Illustrator Spotlight: Igor Oleynikov, Russia

Continuing the series from last week where I showcased illustrations by Italian artist Fabian Negrin, this week I discuss the creative work of Igor Oleynikov, a Russian illustrator whose style I would describe as “cozily impressionistic.” Consider the following image from his book “The Bremen Town Musicians,” with its receding skyline of frosted evergreens:

"The Bremem Town Musicians"
“The Bremem Town Musicians”

Oleynikov often illustrates stories featuring animals as the main characters, a common theme in many children’s books. Under Oleynikov’s skillful hand, even the most frightening of beasts become snuggly and endearing.

from "The Book of Lullabies"
from “The Book of Lullabies”

Oleynikov’s style is, undoubtedly, influenced by his childhood in Russia. He began illustrating books for children after working as an art director at the Soyuzmultfilm studio, yet never received any formal artistic training. This obviously didn’t impede his success–he has illustrated books for publishers in Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and the United States.Nightengale, cover

This explains why I was initially baffled by this bookcover, in a language I couldn’t even identify. Turns out it is a version of H.C. Andersen’s Danish fairytale “The Nightingale,” published in Taiwan, with illustrations by a Russian artist. If that isn’t representative of how great stories resonate with people across the world in all different cultures and societies, I don’t know what is.

Admittedly, Oleynikov’s illustrations fall closer to the “traditional” side when it comes to children’s books. As I’ve said before, his illustrations are intimate and restful–I feel cozy and safe just looking at them, and these are feelings many adults consider suitable and hope to evoke when selecting books for children. That doesn’t mean, however, that Oleynikov’s illustrations aren’t beautiful and worth a closer look. For one thing, he utilizes negative space & color palettes wonderfully. I wonder if he was subliminally influenced by the open landscape in Russia?

"The Bremem Town Musicians," img. 2
“The Bremem Town Musicians,” img. 2

And for last, I have saved my favorite illustration by Oleynikov from his version of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Never have I encountered such an imaginative take on the classic tale. Here is Jack, leading the chicken that lays the golden eggs away from the giants’ castle in the sky…

"Jack and the Beanstalk," published by Montessori in Korea.
“Jack and the Beanstalk,” published by Montessori in Korea.

Oleynikov is a well-loved illustrator in Russia, and rightly so, for everything he draws is like a lullaby.