to fight this. Interesting fact: The symbol on the top of each poster is an african symbol of law, justice, slavery and captivity. . . . . . #illustration #amnestyinternational #modernslavery #conceptualart #conceptualillustration #editorialillustration #risograph #risoprint #risoposter #photoshop #adobephotoshop #wacom #digitalillustration #artistsupport

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What are you working on right now?

This summer finished a project for my friend Stefan Piperkov, who recently composed this amazing psychedelic song called “Worst Case Scenario”. He asked me to illustrate each part of the song. At the time I was very inspired by vintage collages like the ones of Joe Webb. This technique fitted Stefan’s music so well and since I had always wanted to try it out, I decided that it’s the perfect time for this. I created nine collages which he then used to produce a music video with the help of Slavi Turchev’s montage skills. As a bonus, I made him an album cover, with the hope that I’ll be making many more in the future.

Right now I’m finishing some portraits I was commissioned to make, which is always such a pleasure. They are just so relaxing.

I’m also working on the re-branding of Algomeda’s cosmetics, which make completely eco-friendly and vegan products. It’s great to think that I have clients that I am proud to say I’ve worked with. I’ve never been all that into graphic design, but that project opened up my eyes to this whole new world and I’m so grateful for the opportunity.

Any advice for all the other artists out there?

I don’t feel confident enough to advise other artists since I’m also still learning and trying to find my own way. But what I can say is this – don’t stop creating!

 I’ve always been self-conscious about my art and that I don’t have a style or at least not a recognizable one. My advice for other artists that feel that way is to first understand that no one is completely original. The movie “Manifesto” was something that helped me realize and accept that. Your style is developed by the world around you and there are so many things that define you – the medium you use, the subject matter you choose, and even the type of lines you make. You just have to pay attention to what you tend to do when you’re drawing.

After I started doing that I realized that there are many types of ways that I like to go about an illustration. I got scared that I won’t make it as an illustrator, because my style is so inconsistent. After giving it some thought and reading more about it I realized that the more different styles I have, the more different audiences I’ll attract and the more diverse jobs I’ll get. I don’t know what will happen in the future. Maybe someday I’ll stick with one style but for now, that thought is giving me some comfort to create more artwork, which is what’s most important. Because if you never stop creating, you’ll never stop growing and developing and you’ll eventually find yourself.

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