Elena Skoreyko Wagner

Elena Skoreyko Wagner

Portrait Eleven - Meet Elena Skoreyko Wagner Illustrator, Book Maker & Papercut Artist

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We've been a bit quiet on the blog lately, but it's back! And we're so happy to introduce Elena Skoreyko Wagner - an illustrator and papercut artist. 

We first discovered Elena through Instagram where we spotted her looking fantastic wearing our Hiccup jumpsuit in her beautiful studio. Then we found the fun, whimsical work she creates and wanted to know more!

photo by Kayti Peschke

You’ve had an unusual journey into becoming an Illustrator. Can you explain this a little, and what was the most challenging part?

I was an artistic kid, very crafty and always drawing, so I did the natural thing when I finished high school, and moved to Toronto for art school. I never considered any other creative discipline, frankly, I’m not sure I even knew they existed! Illustration for me was, like, these kids that were super good at drawing Disney characters and I wasn’t good at that. But even though I studied art, I didn’t actually have any real consistent creative practice until about 5 years ago.

In art school I painted on big canvases and made video art, but when I finished school I had a bit of a crisis. I was so super self critical and felt like I had nothing serious or deep enough to say, and I pretty much stopped making art. I lacked confidence and just couldn’t see how to proceed. So, I bounced around from job to job and ended up going back to school and getting a masters in occupational therapy!

The din of my artist voice felt very far off at this point. It wasn’t until we moved from Canada to Germany and I found myself at home with a baby in a foreign country that it occurred to me that my favourite part of the occupational therapy blog I had started was making the illustrations. And so I started making more of them. Lots more, and because I was quite creatively isolated at the time, I posted like mad on Instagram. Nothing really dramatic happened, no huge viral story here! But what was unbelievable to witness was my own drive and tenacity for making pictures. I had never seen that in myself as an adult. I am still shocked at how this passion has not waned. I remember the first time I called myself an illustrator.  At that point, I’d only done a job or two for some former professors, and I felt like a total imposter, but it also felt great. And I grew into it! Sometimes you just have to choose an identity the same way you buy a kid’s jacket a size up. The most challenging part has been… All of it, except making the pictures! I had no idea how to be an illustrator really, and I literally did not have any real-life friends doing it at the time. So how do you find work? Where do illustrators even work, actually? All the processes were totally foreign to me. But I figured it out. I’m still figuring it out! 


What is your favourite part of the creative process?

I love the moment where I have a spark, and I get to chase it! So that point where an idea has come to the surface, and I can pursue realising it, with my hands. Sometimes I like a little constraint - a brief, or a material or format I’ve limited myself to - I find it forces my creativity in a way that is really invigorating. I just finished a window installation for a wonderful local shop called Owl & Monkey. One of the owners had rescued a box of 100 year old Japanese household accounts from an auction house, all these books of feathery thin discoloured marked up paper, and they wondered if I could use it. I let it marinate for a few weeks, picking up the paper and fiddling with it every few days. First, I started sewing it into garlands, but as I got acquainted with the qualities of the paper, I started seeing all these possibilities and just chased those sparks and made all these things i would never have come up with without that paper to springboard off of and it was the most delicious, creatively prolific week! I didn’t sleep enough but it was so fun.  

How has your style changed over the years?

I think my initial concern was capturing movement and human form in a way that felt natural, but as I’ve gained competence there, I’ve become more concerned with composition, colour, texture and shape. I think my better work is more abstracted now, functions better as a study of space and form than it used to. My palette has changed a lot too, I think I have become more sensitive to colour, although I still fight the urge to just rainbow the shit out of everything! 


Who is your favourite artist or designer?

So hard to choose favourites! Some contemporary illustrators I love are Anna Kovecses, Christian Robinson, Sydney Smith, Britta Teckentrup, Eve Coy, and my friend Silke Schmidt, whose sensibility always feels so right to me. I’m also a huge fan of textile art, Tessa Layzelle is a local designer here in York whose hand-quilted “practical paintings” are gorgeous. For fashion, I love Humphries and Begg! And although it’s out of my price range, there is something really magical about Samantha Pleet, and L.F. Markey has a great colour sensibility and really interesting silhouettes. My papercut girls pretty much look like they are wearing L.F. Markey! Wolf & Moon are London local and make the earrings dreams are made of. Honestly, this is just a sampling though. There are so many incredible makers out there!

 some of Elena's inspiration 

Has it been a difficult transition from Canada to York?

I’ve spent most of my adult life moving around, a bit of a leaf in the wind. The move to York was a natural next step, and we were ready for it. We had been living in Germany for 5 years but we knew it wasn’t permanent. It was much easier to go back to an English speaking country. The administrative side of moving (which is intense) is a huge struggle in a foreign language! That said, there were and are a lot of transition pains, as always. The blessing and curse of having lived in several countries is that you know what you don’t have! When I’d just lived in Canada, things like shitty transit systems or the wild price of organic food were all I knew so I accepted it. But then I lived in Germany! Which made me appreciate some things about Canada more but also made me really critical of other things I had accepted. And that seems to be the experience every time we move. I have to say, I have found it really easy to make friends and find community in York, which buffers all the other struggles. 


photo by Kayti Peschke 

Can you tell us three of the most important places you’ve lived, worked or travelled that have lead to you being where you are today.

