Q: To start off this Q and A – Elena, how did you get into painting?

Well, we needed a picture to fill up a large, empty wall space in the living room of our apartment (really ;-). It had to be very big and very light, with the colours we needed to match the room. It also had to be in a ‘widescreen’ (16:9) format. This clearly wasn’t going to be easy to find.

That was how I came to make my first painting – “Antonio Bay”. I thought to myself, I can try – I can do this – I’ve always been able to draw reasonably well. But this was a different league, and it was all a bit scary. My idea was that if I could find a good photo to work from, I should be able to copy it. Eventually, I found the image that had the right colours and proportions for the space I wanted to fill.

Q: How long did it take you to make that first painting?

Surprisingly, it took me just one month. But this was the first time I’d used brushes, oils, and canvas. It was a medium that I’d never tackled before. The actual process was difficult and quite frustrating – a steep learning curve. I had to cover and restart many times, but finally I was happy with what I’d managed to produce.

Q: So then you just carried on filling other empty spaces around the house?

After that first painting I couldn’t stop! I felt like I had to paint. I couldn’t stay without it: I just needed to do it. I finished my first painting in 2011 – so that’s already quite a while ago! Since then I’ve created around 40 paintings – most of them large format.

Q: Is there any particular subject you prefer?

No. I don’t know if this is something I should be concerned about, but I just like to paint anything that engages me, irrespective of the subject. This has led me to produce a somewhat eclectic collection, with absolutely different subjects. I’ve painted sea and sky, people, animals, battles – all depending on my mood at the time. I’m not really specialized in any particular subject or type of painting.

Q: OK, not a particular subject, but maybe a particular style?

Ok… style, definitely: I prefer to paint as realistically as possible. I can do abstract paintings, but that’s not really my thing. When I look at a painting by a famous artist, that really looks alive, I want to replicate it. In the same way that I like to replicate the realism of a photograph but using oil paint as the medium.

Q: Why bother with a painting if you have the photograph? What’s special about the painting?

A painting has a different energy inside. A photo is fragile, printed on paper, just for the moment. An oil painting on the other hand has longevity – it can stay with you all your life, and can be enjoyed by your family and art lovers for decades, and longer. You never get tired of looking at it: It embodies and retains a kind of magical potential.

Q: Why do you paint with oil on canvas?

I think it’s something in my character. It’s more difficult, the materials are more expensive, but I find it much more rewarding and beautiful, and of course these types of paintings have a much longer shelf-life!

Q: Do you have a particular painting technique?

Not really. In some of my paintings, such as Autumn Forest or Nederland, I use a gentle dabbing technique with a fine brush to paint a large area of leaves or grass. Generally speaking though, I mix the colours I need and trust my instincts on this. Sometimes, if the painting requires it, I work with a very dry brush to get a particular effect. Later I found out that this was a recognized technique used in oil painting.

Much of my education using oil paints has been a question of trial and error. Trying to render the texture and colour of the human skin is a good example of this. This was hard, as I didn’t really know how to mix these colours. My instinct was to try to mix a shade of pink, but it doesn’t work like that. I researched methods of doing this, and of course found out that the way I was trying to do it was completely wrong! You need to build up layer upon layer, as I discovered while painting my version of Cabanel’s classic: Cleopatra testing poisons.

Q: So the techniques you know you’ve taught yourself?

Although I’ve learned a little through the Internet, I’m not always going online to try to find out how to paint this or mix that. I don’t paint like that at all. I know what I need to paint, and I just live with the painting: I start painting, continue, repaint, cover and start again, mix different colours until I’ve finished myself – I mean, until my picture will tell me it’s ready. You always feel like you have to add something else – you think it’s ready – its already hanging on the wall. But no – it’s calling you again, until the picture knows it’s ready.

I remember when I was trying to finish Galleon at Rest. I took it from the wall three or four times to rework it until it finally told me: “That’s it, I’m done!”.

Q: Do you always work from photos?

Working from a photograph is much easier, of course. Nowadays, you can work from a photograph for almost any type of painting – even a portrait. It’s much easier than torturing a live subject with immobility for 14 hours while you paint his or her likeness in real-time :-)

I can paint from nature, but for living, fast-changing subjects, whether people or locations, I prefer to study a detailed photograph, and work from that.

Q: You’ve made canvas prints of many of your paintings: What do you think of them?

I would like people to have my paintings, but I understand that they are not cheap – a lot of time and work goes into them, and they are for the most part large-format pieces. Also, it’s obviously impossible to share a single painting with many people.

The canvas prints that I’ve made are high-definition and brightly coloured. Since they are as big (and often bigger) than the originals, they showcase my paintings very well. They’re also good quality and relatively inexpensive. They make my work accessible to many people who otherwise would not or could not make a purchase.