GUEST ARTIST: “How An Enduring Love For Art Gave Birth To A Brand” by Ardak Kassenova

Wild-Blueberries Painting by Ardak Kassenova

My name is Ardak Kassenova, my visual style is not limited to but veers more towards Contemporary Impressionism. I’m the Creative Director and Co-founder of ZenART Supplies along with my husband Roberto. I’m now based in London but I grew up in Kazakhstan. Art was a constant part of my life for as long as I can remember. Growing up, my parents and grandparents surrounded me and exposed me to all things creative.

Ardak Zen Art Supplies Watercolor Painting Orchid

Working on an orchid watercolor painting.

Early Life and My Family

I was born in Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan on the 1st of April, 1979. I have one sibling, my older sister Zhuldyz. Being born and spending my formative years with the republic still under the Soviet Union meant that there were no computers or video games around for me to play with. Both my parents were distinguished academics in their respective fields and were staunch supporters of the importance of education, so my childlike curiosity and thirst for knowledge never lacked the support it needed. They enriched my life in so many other ways.

My father, Kanay Kassenov, was quite the Renaissance man. He was a geologist and engineer by profession, and a poet, activist and inventor in his free time. He actively opposed the social and ecological problems of his time, almost always against the Soviet propaganda of that time. He was one of the first activists of the Nevada-Semey movement, protesting against the nuclear testing at Semey Nuclear Polygon in Kazakhstan, where he was born, and which eventually resulted in its closing. He was highlighting the problems of air and water pollution, rational use of natural resources and water, and offering the solutions with his inventions. He was writing articles and fighting for the rights of the people who got affected by ecological disasters, and promoting the use of Kazakh language in Kazakhstan in the Soviet times. He was followed by the KGB, but despite all of that he was a great father, and loved us dearly, giving us the lessons of courage and perseverance, love for nature and people.

He had lots of very talented and free-thinking people among his friends, and our home was always full of poets, lawyers, composers, academics, musicians, artists, and honest hard-working people. He was very inventive and resourceful, and we had lots of ingenious items he would make himself. He was always encouraging us to explore new skills, especially arts – to paint, to sing and dance, play the piano, write poems, play chess, and many other ways of furthering our development.

I got his words instilled in my mind: “Material possessions can vanish, be stolen or lost, and only your knowledge, values and skills will accompany you throughout your life and let you shine wherever you are.”

3 Early childhood and family Ardak Kassenova

Top left: Our parents were bringing us everywhere, from the public celebrations, like this 1st of May parade, to the national parks, botanical gardens, galleries and museums, concerts and poetry readings.They wanted us to breathe, see and absorb the beauty of nature and see the talented people. Here I am carried in my parents arms with my sister Zhuldyz standing in front. Bottom left: With my elder sister Zhuldyz – my best friend and inspiration since first steps. Top right: With my sister, parents, and my favourite aunt Clara with her husband and son. Bottom right: Photo taken when I was at the Nursery.

My mother, Tamara Gissanova, was a teacher and later became the Head of Bibliography at the National Medical University. She was a teacher in every sense of the word, nurturing not just my innate curiosity, but that of her grandchildren’s and other relatives’ as well. She instilled in me my deep love for books, providing me with a well-rounded collection of reading materials to choose from in our extensive home library and would also bring home other resource materials from work. Through her, my sister and I learned how to search for information in libraries during a time of no internet and computer access. Mum was always motivating us to strive for excellence whatever we did, and she’s still our best cheerleader and inspiration.

But it didn’t stop there, she was quite talented in many other ways – cooking, sewing, making so many creative things. She taught us how to knit, crochet, embroider, do patchwork, model and sew clothing, how to understand and eventually make the patterns ourselves, along with cooking and baking as well. My mother was being constantly creative and sharing, so it really rubbed off on us quite naturally. Since I was a child, I had already decided that I wanted to be an artist because it really inspired me to be surrounded by all the creativity.

Artwork at 4 yrs old by Ardak Kassenova

Artwork made at 4 years old

All of my grandparents were survivors of the great Kazakh famine of 1930-1933 (also known as the Goloshchyokin genocide) and the First and Second World War. Despite all the hardships they went through, they remained strong, teaching us the value of hard work, gratitude, happiness from helping others and enjoying each day to the fullest – a true source of inspiration for me. They were all very well versed in a number of the arts – singing, dancing, crafts and many other more, which they undoubtedly passed on to us.

