Tania Yakunova

An award-winning Ukrainian illustrator with a passion for psychology, nature and rescue dogs. Meet Tania…

When we first spoke to Ukraine-based illustrator Tania about collaborating with us, it was before the devastating 2022 Russian invasion, back when it was a different world. The invasion forced her to flee her home, and the ongoing turmoil continues to impact her daily.

Gunshots, explosions or sirens could disrupt her routine at any moment. Her favourite park is now in pieces, a mess of sharp branches and concrete, an attack that happened at the same time of day as her daily dog-walk. Every unexpected noise, even a short innocent one, now triggers her fight or flight response. You cannot escape the long lasting effects of living through these kinds of experiences.

As we caught up with Tania again, over a year into the conflict, she describes herself as feeling a combination of very lucky (to be safe and back in Kyiv with her family and her dog), but also as feeling so worried for their future, trapped in this very surreal reality. 

Between our head shakes of disbelief and her soul-comforting dog-pats, we asked Tania how 2023 life is fuelling her creativity, how she got into illustration to begin with, and to share the concept behind the beautiful piece of work she created just for us: “Blues”. We couldn’t feel more honoured to share these snippets of her story with you too.

“Apparently there are certain features within the brain that mean highly creative people are more likely to have a risk of mental health issues.”

Tania, thank you so much for creating “Blues” for us, can you tell us about the concept behind this piece of art?

The idea for “Blues” came to me after I read a fascinating article about the link between creativity and mental health. Apparently there are certain features within the brain that mean highly creative people are more likely to have a risk of mental health issues. Writers, musicians and artists are some of the most susceptible. So “Blues” seemed very fitting – a genre of music *and* a common mood for those that play it.

That’s such an interesting correlation between creativity and mental health. Have you always been a creative person? How did you get into illustration?

Yes, I’ve always practised some kind of creativity, although my path into illustration wasn’t a smooth or straight one! I attended art school for 7 years which I really enjoyed but it sometimes felt a bit ‘hands on’ for me, and that didn’t excite me quite how I expected it to. Then I completed a degree in Social Technology where I enjoyed studying sociology and psychology. But then I wanted to add some creativity back in, so I joined an advertising agency, where I worked as a copywriter, combining idea generation and problem solving with creative wordsmithery. Both of my parents were journalists, so I think that skill has to be in my genes a little. After too many very long working days there, I decided to join a design school and fell in love with illustration the second I tried it – it felt like the perfect way to combine all of my skills, concept, creativity, and even sociology too. The rest is history!

So many creative skills! What job do you think you’d do if you weren’t an illustrator today?

I would love to arrange flowers and own my own flower shop! Nature is definitely something I’m drawn to, it calms my mind and flower arranging is a nice escape hobby. I’m looking to move to London later this year or the next, and people keep telling me how many lovely parks there are in London. I hope I can live close to nature in the city.

“Nature is definitely something I’m drawn to, it calms my mind…”

That’s so lovely, will you take your dog to London with you? Tell us about him!

Yes definitely, once I have found the best place for us to live in London! He is 5 years old now, and I adopted him from just 5 months old as a puppy. He was abandoned in the woods! It’s actually far too common in Ukraine, there are so many dogs in need of adoption, and the situation has only become more urgent since the war began. So many injured and homeless dogs.

What else is happening in your near future? Do you have any interesting projects or exhibitions coming up?

I have an exhibition coming up called “Fragments'' at a gallery in Toulouse, France. The gallery, Illustrafemmes Gallery, is wonderful for supporting and showcasing female illustrators. You can see my work on display between May 6th and June 3rd, this year. The rest of the year is actually super busy, so the best way to see what I’m up to is to follow my Instagram for updates.

Who else should we be following on Instagram right now?

Pictoric is a proactive community of Ukrainian illustrators, graphic designers, and artists. 

It’s the perfect place to start exploring Ukrainian artists. From there you can find a lot of artists to follow!

What are you reading at the moment?

Dune by Frank Herbert.

Finally, can you please share a happy memory with us, one that you carry with you everywhere?...

One of my most comforting memories is from my childhood, when me, my sister, and my cousins would go and stay in my grandparents’ summerhouse for the summer. They lived in the west part of Ukraine at the time, in a place called Uzhhorod, where the forest meets the mountains. They built their summerhouse with their own hands, right in the middle of the forest. It was magical. With many more trees than buildings. We used to have to collect rainwater for our water source, it’s always such a peaceful and comforting memory for me. Look up the Carpathian Mountains, it’s so beautiful.

If you want to know more about Tania, more Q&As can be found on her Instagram page, in the ‘highlight’ section of her profile.

A percentage of profits from each FeatureCo. print sale of her work ‘Blues’ will be donated directly to charities on the Ukrainian front line – the Hospitallers and the Prytula Foundation.