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Bubblegum and Sadness: The Art of Diana Novich

By Jessie Young

Diana Novich is an American-born Russian artist who describes herself as a part-time freelance digital illustrator and a full-time pop culture enthusiast. Known online as Holepsi, she lives and works in St. Petersburg, Russia, where she uses Adobe Photoshop CC to construct haunting worlds full of melancholy figures and unexpected streaks of bright color. She developed a masterful command of digital tools free from conventional training—other than a handful of painting classes at the local community center, Novich is self-taught.

Novich frequently takes inspiration from popular culture. 

Her drive to create started as an escape during difficult times; she took a deep dive into digital painting as a way to cope with a dark period in her life. Her art was the only thing she had complete control over, and she describes it as “a safe house for my mind to rest in.” While this period is not among Novich’s best memories, she’s grateful for the path that those sleepless nights opened up. She says, “Being able to sell my work, do interesting projects, give interviews, even inspire people in some way—I would never have guessed that it would lead to this.”

SITUATIONAL FANGIRLING

Novich says that her subject matter chooses her, instead of the other way around. She simply embraces her pop culture obsessions and lets them pull her forward. Inspired by whatever she’s most passionate about in the moment—video games, movies, even random images that she sees on Pinterest—Novich explains that “there’s no methodical process behind it, just basic fangirling.”

Her favorite part of her creative process is the research stage. Searching the “absolute chaos of images” on the web for visual information, the perfect pose, or an appealing color scheme “is like a fun game,” she says. Her least favorite? The initial sketching process, which she finds boring and routine. Novich soldiers through the basic shapes, and then she blocks them in with flat colors, on a separate layer, to get a foundation for the drawing to come.

This piece was inspired by a photograph of a fashion model whose face Novich found intriguing. 

Once she has the structure down, the drawing goes its own way from there. She describes each piece as “purely situational,” and she says that she prefers to experiment with different techniques each time, depending on what each drawing needs. This reactive process helps her stay engaged, and exploring each piece as it takes shape is what keeps her motivated. 

Novich shared a time-lapse video of the creation of this image—an illustration of characters from the game Life Is Strange—on her YouTube channel.

VITAMIN D AND STARTING FRESH

When it comes to dealing with setbacks, Novich believes in taking breaks and always being open to changing direction. When her energy flags, she takes long walks to soak up some vitamin D, take in the sights of downtown St. Petersburg, chat with tourists, and relax. In her words, “the simple stuff usually works.”

Sometimes Novich will get a fair way into a piece before she realizes that she isn’t in love with her initial concept, or that she set unrealistic goals. When this happens, she merges layers and smudges everything so only a ghost of the old piece remains, and she starts anew on a layer above the old. She cites this as a major advantage of working digitally, and says that it’s a useful tool for overcoming creative obstacles.

BE YOUR OWN HERO

In the future, Novich says she wants to improve both as an artist and a person. Her drive to learn and grow comes more from within than from any external force. She cites being raised as a “be your own hero” type of person as the reason she she doesn’t have any one creative icon to emulate. She enjoys the work of Mucha, Klimt, Rockwell, and Leyendecker (as well as a number of modern artists), but she believes that it’s useful to find beauty in a variety of different sources. “It helps developing a wider and richer worldview to base your work upon.”

Her advice for emerging artists is to be unafraid of failure, but afraid of complacency. Going off the road and embracing new challenges made her more flexible as an artist and helped her skills grow. She recommends building a social media presence to connect with community for feedback, support, and encouragement. When engaging with that community, she says to “take every piece of advice you get with a pinch of salt—someone's experiences might not fit your situation and that’s fine. In the end, do what works best for you and try to enjoy the process.”

You can find Diana Novich’s work on her Tumblr page as well as on Instagram.