I was lucky to be part of a family that gave importance to a well-rounded education. Growing up, we were surrounded by my parents’ circle of friends from various fields – poets, writers, musicians, scientists, and freethinkers. Visiting museums and attending concerts were a part of our routine. My mother subscribed to a special pass so we could go weekly to the events of the local Philharmonic Hall. Both my parents made sure to support our artistic endeavors by finding the best teachers and classes they could and supplying the necessary instruments and materials we needed.

A Lifetime of Learning

My Mum taught us how to read, write, and do maths early on and that allowed me to enter primary school one year ahead of the usual age (6 years old instead of the usual 7) at the advice of the teacher. I had such a natural love for learning that I was writing short poems and recording them in a notebook that I made myself at the age of 4. I decorated the covers of my handmade notebooks and sketchbooks with collages and cut outs, too!

Under the sea by Ardak Kassenova

A recent underwater with sunlight streaming through watercolor painting that I made alongside with my daughters – based on a tutorial from World Watercolor Month Artist Ambassador Anna Koliadych (DearAnnArt).

Since my parents would often bring us to museums, we got to see artefacts, paintings, and sculptures in person. While at home, Encyclopedias and catalogues from major museums became a source of wonder. One of my favorite books back then was a little book filled with artworks from the Hermitage Museum at St. Petersburg. I loved just looking at the photos of the artworks, before even learning how to read. Paintings at home and at my aunt’s would mesmerize me, I spent so much time just looking at the intricate details and brushstrokes.

I was lucky enough to have such great teachers at school from the very beginning. They were very good at explaining the different elements and principles of art. We would draw, paint, sculpt, do collage, and a particular favorite of mine – creative recycling. I had such a vivid imagination even back then, I loved seeing and looking for patterns and faces or figures amongst the clouds, trees, shadows. It was no big surprise then when we were asked by the teacher at the age of 5 to draw who we’d want to be in life, I immediately drew myself as an artist.

My parents worked hard to give us the best education they could. Seeing all the sacrifices they made, it pushed me to do my best and I was rewarded with the only scholarship in school – a whole year of schooling for free at one of the best private lyceums. And in 1995, I received my certificate in Accounting from the esteemed Kazakh State Academy of Management, now called Narxoz University in Almaty.

Besides my academic pursuits, I also excelled in Music School (No. 2 in Almaty) and graduated at the top of the class. I was a choir soloist, pianist, and was quite good in solfeggio and composition. My teachers urged me to pursue music as a career, they were encouraging me to study at a conservatory.

But alas, the instability of life caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union made my parents think it was wiser to pursue a career in business and economics instead. After all, I also did very well in other subjects, especially in Mathematics. I followed their advice and received a full scholarship plus a government stipend as the best student from Kazakh State Academy of Management. The stipend was similar to a small salary that it allowed me to help my parents out with some of the expenses. In 1999, I graduated with a Degree in Marketing and Economics with merit, this in turn got me my first job at the British Council.

One of my regrets in life was declining an offer for an exchange programme at the Department of Mechanics and Mathematics at the Moscow State University while I was studying for my first degree. My parents were fearful of my living alone far away in a big and tough city, and I caved in to their fears. This taught me a valuable lesson, to not let other people’s fears and opinions affect how I make decisions for my own future.

My insatiable hunger for knowledge and self-development continued. I decided to self-fund and continue my studies in Glasgow, UK at the University of Strathclyde at the Computer Sciences Department, where I gained my Master of Science degree in Information Management. This was a huge investment for me because I had to pay International student fees plus very high living expenses, and many people couldn’t understand why I was doing it.

I believe that education opens up new doors, and I believe in life-long-learning. I was part of the national e-government, communication, educational and social projects in Kazakhstan. I was constantly studying at different jobs, and I still do lots of self-study on any topic I’m interested in. Until 2012 I was in corporate with my last job at an Oil & Gas solutions company when I found that it didn’t interest me. I realized that I wanted to work for myself instead from then on.

Art Practice Through Years

Almaty being the capital of Kazakhstan is rich and thriving with the country’s classical and pop-culture. Growing up in the city allowed me to juggle my life between academics and my extracurriculars – especially art! I made sure to make time for some art classes I could take after school.

