“You never know what you are capable of until you try,” says Olga Kurbanova, who did not discover her natural oil painting talent until well into her adult life.
Olga was born in Russia but spent most of her life in Odessa, Ukraine, where she lived until she moved to Erie five years ago. As a child, she knitted, sewed, embroidered, and made crafts from natural materials, including burning wood. She holds a Master’s degree as an engineer and worked as head of a software consulting department prior to her move.
Upon her arrival in Erie, she began looking for work. The search proved difficult, so she began looking for a hobby. One day, she went into Michaels and decided to buy a canvas and oil paint, and from there she would discover her untapped talent through her first painting of a horse. She surprised herself with her ability to capture the likeness of the animal so accurately, so she kept painting from that point, exploring different topics, including animals, nature, and seascapes. Now she cannot imagine life without painting.
Olga continues to learn by watching videos, lessons, and improving upon her own techniques, fine tuning and discovering her unique style. She balances this with working, being a mother and wife, and striving to improve her English.
I had the privilege of talking with Olga about her painting and all that goes into it.
In what ways has moving to a new country affected your creativity?
I did not do any art in Ukraine. The relocation and the circumstances surrounding it revealed these abilities in me. If I still lived in Ukraine, I probably would not know that I could paint. My job as head of a software consulting department carried a lot of responsibility and took a lot of my time. In fact, I hardly had time for household chores and emotional recovery on the weekend.
It’s funny, because when I painted the horse, my first painting, I didn’t know how to mix colors. In places where it was lighter, I just took a rag and rubbed it. It worked perfectly. Honestly, I didn’t expect that first picture to turn out so well and it shocked and inspired me to try again.
It’s always scary to start because the perfectionism obliges you to complete each picture with a feeling of satisfaction. I want to say, you never know what you are capable of until you try! Please do not be afraid to change your life or try something new. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what you did before. The main thing is to take the first step. Everyone is talented, you just have to believe in yourself.
What is the most rewarding aspect of oil painting?
For me, oil painting has opened a new world, a world full of colors and emotions that I hadn’t received before. I think my imagination and sensitivity went to a different level. I can enjoy the view of the sunset or the dew drops on the flowers, the view of the oncoming waves or the cry of gulls. We are always surrounded by many interesting things, but we just do not know how to enjoy them, because we are always in a hurry and solve everyday problems. Art makes it possible to switch your attention to other things, to yourself distract from the crazy world around, to forget about problems.
What are some challenges you have encountered with oil painting?
My biggest problem is that I started painting at a fairly adult age of 45, and I do not have the time and opportunity to get an education. I have a master's degree in engineering, but of course I would like to have an art education. I educate myself by watching different videos and lessons to improve my skill level. I'd like to find my own style.
I am also working to promote myself, I have an Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest page, as well as a store on etsy.com and www.saatchiart.com. Unfortunately, all of this and my main job take a lot of time, leaving limited time for my art. My dream is to paint when I want, and not when I have time.
I recently asked my mother why, instead of 7 years spent playing the piano, she did not take me to drawing classes. But she said that I never showed any interest or ability in drawing. So I urge parents, please try to give your children a chance to try everything that is possible: sports, painting, music. It is so important to find your favorite thing.
How do you decide what you’re going to paint next?
This is a very difficult question. It’s very rare when I know 100% what to paint, and this is a big relief. Many topics inspire me, and I want to draw everything. I look at a lot of photos on the Internet and just cannot stop at one choice. I always want to make something breathtaking. A huge number of projects constantly revolve in my head.
How do you know when you’re done with a painting?
I think this is a difficult question for most artists. In oil painting, you can draw and improve almost endlessly. And if you are a perfectionist like me, it’s very difficult to stop, it always seems that you can do better. Sometimes I finish the painting, and in a couple of days, again I try to improve something. At some point, you just have to tell yourself to stop.
Would you consider trying other kinds of paint or even painting on other surfaces besides a canvas?
I experimented with acrylic – completing a few projects with fluid acrylic. This is all very interesting and exciting. And having more time, I would have explored further with acrylic, but still my favorite is oil.
You’re especially good at painting water. How do you get it to look so real as if it’s moving?
Oh, water, this is a separate conversation. Water element is perhaps my favorite topic. Most of my life I lived on the Black Sea (Odessa, Ukraine). In my childhood, I lived very close to the sea and my memory is filled with images of lighthouses in the night, walks along the beach, ships, and boats; as well as, the sound of the surf and cries of seagulls. Now, living in Erie, I enjoy the wonderful lake that reminds me of the sea. In Erie, there are stunning sunsets and unimaginable clouds. I like to paint the lake at sunset, surging waves, the glow of water, ships and lighthouses. Of course, my favorite ship, the U.S. Brig Niagara, and my favorite lighthouses “Presque Isle North Pier” and "Presque Isle" inspire my paintings. There are mysteries and secrets hidden in the movement of water, and I want to convey this as realistically as possible. If I started my life anew, I would probably become a marine painter.
How do you feel you have improved as an artist from the time you began painting to now?
Everyday, I try to improve as an artist. Of course I see my progress, because I put strength and energy into it. My imagination, knowledge, and skills have reached a new level; I paint more meaningfully now. I love the challenge, because there’s always room for growth. Given the chance, I would take art classes to improve my skills further.
Given the chance, would you go back to Ukraine and paint something there?
I visit Ukraine once a year; I have family and friends there. And I always bring a new painting for my mom.
The last time I was there in May, I participated in a 2-day workshop with two wonderful artists, Elena and Vladimir Ilyichev. This is a separate story. Before the new year, I found an amazing new technique on the internet that interested me. As luck would have it, the technique was developed by artists from the city where I once lived. The technique, “Blade and Sock Art Technology," is unique, and I adore it. I painted a number of paintings using this technique and try to adapt it for myself.
Where do you see your art going in the next few years?
From time to time, people ask me if I give painting lessons. I think it might be worth starting to do this, in order to teach people. In my past, I was a computer teacher, software consultant, and trainer. I enjoy teaching people, and of course, I would like to find a job related to my art.
I am optimistic and look to the future with hope. Our lives are not easy, but it is in our hands to make them better, happier, and more beautiful. There are so many interesting activities around. Do not be afraid to start something new. Each of us has enormous potential, sometimes we just do not have enough time to look into it. Believe in yourself and fill your life with art!
Thank you, Olga, for taking the time to talk with me. Check out her shops on Etsy and Saatchi Art. You can also follow her on Instagram and Facebook. Remember, you never know what you are capable of until you try!