Illustrator Profile - Natalya Balnova: "The process of drawing provides me with a great source of inspiration"

By Robert Newman   Thursday February 1, 2018

Natalya Balnova is a New York City-based illustrator who grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia. She creates her bold, graphic illustrations with ink on paper, using Photoshop to add color and refinements. In addition to editorial illustration, Balnova’s artwork has appeared on book covers, product design, posters, and in numerous zines and art books, and she also teaches design and hand-lettering classes.

I grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia, but moved to the United States 20 years ago. Since then I have been living in New York.

From early childhood, I was drawing all the time, and I always knew I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. At age 12, I enrolled in an art school where I studied classical drawing and painting for six years. My parents both had an education in design, so I was introduced to art and design from an early age. Later, I graduated from the same school they attended, the Academy of Industrial Art and Design, in St. Petersburg, where I studied design and printmaking.

After moving to New York, I received my second BFA in design at Parsons School of Design. Then I worked as a book designer for various publishing houses. While working as a designer, I took printmaking classes at the School of Visual Arts and then entered the SVA Masters Program, Illustration as Visual Essay. Since graduation from that program, I have been working as a designer, illustrator, printmaker and teaching design in colleges.

I work at my home studio, and  I spend a lot of time at the School of Visual Arts printshop. At home I can focus better on visuals, draw, and come up with concepts. At SVA I can work digitally on my drawings and actually do printmaking. This is a very inspiring and motivating place for me. It has great energy, an experimental spirit, and an enormous amount of creative drive and is also a lot of fun with exciting people.


I mostly use black ink and paper. Then I scan my drawings and work on them digitally. I use the same technique for making my separations for silkscreened projects.

My big break happened after leaving the publishing company I used to work at. I felt some sort of creative stagnation in my design work, and started taking printmaking classes at SVA in order to find some new inspirations. I was also taking etching and silkscreen classes, and started to draw a lot. Working with such a variety of mediums was giving me a lot options for experiments with materials and textures, and I felt more alive, and it was emotionally more satisfying then just working on the computer. The process of drawing itself provided me with a great source of self-motivation and inspiration; it also felt very natural to me. I feel I can say a lot visually.

At that time I was freelancing as a designer and I decided to study for a Masters Degree. I was debating between two options: design and printmaking/illustration. At the end I chose illustration, even though it was a rather drastic shift in my career. So I sent my application and was accepted.


I relate to work that has something more besides just a pure visual form. It has to have a soul, emotional or intellectual content, and interesting energy, which in some way resonates with my own perception of reality. Some of my influences are: Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, André Derain, Henri Rousseau, Russian avant-garde, Bauhaus, the Dada movement, William Kentridge, and David Hockney.

In literature, I was drawn to writers who focus on the nature of the human psychology and inner conflict such as Franz Kafka, Gabriel García Márquez, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Hermann Hesse. Poetry in particular has been important for me, especially poets with surreal, emotionally charged language, such as Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, Velimir Khlebnikov, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Marina Tsvetaeva, Guillaume Apollinaire, Francis Picabia, and Charles Bukowski.

Among film directors I would mention as significant to me Rainer Fassbinder, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Jean-Luc Godard.


It is hard to pick only one person, since there are so many people whose work is important to me. Since I have focused on book cover designs for a long time, a lot of my visual inspirations originate from this field: Paul Sahre, Peter Mendelsund, Rodrigo Corral, John Gall, Matt Dorfman, Milan Bozic, Oliver Munday, Jonathan Gray. I am also a big admirer of James Victore’s work, Modern Dog Design, and David Shrigley.

Everything that surrounds me influences me in some way: music, friends, literature, exhibitions, weather changes, walks along the streets, sounds, graffiti on the walls, street signs, faces in the crowd, colors, patterns, blooming trees, lights in the windows, subway rides, overheard conversations, short trips to small towns, shop displays, strange packagings, instructions, billboards, funny toys, antique shops, backyards with ceramic statues—the list can be endlessly continued.

I like working on my own. Self-motivation is probably the most important thing.


I really enjoyed working for the company Blue Q. I did a series of sock designs with some quirky characters. All of the Blue Q products have a great sense of humor and a wonderful aesthetic, which appeals to me. I also enjoyed working on a poster illustration for the La Guarimba International Film Festival. They collaborate with many interesting illustrators, and I was very happy to come up with my own design for their promotion poster.

It would be interesting to work on some projects which relate to theatrical and music performances. It would be a fun area to explore.

It is always nice to work with art directors that give me a lot of creative freedom. I really enjoy working with individual thinkers, with a good sense of humor and with people whom I admire for their own work. It was great working with Rodrigo Corral on the Holy Cow book cover illustration and interior illustrations.


Rather than having certain stylistic preferences, I am drawn to work that is sincere and has a soul to it and a unique personality. It can be the content, line work, color combinations, composition or everything together. I respect honesty and a spontaneous quality in work, along with surreal beauty, energy, craziness, and an interesting concept.

There is an unconstrained energy in children’s drawings which appeals to me.

I find inspiration in folk art from different cultures. I like looking at zines, comic books, and crazy poster designs with some weird characters and fascinating hand lettering.

If I have to name a few illustrators, I would say Blexbolex, Sarah Mazzetti, Marion Deuchars, JooHee Yoon, Vivienne Flesher, Ward Schumaker, Cristina Daura, Marie Assénat—but the list is endless.


I continue to design book covers. I had some apparel design projects with the company Blue Q. I am always working on my own projects: zines, art books, posters, prints, apparel designs. I also teach design classes and hand-lettering classes.

I just continue to work. I go with the flow, hoping that life will bring me some interesting projects to work on and open up new opportunities.

I self-initiate projects and upload them on social media websites. I participate in competitions. I am represented by Marlena Agency, so my agent promotes me as well.

I think it is important to get your work exposed in many different venues. Social media is useful for me to get feedback and reactions to my work. It helps me to show my work to the world; otherwise I would just keep it to myself. It also helps to keep in touch with a diverse community of artists and designers.

Keep working. Generate your own projects, create something fun and interesting that will be exciting for you to explore.

See more Natalya Balnova illustrations, new work, and updates:
Natalya Balnova website
Twitter: @NatalyaBalnova
Instagram: @natalya_balnova/