Maria Brzozowska Makes Magical Realities
Illustrator Maria Brzozowska takes a poetic approach to art: interpretation is left to the viewer and is influenced by their own experiences. Viewers glean the essence, rather than being given straightforward information.
“My aim is to empower my audience as active storytellers,” she says. “It’s very valuable for me when my audiences are able to relate to my illustrations and create or find pieces of their own stories. It’s like an invisible connection between us.”
The Ankara-based artist and book illustrator describes her art as a merging point of fantasy and reality—what she calls magical realism.
“My illustrations allow the audience to encounter new, unknown lands where there is no definite time or space, and in doing that, return to a sense of possibility that we lose as we grow up,” she says.
Brzozowska grew up in a household of creatives, so in many ways her career was an inevitability, she says.
“I remember being encouraged to look at the world through different perspectives and to ask myself ‘what if?’,” she recalls. “Many of the answers to that question I found in the endless possibilities of being a visual storyteller.”
She spent time experimenting with various media before finding a balance between a digital and traditional styles. She started with a digital approach, but with practice and patience developed her manual skills. “The more confident I became, the easier it was for me to do most of my work by hand,” she says.
Brzozowska’s inspiration comes from some of the greats: Hieronymus Bosch’s detailed stories within stories; Joan Miró’s colorful Catalan landscapes; surrealists Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, and Gertrude Abercrombie; Pieter Bruegel’s grand towers; and the mystically dystopian landscapes of Zdzisław Beksiński.
For her painting “Pura Magia” (Pure Magic), Brzozowska created a circular canvas to challenge traditional storytelling and try something new.
“This painting celebrates the worlds and stories that have parallel existences to our individual realities,” she says. “The circle represents, among other things, a complete reversal of the original position; a reversal of the original path that reveals a parallel world. I also enjoy that there is no starting point; you can start anywhere in the circle—which gives freedom to the viewer.”
THE METHOD BEHIND THE MAGIC
Brzozowska has two working processes—one for her paintings and one for commissioned illustrations. "If I’m starting a new painting, I usually have a sense of what I want to create; it’s like waking and remembering pieces of a dream,” she says. “I let that feeling lead me and put the pieces back together into a new story.”
For commissioned illustrations, her process is more planned. If it’s a book, images form in her mind as she reads and re-reads the text—and when she’s ready, she begins sketching characters and planning scenes. “It’s important to have a balance between what’s actually described in the book and what’s left to my interpretation as the artist,” she says. It’s a long process that includes continuous communication with the publisher.
Brzozowska describes her artistic method as quite traditional. She begins every painting by creating the background texture—usually on canvas but sometimes on paper.
“I pick two to three acrylic colors as my base colors and then work on creating a texture until I’m happy with it. This may involve a lot of splashing, scratching, and brushing,” she says. “I like to experiment with unconventional tools like sponges, bamboo sticks, rubber stamps, cloths—anything that can create a unique texture.”
She sits, with a good coffee, and looks at the painting while it dries. “Paintings talk to us, when we listen,” she says.
Once she has an idea of her goal, she draws the initial elements on the background and starts painting them—first the flat layers of color. “And then the magic starts happening when I add light and shadow,” she says.
In addition to her fine art work, Brzozowska has a variety of commercial clients. She works with numerous publishers in Turkey—mainly in the children’s book sector—but also illustrates magazine covers and licenses illustrations for puzzles. Recently, she has started working with international publishers in China.
Examples of children’s books she has illustrated include The Cage that Looked for Freedom by Göknur Birincioğlu, Tin World by İclal Dikici, and The Confused Owl by Refik Durbaş.
Another book she's illustrated is The Archer’s Magical Lyre, by Göknur Birincioğlu, which the publisher, Redhouse Kidz Çocuk Kitapları, showed at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in 2018.
The book is about a blind archer who carves a magical lyre out of a mulberry tree, “I like the fairy-tale aspect, which I was able to translate into the illustrations,” says Brzozowska. “I painted most of the characters and elements by hand, with some details added through digital drawing, on my iPad... I used Photoshop to put all the layers together into different scenes.”
THE JOURNEY AHEAD
Looking forward, Brzozowska is excited at the prospect of applying animation to illustration, and she’s currently learning Adobe After Effects to “bring her painting to life.”
She continues her illustration work—currently with a new children’s book about Chinese mythology. “I’m researching and learning so much about the culture and the beautiful visual language,” she says. “I’d love one day to write and illustrate my own book. It would give me a lot of freedom—and I already have many ideas.”
Other dream assignments include painting an outside mural and applying her illustrations to textiles. “I think I could create some unique pieces,” she says.
No matter the medium, Brzozowska will continue telling visual stories of the magical journeys she finds in the human capacity for imagination.