Few artists are able to convey complex, emotive messages using basic shapes and just a handful of colours quite as well as the Russian vector illustrator Nikolai Senin. Each form is sublimely crafted using as few lines as possible, carefully managed colour selections and an intelligent use of negative space that makes viewers want to take a closer look, engaging with the image and what it’s communicating.
Based in St Petersburg, Nikolai has developed his drawing skills through courses at the Stiglitz State Academy of Art and Design. He is an experienced graphic designer and as such understands the finer workings of a successful campaign. Nikolai draws a huge amount of inspiration from nature – in particular big cats, whales and sharks – and loves creating images that make a strong statement about the environment. He produces work for some of Russia’s biggest companies and organisations.
Less is more is Nikolai’s mantra, but he works diligently to get there with each image. He sketches traditionally on paper, planning the composition and reducing his lines and shapes to a bare minimum. He creates his artwork in Adobe Illustrator, rendering it in a minimal palette of just four or five colours, then sometimes adds a little texture to give it a slightly more tactile feel.
Clients love the clarity and simplicity of Nikolai’s style. However, the way he uses form, space and colour gives his work both an emotional and an intellectual impact.
Question: What led you to become an illustrator? Nikolai: I have been drawing since childhood and have always loved it. But I began to seriously engage in illustration not so long ago. Actually, I’m a designer, but my craving for drawing was always stronger. I was always interested in wildlife and animals, and therefore I always wanted to display this on paper, in a drawing. From that moment I began to get involved in drawing.Question: Where did you grow up? Nikolai: I was born and live in St. Petersburg, Russia. But when I was born, my city was called Leningrad. I love my city and it inspires me a lot. St. Petersburg is quite young. The city is a little over 300 years old, but it is built in the best traditions of European architecture and is ideal for a creative person.Question: Do you have a childhood memory relating to art? Nikolai: I remember how I drew a leopard. Then it seemed to me that I did it very well. I realized that I had taken a huge step forward. I also remember that I was very impressed with watching the Soviet cartoon Mowgli and tried to draw Kipling's characters in my own style. When you pick up a pencil, you don’t know what exactly will turn out. And as a child, I sat for hours with pencils and felt-tip pens, drawing everything I want. I created my own graphic world, it was amazing.Question: Who or What is your biggest inspiration? Nikolai: It can be my wife’s smile, it can be a trip to South America, a walk along the Neva embankment or the new single of the Pet Shop Boys. Many things inspire me.Question: Do you collect anything? Nikolai: I used to collect stamps with animals. I have albums with mammals, reptiles, birds, dinosaurs. I also collected chewing gum inserts as a child, but most of my life I collect Pet Shop Boys albums and singles.Question: What are your interests outside of illustration? Nikolai: Travel and music. I have a small studio at home, several synthesizers. I love making music, I write my own tracks, tunes, but I don’t post everything on the Internet. I also remix, I like to change the structure of the track and completely change the mood of the song, the melody.Question: What would be your dream job/commission? Nikolai: Music album covers, something related to wildlife, ecology, travel, posters.Question: Why is illustration such a powerful medium? Nikolai: The illustration combines several important components at once: composition, idea, message, and artistic value. The illustration is unique, often it combines two creative principles: the author’s idea and the illustrator’s idea.Question: What is the best use of illustration you have ever seen? Nikolai: Illustrations are beautifully used everywhere. I like street art and I think this is also an illustration. In general, I really like how illustrations were used for travel posters. I adore the posters of the early and mid 20th century.Question: How much of your work is hand drawn? Nikolai: I draw everything by hand. Basically, I make sketches on paper, then modify it in Photoshop, then draw it in Adobe Illustrator.Question: How do you envisage illustration evolving? Nikolai: I hope there will be more illustrative graphics by hand. I do not think that artificial intelligence will be able to replace illustrators in the near future. To create an illustration you need a soul.Question: Who is your musical hero? Nikolai: I really love the Leningrad band KINO and the English band The Pet Shop Boys, although in fact I have a lot of favorite bands. The world has a huge amount of amazing music.Question: If you were not an illustrator, what would you be? Nikolai: I would like to be a zoologist or travel the world. Although, I would also like to make music.Question: Do you have a method for dealing with the feeling of having no ideas? Nikolai: It happens that you are not sure that this idea is suitable for a person brought up in another society. For example, if it comes to some traditions or mentality. But, everything can be discussed. Talk with the client, find out what he thinks. We all live on the same planet, at least for now.Question: If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go? Nikolai: I've seen almost everything that I really wanted to see. I really love South and Central America. But I have not been to Africa, New Zealand, Madagascar and Patagonia. I would go there.Question: How would someone who knows you well describe you? Nikolai: Oh. Friends describe me as a cheerful and active person.Question: If you could live anywhere, where would it be? Nikolai: I live in a city that I love very much. In Russia, these are not the easiest times, but I believe that everything will be fine. If you need to go somewhere for work, then this will be a good experience. I have been in 32 countries of the world, in more than 140 cities around the world, and I liked almost all of them. I really liked Helsinki, New York, Sydney, London, Lisbon and Bruges.Question: If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money? Nikolai: It depends on the amount of money. Perhaps I would buy an apartment in the center of St. Petersburg, on Vasilyevsky Island. I really love this place. I was born there. If I had a lot of money, I would try to help someone, go in for charity, although now I do it as much as possible, for example, sometimes I transfer money to a shelter for homeless animals and for operations for sick children.Question: If you could travel back in time, who would be the one person you would want to meet and why? Nikolai: I would be curious to see how people built the pyramids, and perhaps I would try to stop the extermination of animals such as the Dodo and Moa. What kind of people should I talk to? I would figure it out. In general, we must solve problems on our planet here and now. Many points have been missed, but there is still time and opportunity. So it is necessary to speak with those who now live on Earth and try to stop the destruction of our planet.