Bright and surreal illustrations, dynamic and fun animations, and photography that reminisces of the ethereal—Ukrainian artist Maria Oz does it all.

Currently in Kyiv, the illustrator, animator and art director shares in this interview with Arts Help how stop motion sparked her creativity, why she likes playing with gender in photoshoots, and how she's trying to live a normal life despite the very abnormal times.

First, can you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you get started as an illustrator and animator?

Hello! My name is Maria Ozirna, and I’m from Ukraine. I was born in a small town, Irpin, in the Kyiv region. I have been drawing all my life and I also studied at an art school. After graduating, I received a bachelor’s degree in interior design, but I never worked as designer because during my studies I realized that I wanted to be a film/animation director.

I started making short creative animations and posting them on Instagram, and later I got followers and a lot of freelance work. After a while, I improved my animation skills and got to know a team of animators and producers. All of this helped me to reach a qualitatively new level of work and receive offers from major global brands. I usually took on the role of not only the director of the videos, but also the illustration, because it was easier for me to work with something that I created myself.

I also worked for a year as an art director in the Ukrainian company named Silpo (supermarkets), this position helped me to learn how to communicate with the team and manage the work of designers.

Now I am in Ukraine, at home. Due to the war, I currently don't have such a large flow of tasks as before, but I work a lot with charity projects to help my country attract as much support as possible.

Many of your animations are stop motion. What drew you to this technique?

The stop motion technique is exactly the basis on which my creativity blossomed. At a certain point in my student life, I had a lot of academic painting classes. It was very useful for developing my drawing technique, but not fun enough. Standing for hours at the easel, I thought that it would be interesting to give these drawings a little more life and magic. I thought about the fact that in the past cartoons were created with the stop motion technique: by moving objects with your hands while taking many frames, and then composing it all in a video. I tried it and I liked it.

You also create digital illustrations. Can you talk about the influences behind your style?

When drawing illustrations, I am always inspired by surrealism and naive art. I am fascinated by paintings that look naive and childlike, but also contain strong and quite adult meanings. I see myself in this, because the visual image can be misleading until a person digs into the hidden contents. I also really appreciate folklore motifs. I find beautiful color schemes there and try to weave them into a modern context.

What was it like participating at Coachella with your artworks this year?

I really liked drawing posters because I had a lot of freedom to be creative and I was able to be as much myself as possible in what I created. I also enjoyed communicating with the team, receiving clear and honest feedback. I would like to thank you once again for such a wonderful opportunity.

You also model in many of your animations and photographs. Can you talk about how you use your hair, makeup and fashion to express yourself?

I often take part in photoshoots because I enjoy working as a model with photographers who listen to my ideas. Before the shooting day, we discuss the idea and create a mood board where we keep references to each element of the character. Usually, every idea has an artistic background, so makeup, hair and clothes should also work in the same context as the content of the idea.

I often work not only in a female image, but also in a male one. By putting on a man's clothes and a mustache, I emphasize that every person has the right to express themselves as they want to, despite the gender.

IKEA Ukraine Ad directed by Maria Oz. Video courtesy of the artist.

Tell us about your experience collaborating as an art director for brands such as IKEA Ukraine. What has that been like?

Collaboration with such big brands is never very easy, because every little nuance needs multi-level approval, and it delays the work a bit. Such filming processes are usually controlled by the customer on the set and even if every detail was previously approved through the storyboard, there will always be surprises during the work process.

I was very pleased to be the first person in Ukraine to shoot a video as soon as IKEA appeared on our market. In my opinion, the videos came out very clean and almost perfect from the point of view of a typical catalog picture. This is exactly what the customer wanted.

Finally, I know this is a very difficult time for you. How are things right now in Ukraine and how are you doing?

It is very strange to experience today, such a historical time, which previously we could only read about in books. War has always been something terrible for me, looking exactly like in the works of Remarque but in the modern context, war looks like something even more strange.

It should be understood that Ukraine lived and developed side by side with the war for 8 years in a row, but only on February 24 of this year it acquired the character of a full-scale invasion. Thanks to the heroic resistance of the armed forces of Ukraine, the Russian troops failed to occupy Kyiv, so I had the opportunity to return home and I’m currently trying to live a normal life. We go to restaurants and drink coffee outside, but at any time an air raid siren can sound, and the city can be bombed. It scares me to realize that this horror has already become a certain norm for Ukrainians, but we cannot simply stop living and working, because that is exactly what the enemy wants.

In Kyiv, everything is now very similar to normal life before the war and thanks to American support we have the opportunity to save the state and the country by winning this war. Nominally, we have already won, because the Russians have already lost their potential to seize the entire country but we still have a very long and difficult path to a peaceful life.

You can learn more about Maria Oz on her website and follow her on Instragram.

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