The QA: Igor Karash

By Peggy Roalf   Monday June 19, 2017

Q: Originally from  Azerbaijan, what are some of your favorite things about living and working in Saint Louis?

A: I grew up in Baku, Azerbaijan during Soviet times and immigrated to the United States with my family in 1993. It was a big change. At first I lived in Houston, Texas, but since 2005 l live and work in Saint Louis, Missouri. My home studio is situated in one of the older neighborhoods in the city and I really enjoy the diverse creative nature and Victorian charm of the nearby streets and parks—a historic feel which I had greatly missed since I left my home town.

Our house in was Saint Louis originally built in 1887—around the same time my grandparents’ home in Baku was built and where I spent much time in childhood and produced my very first paintings. All this creates a very inspiring environment and helps with my creative work.


Baku Dream. Watercolors and ink on paper.                                                   

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between art you create on paper versus in the computer?

A: We didn’t have a sketchbook tradition in the Soviet Union. From childhood through my college years, I used any paper and cardboard I could find to draw on. But now I am trying to catch up with the sketchbook trend and started a few for my personal projects. Still, most of my work is done on separate pieces of paper. For final artwork I like to mount paper onto boards and use a mix of materials based on the feel I’m going for. Computer editing is part of my process but is usually fairly minimal. I am also beginning to work directly on a tablet—a great way to create art electronically without sacrificing personal style and mood.

Drakon, a
 picture book (personal project), ink on cardboard/digital.

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: My work table. I like traditional ways of making things, so having a comfortable drawing table sets up the right mood in the studio. Books are incredibly important too—and I wouldn’t downplay the importance of my window view.

Q: How do you know when the art is finished?

A: It really depends on the concept and the look I am going for to tell a visual story. It is more important for me to develop a unique visual language for a particular project than to create another portfolio piece that fits in with my previous work. As a result some of my illustrations are carefully rendered while others are more fluid and somewhat minimal in technical approach. This helps me to better express different literary styles, time periods, moods, etc. And of course an approaching deadline helps to set the stopping point.

From War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Folio Society, London, 2014. Gouache on paper.

Q: What was your favorite book as a child?

A:The Adventures of Buratino—the Soviet version of Pinocchio. Even though the book was ideologically charged, it was written (or rather adapted) by an incredibly talented writer, Aleksey Tolstoy, who created a very strong set of characters, and a unique ‘musical’ language. The illustrations were absolutely stunning, done by the Soviet illustrator Aminadav Kanevsky, who made the book a truly majestic experience.

Q: What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: I’m re-reading Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. I have been reading a lot of absurdist literature lately and wanted to rediscover this quality in Gogol’s writings.

Q: If you had to choose one medium to work in for an entire year, eliminating all others, what medium would you choose?

A: Gouache on watercolor paper—the medium I am most comfortable with, and it allows me to improvise a lot. My process is very intuitive so making shifts and changes ”on the go” is an important part of my process. I also appreciate gouache because of the beautiful color nuances you can achieve by re-working previously painted surfaces with freshly mixed colors.

The Legend of the Flying Dutchman. Re-mastered illustrations from a 1995 edition for an upcoming reprint. Gouache on paper/digital.

Q: What elements of daily life exert the most influence on your work practice?

A: From a very young age I spilt my day between working in a design studio and on my personal art: illustration and theater design. In this respect I consider my art more like an escape from reality and to be truthful, it has very little to do with my everyday experiences. What feeds my work is my imagination, my inner thoughts, associations, books, music playing constantly in my head, memories and emotions. It’s not that I am uninterested in design and teaching, but these are simply two different worlds.

Q: What was the [Thunderbolt] painting or drawing or film or otherwise that most affected your approach to art? 

A: If we travel back to my teenage years, when I was interested in art and rock music, I would say the film Mirror by Andrey Tarkovsky and the Beatles’ White Album changed my world forever. I think each of these provoked me into experimenting with layering narrative, composition, materials and mediums in my work. I guess my interest in using different styles for different projects grew from the early days of rock music when it was common to introduce different musical forms in the same album. My early collaborations on set designs also influenced my illustration work in a similar way. Now, each book project is an opportunity to ‘set the stage’ for the narrative/conflict like a theater director might.


From The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter. Folio Society, London, 2012. Watercolor and gouache on paper.


Q: Who was the [Thunderbolt] teacher or mentor or visiting artist who most influenced you early in your training or career?

A: I was lucky to grow up under the influence and artistic support of my uncle, Vadim Kogan, who trained as an interior designer in one of the best design schools in the USSR—Moscow Industrial Design School (Stroganovka). He taught me the basics of drawing, painting, and rendering techniques, and the major principles of design. Later, at the Kharkov State Art & Design Academy in Ukraine, I received great training and mentorship for my thesis project from Aleksandr Blyakher. He specialized in graphic design and branding, but had a great knowledge of book illustration. There were many other mentors in the academic world and those I met in publishing, theater and design; however Vadim and Aleksandr were especially important for my artistic development. Even today, I imagine what they would say about my sketches and illustrations.

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: Azeri style dolma the way my mom makes it. The major ingredients are ground meat, rice and herbs wrapped in grape leaves. After dolma, I would love to have a good cup of hot tea with a piece of Baku-style baklava.

Igor Karashis an illustrator and designer based in St. Louis, Missouri. Igor grew up in Baku, Azerbaijan, where studied architecture. His approach to illustration is rooted in his versatility and diverse body of work created over the years for book illustration, theater and environmental graphics. Igor’s work has been recognized by numerous prestigious illustration competitions including the Book International Biennial in Bratislava, Slovakia, American Illustration 32 and 34, House of Illustration, and Folio Society (UK), Creative Quarterly Magazine, Luerzer’s Archive, and Graphis.


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