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Interview with Sveta Dorosheva, author of The Land of Stone Flowers

by Melissa
Author Q & A / September 25, 2018

The Land of Stone Flowers

by Sveta Dorosheva
Chronicle Books
CDN $42.95 · cl

The Land of Stone Flowers was first published in Russia in 2014 and sold over 10,000 copies within the first 6 months. The book was nominated for the National Bestseller Award in 2016. Dorosheva's hand-drawn illustrations appeal to fans of Aubrey Bearsley or Harry Clarke but are unique to her style. The unusual content and beautiful art have landed the book on the Chronicle Books list. We caught up with Dorosheva to talk about her book, fairy tales, and illustrations.

L.S. The idea for The Land of Stone Flowers was born from your project “Everyday Fairy.” Can you please tell us more about this project?

S.D. Yes, there was this idea to make a kind of an activity book about fairy creatures—one per day, throughout the year. Each would be something related to everyday life or childhood pastimes, like ‘odd pair socks fairy’ or ‘puddle fairy’ or ‘bed crumbs fairy’—such type of thing. It was in the very beginning of my illustrator career, and of course such an ambitious project couldn’t have worked out—it should have been something simpler than 365 creatures to invent, draw and describe.

Then again, I was pregnant and the project completely froze after my second child was born. But one day, as I was thinking to return to drawing and was going through my notes and ideas in sketchbooks, I came across this phrase, which was written down as an idea about one of the everyday fairies: “Let her be a researcher of human world and write down things about humans.” I realized that moment that it was an idea for the whole book, and that way ‘a fairy guide to the mythical human being’ (as the subtitle of the book goes) was born.   

L.S. The book The Land of Stone Flowers is all about wondering. You observe humans not as an adult but rather as a child growing and exploring the world. How did you manage to bring this way of perception into adulthood?

S.D. I can’t analyze that, it’s just there. I guess I just can’t get used to life. I am over 40 now, and it still catches me by surprise quite frequently—both in a good and in a bad way. My childhood reaction to that hasn’t changed over the years, and that has always been ‘observe things while you are at a loss how to react to them.’ That was the basic approach for writing this book too.

L.S. The art scene in the 1980s in the USSR was rather plain and boring. What was the source of inspiration and nourishment of your creative self when you were a child?

S.D. I was born in Zaporozhye, which is an industrial city and very, very far from art. I guess it does make a difference if you are born in, say, Venice, attend a school in a former palazzo, walk past fascinating architecture full of art, etc.  But in a way, it doesn’t. You see, as a child you can’t know that there are ‘other worlds’—there’s nothing to compare with. I mean, whatever you are born into—you take that for granted.

We had only one book at home, which was loosely related to art—an album about Petergof garden with pictures of Greek statues. That sufficed to form my childhood taste in aesthetics. I mean, Vatican or Uffizi would have been better, but would they? Maybe I would hate art if it was served in monstrous quantities to me when a child. You never know what makes a child tick.

L.S. It is not uncommon that artists and writers use some other creatures to reflect on the lives of humans. There are plenty of movies, cartoons, books about animals, insects, aliens, gnomes watching human behavior. Some of these observations are whimsical and funny, others dark or even apocalyptic. What do you think people are trying to achieve with these reflections?

S.D. I guess people do have moments of clarity when they realize just how weird they are. They find it hard to demonstrate that to other people with just showing everyday life as it is. Because if that were a good option, we’d all be in constant shock at ourselves and how strange, contradictory and inexplicable our world, life, reactions, thoughts, actions and things are. Taking a side ‘alien’ look is just a trick to demonstrate this quite obvious revelation.  

L.S. You make your living working as a freelance illustrator and enjoy writing illustrated books for pleasure. How do you find a balance between commercial work and personal projects?

S.D. I don’t. But life finds a way to balance those things over the years. I mean, if I take a certain period of time, say the past couple of years—it’s been only commercial work in quite exhausting volumes. But then, there have been three years when I was writing and drawing this book, The Land of Stone Flowers, for instance, when my husband was practically the only budget maker in the family. Both options are bad—it’s either a money disaster, or a loss of sense to work because it turns into a conveyer. So far I am reaching the balance only through despair, like ‘I can’t do this anymore! I have to take a break and then do a passion project (personal stuff)’, or ‘I can’t do this anymore! The check for the apartment rent returned! This is the bottom pit… Time to grow up—from now on, I am focused on money!’and so on, on end, no balance.

L.S. How do you spend your time when you are not drawing?

S.D. With kids mostly. Also, this year I started to travel, that’s a wonderful pastime. Very bad for the ‘money side of balance,’ which we have just discussed, but very inspiring.

L.S. All your projects are different, but the drawings are always incredibly realistic. Whether it is your childhood in USSR, or the Jazz Age in America, or Arabic tales—the subject is incredibly well researched so that every little detail falls in place. How do you achieve that?

S.D. By research. I spend a lot of time researching and thinking about each project before I actually draw a single line. That’s the most time-consuming and difficult stage. But interesting. It’s this stage that makes every project ‘the most interesting project’ while I am doing it. Later I fall out of love with the topic or era or manner, because the new project is ‘even more interesting.’

L.S. Are you planning more fairy books?

S.D. No. Well, maybe. Books are the worst in illustration industry, but they are so irresistible. Once you are into illustrating them, you cannot be cured.

L.S. Thank you for letting me interview you today.

S.D. Thank you, Larisa. It has been a pleasure.

The Land of Stone Flowers: A Fairy Guide to the Mythical Human Being by Sveta Dorosheva will be available in stores in September 2018.

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