Yelena at work

Russian-born Yelena Bryksenkova is an illustrator and fine artist now based in Los Angeles, US. Her work is featured regularly in Flow (such as Issue 21 and the Flow Book for Paper Lovers), and here she gives us a step-by-step account of her work process.

I work almost entirely by hand (using pencil and acryl gouache paints), but I sometimes use digital techniques to finalize my work, especially if it is a job with a quick turnaround intended for print. I have put together a quick guide to my process that demonstrates how I take a painting from sketch to the final image.

I start with a pencil sketch:

I scan it and play around with digital color until I have decided on a color palette that I like:

I use a light box to transfer the composition with a light pencil line onto watercolor paper:

Next, I paint in the background color roughly around the objects:

I paint in the general shapes of the other objects:

Using pencil, I add some line work for detail and definition:

Next, I paint in the plants. Shapes like these are less planned and more spontaneous:

I often clean up the artwork digitally if the paint texture looks a bit messy, if there are areas where the graphite scanned in too reflective, or just to refine the edges of some objects:

I added the fairy lights and shadows here digitally as well. If the paintbrush is cooperative and I’m feeling extra meticulous, I sometimes do this by hand, but for an editorial job I will often take small shortcuts for details like that.

Here is what the steps look like all together:


  • If you’d like to see more of Yelena’s work, you can do so on her website. Or take a look inside Issue 21, where she created the drawings for our Dealing with Loss feature. And in the latest Flow Book for Paper Lovers, you can find her envelope of endearment.