I grew up in rural Nova Scotia, in Canada. If I am a little seed, than it is my soil. I haven’t lived there for more than a couple of months at a time since I was 18, but I am one of those people who is still weirdly connected to their child-self. I think probably because I spent so much time ruminating! But that small microcosm of heightened emotion and intense relationships, set against a backdrop of quiet woods and misty blue ocean is a huge part of my creative blood supply. 

I studied in Toronto, and lived there for a decade. I really grew up there. I moved over as a very naive baby, I’d only been 18 for a few months! I was so green. When I think back to my time in Toronto, it’s like I lived twenty lives there.  All kinds of apartments with different people, all kinds of jobs, from autism support worker to dance costume glitter painter to freelance video editor. Different obsessions and social groups. I was an art student, then I quit art for about 5 years got a master’s degree in science! I travelled a lot, in the cheap, back-packing sort of way. I got married. I had a baby. I think Toronto was a time of gathering. I was alllll over the place, meeting people, learning things, trying on different hats. It was an uncomfortable time, honestly. I didn’t know who I was, but I needed it. If Nova Scotia was my soil, Toronto added the nutrients I needed. I guess it was the fertiliser? I’m running with this metaphor!

Then, we moved to Bonn, Germany.  And that was really a time of learning to belong to myself. I had two babies and didn’t yet speak the language fluently, so I was more tied to home than I had ever been, and that relative isolation after the frenzy of my Toronto decade ended up essentially forcing/allowing me to make art again! I was no longer under the shadow of criticism I felt after my years of art school, and removed from my own country, I was a resolute outsider, gloriously free from social and cultural pressures I’d felt in Canada. I learned to wear the things I hid in the back of my closet and only tried on in secret. I learned to be honest with and about myself, and I did and made what I wanted. Slowly I felt able to own my life. Bonn was the growth that happened under the earth, with a tiny little sprout finally emerging during my time there, personally and professionally. 

And now we live in the UK, and I am a real little plant!

Rocket Girl, it's an illustration from a short film that was part of an essay for the New York Times, titled 'We Are All Riders on The Same Planet'

Where do you find your inspiration?

Aesthetically, I am very inspired by mid-century illustration and modern art, especially abstract expressionism and post-painterly abstraction. I am having a moment of mild obsession with Jack Bush, a Canadian abstract painter associated with colour field painting. That might seem like a weird stretch for an illustrator who makes mostly pictures of girls and kids verging on twee! But what I am shooting for is work that on one level very clearly captures sweet, honest figures, but also functions as a series of abstracted shapes and blocks of colour and pattern. I like it when my work “looks like people, but also like a mess” as my four-year-old daughter once delightfully described it.  

Thematically, my work is hugely autobiographical. I pull from my own internal experiences, and intimate moments and observations through my very ordinary days, parenting and finding little cracks of light under the heaps of laundry. I am a mother so that’s a very all-encompassing reality of my life and therefore a big part of my work. And of course, I draw a lot of inspiration from my talented peers as well, this is the age of Instagram, afterall!  

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a gentle pivot at the moment. So far, I’ve been doing mostly editorial work, but in my heart I am a storyteller. I’ll be honest. With a few lovely exceptions, I rarely read magazines or newspapers! But I am obsessed with the transporting poetry of picture books. I’m like, crying in libraries as I read to my children. So this year I made the scary decision to take a step back, and focus on developing my skills and gaining experience in that direction. I say it’s scary, because I think at any one time I feel like I could go in 80 directions, and I every second day I wonder if I’ve chosen the right one. But time is finite and sometimes you need to commit to something for a season. I am still doing some editorial work, but I have been prioritising making a lot more personal work, forcing myself to take focused, intuitive artistic risks. It’s something I think I needed to do to sort of prune my style and grow as an artist. I’m trying to reach a sort of intersection between Helen Oxenbury and Helen Frankenthaler! Lol, tall order, I know, and I’m certainly not there, but I’ve been having a lot of creative breakthroughs, which is exciting. 


Where did you discover us?

I found you through your artist spotlight on Charlotte Keats! I love her work, and it was just the perfect visual storm!

What do you like about H&B clothing?

Well, first of all the patterns are delicious, I mean it’s wearable art. But it’s also clothing that manages to balance consideration for real human bodies that move and play and sit and high-kick, with easy beauty. It’s so comfortable, but it’s sexy too. It’s clothing that makes you feel physically good and visually exquisite. 


Can you describe your dream item of clothing?

Oh man. Just one? At the moment I am struggling to find trousers I love. I would adore a pair of vintage inspired high-waisted, wide-leg pants in a luminous azure blue. Ooh, or maybe hand-dyed indigo. Like the ocean on your legs. I’d like a sailor pant fit, sort of.  And comfortable! Not tightly cinched in at the waist, as they often are - because contrary to apparent popular belief, women do in fact sit while wearing pants! 

photo by Kayti Peschke 

If people want to follow you and discover more about you, where can they go?

I’m pretty active on Instagram, @elenaskoreyko, or visit my website, www.elenastreehouse.com. I’ve got a little online shop as well, but all of that can be found through my website. 


Elena wears our Hiccup print cami jumpsuit from our Summer 19 collection, and our Navy Honeycomb from our current range, available here