My first clients who commissioned my works were my classmates, they would ask me to draw their portraits in pencil for the graduation album. I would work on them during breaks or after classes. I endeavored to be active in art by joining art competitions – and won a few prizes, was commissioned by the school and university to create large-scale posters for various events, and also some lettering for the university department. Art was never left behind, later in my various workplaces, I continued to be a part of the concept designs for logos, packaging, web-sites and publications though they were not directly under my purview.

9 Portrait of Mama by Ardak Kassenova

On the left: From one of my weekly LIVE tutorials on YouTube – How To Make A Watercolor Portrait For Beginners where I used my mum as the model. On the right: The final finished portrait.

I took and completed courses on Product Design at UAL Central St. Martins, Figurative Life drawing at the Royal School of Drawing, Developing Artist Practice at UCL Slade School of Fine Arts, and the masterclasses of Anastasia Shimshilashvili, as well as other courses that took my interest through different online platforms. Next on my list is to attend Summer School at the Repin Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, once the world has recovered from the Covid situation.

Art and Travel

Travel during my childhood was limited, mostly it was just to visit my grandparents and other relatives in the rural areas. My first taste of travel outside that was when my sister and I were chosen to perform as part of the Republic Children’s Opera Theatre. We traveled as a group with our teachers to Moscow and Belgorod (Western Russia), and it was an amazing experience. It was a huge festival where we met lots of interesting people from different republics, we made new friends, and singing on a big stage gave us a confidence boost and a sense of independence for me especially, as I was very shy. It helped me overcome it, I became more open, and learned how to confidently express myself and perform in public.

Most of my international travel happened after graduating from the university. While I was at my first full-time job at the British Council, I also took my first trip to the UK in 2000, and I had a great experience. I visited London and Cambridge, took a course at Saffron-Walden, and fell in love with all the art inspiration and the British culture. With just a little map book of London, I wandered around, explored my way through the main art galleries and museums, and took some bus tours. After that, I would be visiting the UK every year. And later I even decided to pursue a Master degree in Glasgow, because Glasgow was filled with Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s art and architecture, he was a great inspiration to me in those days. It was a great decision, and I enjoyed the cultural diversity of Scotland and explored its natural beauty!

Art and travel photographs by Ardak Kassenova

Top photo: In Thailand wearing a dress I designed and made. Bottom left: In London, wearing a top I designed and made myself as well. And bottom right: With Roberto in Italy.

My dream to explore different cultures to create lasting memories, and be sources of inspiration for my paintings pushed me to do more travelling. So far, I have been to South Korea, Thailand, the US (loved Niagara Falls and Hawaii), Italy, Greece, Spain, Indonesia, mainland China and Hong Kong, Russia, France, Kyrgyzstan, Germany, Switzerland, Romania, and others that don’t come to mind now.

Il Convento del Carmine Watercolor Painting

Plein air watercolor with pen and ink painting. Il Convento del Carmine, near Fivizzano, Tuscany.

Castelo in Italy oil painting by Ardak Kassenova

I love painting with oil as well, the textures I can create with my brushwork is just invaluable. Above is a plein air oil painting of a castello in Italy. Oil paints used are from our ZenART Infinity Series Oil Palettes.

Love And Family

Italy was a love at first sight experience for me, since my youth, Italy was always at the top of my list of countries to visit but something would always come up to postpone that long-awaited trip. Perhaps fate had other plans for me, for ever since I met my husband Roberto (an Italian by the way) in 2008, I have since visited Italy numerous times already. Now with an added bonus of visiting my Italian family.

Soon after moving to London in July 2008, I met Roberto. By the end of the year we were engaged, and the following year we exchanged vows on three different occasions – the first in London, followed by another in Kazakhstan, and the last one in Italy.

Fish watercolor by Ardak Kassenova

Conceiving our first daughter, Tamara, took some time. I had to undergo two IVF treatments which greatly affected my health, but was thankfully rewarded with my giving birth to her in August 2013. Throughout my post-natal depression and intense hormonal imbalance, Roberto was very supportive. I was able to focus more on my art and painting, joining an art club and meeting fellow artists.

Photos of Ardak Kassenova Love and family

Top left: Wedding photo during our wedding in Italy. Bottom left: Tamara and Laura during Tamara’s Arty Birthday Party. Our girls share the love for art and growing up in one of the best cities for artists in the world – in London. On the right: Tamara and Laura after Halo masterclass at the National Gallery.

We wanted Tamara to have a sibling, and since she was such a lovely baby, we decided that it wouldn’t be too difficult to have another child. And in October 2015, Laura was born. I was quite active during my pregnancy with her, swimming and painting, and it was also during this time that the idea of creating our own brand of art materials came to mind.

Still life watercolor by Ardak Kassenova

Painted the smoke effect from a burning incense stick.

The Birth of ZenART Supplies

I was painting at the time when the difficulty of going to physical shops with a baby and a toddler in tow, plus the seemingly endless options and quality issues and other struggles with the art supplies just suddenly gave me the idea of creating my own brand. One which will bring harmony to the customer’s mind with the promise of high quality unique art sets.

Colorful floral oil painting by Ardak Kassenova

Floral painting using oil paints from ZenART’s Infinity Series Oil Palettes.

When my husband and I founded our art supplies company, we decided to call it ZenART Supplies because art for me has always been a form of meditation. ZenART is a journey to Zen – your harmonious self, calm and energised, through ART – the universal language of soul, which speaks when your mind is quiet. To be one again with my soul by switching off all the clutter in my mind. It’s when I can let go of all the problems and free myself from stress, it’s a very important part of my life. Whenever I don’t get to paint, I really feel so miserable – so I really try to get some painting time in to feel at peace.

Rose Teacup and Turner Collection Brushes

Rose Teacup watercolor painted using the Turner Collection from ZenART Supplies, a complete 14 pc watercolor brush set of squirrel and synthetic blend. Designed for watercolor, gouache, and ink use. This set comes in a beautiful satin travel pouch.

Allegro and Sereno watercolor palettes

ZenART Supplies’ new watercolor sets COMING SOON! I created some color mixing guides using the two main sets from our Aspiring Artists Series of Watercolor Palettes. On the left is the Allegro palette containing more warm colors that’s perfect for floral subjects and the dramatic sunrise and sunset. On the right is the Sereno Palette with its selection of cooler colors for those landscapes, seascapes, and botanical subjects.

Art has been a wonderful friend to me, it really helped me whenever I go through a lot of stress and it has helped me overcome a lot of the challenges in my life. It’s the place where I come back to and I just know that I am home. Whenever I’m about to start any painting, I also write a poem. A kind of small wish because the art I create is my good wish for someone or anyone who will be viewing it, wishing to bring some good to their life. Once you understand why you’re creating it, what the message is, it just comes naturally. The same positive energy that I put into my artwork, I always try to bring to our products.

Mineral painted using metallic metallic watercolor by Ardak Kassenova

This is from a LIVE streamed tutorial titled How To Paint Gems & Minerals with Metallic Watercolor Paint. I do a new live tutorial every Tuesday. The metallic watercolor paints I used are from the Prezioso palette of the Aspiring Artists Series watercolors from ZenART Supplies. Find the whole YouTube video tutorial here.

Cupcake and cherries with study watercolor by Ardak Kassenova

Also from a LIVE tutorial, this one’s How to Paint Cupcakes & Honey with Watercolor. Wonderfully vibrant colors from our Allegro watercolor palette. I first made a study and swatched out the colors I’ll be using on my B5 Artist’s Sketchbook.

ZenART Supplies is a family-run business, our dream is to create and provide high quality art supplies at an affordable price, to give guidance to the aspiring artists on their choice of art materials, how to take care of them, and help them throughout their artistic journey through useful advice, articles, and tutorials. We also invite artists to be part of ZenART’s thriving online community – Painting Inspiration Daily on Facebook, where fellow artists can get together and support each other.

Temperate House Kew Gardens using ink urban sketching

The Temperate House at Kew Gardens. Painted using ink and the Fine Line Collection from ZenART Supplies, a 12 pc thin and small brush set that’s perfect for fine detail painting and suitable for watercolor, oil, and acrylic use. This set comes in a handy canvas travel pouch that you can easily personalize.

I worked closely and collaborated with other professional artists to make sure to design and produce the best possible tools and materials. The often heard advice from my art teachers was of great guidance to me – they were always encouraging me to use professional or artist quality ever since – or at least “the best you can afford”. At some point in your artistic development, the quality of your tools and materials will definitely matter. It may even prove a hindrance to further experimentation of your mediums.

ZenART Supplies’ goal is to “Inspire the Artist in Everyone” by providing quality materials at unbeatable prices. I was frustrated with what I would find in the shops, either they were high end and expensive or cheap but low quality. That made me decide to fill the void between these two extremes. To not only have well curated products, but to package them in sets as well. Everything you’ll need according to your needs.

Contemporary Impressionism

French Impressionism has always been near and dear to my heart. It has been a source of inspiration for ZenART Supplies and of my own visual style. The idea of not trying to paint as real as you can but instead painting an ‘impression’ through small and thin visible brushstrokes, and paying close attention to how the changing qualities of light and the atmosphere affect the person, object, or landscape just gives you the freedom of your own personal interpretation.

How to paint water in watercolor by Ardak Kassenova

A boat at sea with its reflection on the water, using ZenART Supplies’ watercolor from the Aspiring Artists Series of Watercolor Palettes. Watch the Live tutorial – How To Paint Water With Watercolor For Beginners.

Great Pagoda Kew Gardens watercolor by Ardak Kassenova

Plein air watercolor painting of the Great Pagoda at Kew Gardens. Painted using the Espresso watercolor palette also from the Aspiring Series of watercolors from ZenART Supplies.

By not focusing on making my works as realistic as I can, I can fully enjoy painting and it becomes a form of meditation. Instead I’m more conscious of the emotion and message I wish to evoke in my creations through the use of colors and textures. There’s an endless possibility for play and exploration.

Sicilian blood oranges watercolor painting

This watercolor painting is from one of my Creative Tuesdays with Ardak LIVE painting tutorials on our Instagram account and YouTube channel. Catch it every Monday, I cover a wide range of ‘how to’ topics and you can interact with me in real time. These Sicilian blood oranges are from the Floral & Citrus in Watercolor Live Tutorial.

And with that I’ll leave you with one of the poems I wrote.

Poem by Ardak

Creativity is something inside me
It’s so hard to explain with your logic.

Creativity is what do you dream of
And it flies away or flicks back in second.

Inspiration is everywhere around us,
Keep your inner child curious, happy.

Think of art as an echo, expression
Of eternal soul’s blissful whispers.

It comes late at night when it’s quiet
When the whole world is sleeping and dreaming.

When accomplices are moon and my armchair
When I can’t stop wild spirits inside me.

Keep awake my canvas and brushes
And exchange flows of energy currents.

It’s the time when my mind is so silent
I dissolve in such mindful moments.

It can spread from dawn till the dusk time
And feeds hunger for my self expression.

Come and join the solitude wonder,
Capture life moments forever.

Ardak Kassenova
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ZenART Supplies is a 2021 World Watercolor Month Official Sponsor

Recommended3 recommendationsPublished in Featured Artists
17 Comments
  1. Sandra Strait 1 month ago

    Ardak, what an interesting life you’ve led. It shows in your art and philosphy. Thank you for sharing your artistic journey with us.

    • Marisela Delgado 1 month ago

      Hi, Sandra! Just checking in with you. I know that Portland is sweltering right now. I hope that you and your family are all safe and well. Those are some Texas summer temperatures that you guys are not used to. Yikes! Stay cool, Sandra. Be safe.

    • Ardak Kassenova 4 weeks ago

      Thank you Sandra for your kind comments!! It’s an honour to be here and share my story. 🙏🏻

  2. Mary Roff 1 month ago

    Such an inspiring life story! Thank you for sharing!

    • Ardak Kassenova 4 weeks ago

      Thank you Mary!! It’s been a pleasure to join such a great artist community! 🤩🥰

  3. Prior... 1 month ago

    Wonderful “contemporary Impressionism” and quite a bio!

  4. Serena Lewis 1 month ago

    I so enjoyed reading your post, Ardak! Very inspiring…thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Ardak Kassenova 4 weeks ago

      Serena, I really appreciate your words of support!! 🙏🏻🤩🥰

  5. Alice 1 month ago

    You are an amazing woman for sure! Thank you for sharing your life, your journey, your heart.

    • Ardak Kassenova 4 weeks ago

      Hi Alice, thank you so much! I’m sure your life story is amazing as your comments are!! We all mirror and attract the similar souls 🙏🏻🥰

  6. mjmarmo 1 month ago

    I love reading this bio! Such an interesting story! Thank you for sharing!

    • Ardak Kassenova 4 weeks ago

      Thank you!! It’s a great honour to be part of a creative community and I appreciate your words of support! 🤩🙏🏻

  7. Kathy Delumpa Allegri 1 month ago

    Beautiful, wonderful creative journey!

  8. Megha Cassandra 4 weeks ago

    Beautiful Work
    !

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