GUEST ARTIST: “Of Dance And Fairies, And Beyond” by Irina Mirskaya

Bird Fantasy Watercolor Painting by Irina Mirskaya

Hi there! My name is Irina Mirskaya, and I am an artist, textile designer, illustrator and art educator in Long Beach, California. I was born and grew up in Azerbaijan, one of the republics of former Soviet Union, now an independent country. My family lived in its capital, Baku, for four generations. We always had art albums at home, and I spent hours pouring over reproductions of classical paintings, imagining the stories behind the pictures, dreaming that if I only had a little talent. How’d I loved to be able to paint.

I started to draw and paint when I was in the 7th or 8th grade. At the newsstand kiosk I saw greeting cards with reproductions of Russian lacquer miniature paintings. They were illustrating folk tales. And fascinating they were — colorful, whimsical, highly stylized — a cross of layering techniques of Byzantine icons, layout of Indian and Persian miniatures, flowing line quality and shiny finish of lacquer art of China, Japan, Vietnam, to name a few. But I didn’t know it then.

All I knew was — they were simply wonderful, inspiring me to create something of my own. I didn’t have a knowledge or materials to replicate Russian lacquers, so I started with watercolors. Back in the day, only those who studied art or worked as artists and had documentation to prove it, were able to buy artist grade materials. One of the family friends was a sculptor, and he helped me to get a wonderful set of watercolors and brushes made in St Petersburg.

I’ve painted with watercolors ever since! With a little detour making a Master of Science in Computer Science and working as a computer programmer for a while. I worked as a textile designer and managed an art studio, taught design as an adjunct faculty at Otis College of Art and Design, illustrated books and kids’ stories in the LA Times, taught art classes to kids and grownups and painted portraits — for commissions or just for the fun of it. I participated in group or solo art exhibits every year.

Yellow Tabby Cat Watercolor Painting by Irina Mirskaya

My favorite subjects are folk and fairy tales, and also dancers, and portraits, both people and animals. I love the feeling of magic, of mystery evoked by the folk stories. I love a good story. Portraits are telling a story, too. They, too, imply a mystery. Who are these people? What are or were their thoughts, hopes, lives? What are their traditions? What are their cultures, costumes, dances?

Because people dance! When they are happy, they dance. When they are sad, they dance, too. Their emotions are expressed through the movement, and it’s a fulfilling challenge to capture that movement on paper. That’s why I love to paint dancers. Ethnic costumes, researched or imagined, add a bonus point of interest. To me, as a textile designer, depicting colorful flowing fabric is an endless pleasure.

Man Playing Guitar Watercolor Painting by Irina Mirskaya

Recently, I was trying to paint directly, without pencil underdrawing. But usually I draw first. When I draw, I often start on a tracing or simple copy paper, adding details, tearing and re-arranging pieces. I use a 4B pencil and kneaded eraser. Sometimes I scan a preliminary drawing and finish it up in Photoshop, tweaking the size and composition.

Woman's Portrait With Flowers In Hair Watercolor Painting by Irina Mirskaya

Then I print it out and transfer it onto watercolor paper. I like Arches (of course, and who doesn’t), also Cartiera Magnani Italia (cold press, 140lb), and for the kids’ projects I
use the Canson XL watercolor paper. I still have a love affair with the St. Peterburg professional watercolors, you can get them under the names Yarka or White Nights.

I prefer pans vs tubes. Just make sure you are getting a professional grade set. I love natural sable brushes, round, bristles not too short, with good spring and a fine point. About two years ago, I got an inexpensive set of four Kolinsky sable Zem brushes, and I’m very happy with their performance.

Painting makes me happy. If I like the result, great, but the process itself is already a worthy experience. And that’s why I teach art. I hope to inspire and bring more beauty and happiness and the joy of creating to people’s lives.

Irina Mirskaya

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  1. Sandra Strait 3 years ago

    Irina, your work is so beautiful and expressive. I love that cat! Thank you for sharing your artistic journey with us!

    • Irina Mirskaya 3 years ago

      Hi Sandra, thank you so much! It was a pleasure to share my experience with watercolor with such a wonderful watercolor community.

  2. Lisa Ann Ulibarri 3 years ago

    It is so wonderful to get to learn about you and your art journey. your art is inspiring. all the best to you 🙂

  3. Robert J. Coleman 3 years ago

    Thank you for sharing your amazing work and your story, from which the art springs. Your paintings have so much life along with happiness and humor too; so many of the characters have a faint smile starting to cross their faces. Love it!

    • Irina Mirskaya 3 years ago

      Thank you, Robert! This is a quality I really strive for – the life in the painting, in the character. It’s great to know you felt it. I often notice that I smile while painting my characters. The smiles must have transfer through my brush to the paper!

  4. Karen Fortier 3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your story Irina. I love your paintings!

  5. Irina Mirskaya 3 years ago

    Thank, Karen! It’s so nice to hear.

  6. hootiebirdsartjournal 3 years ago

    Beautiful and whimsical! I love your style!

  7. LoriCtoo 3 years ago

    Your work is beautiful! Thank you for sharing your story. I always love hearig people’s stories and find it inspiring.

    • Irina Mirskaya 3 years ago

      Thank you!

  8. Janneke Booister 3 years ago

    I love your art! Especially the fairy tale stuff – but that might be because I love all sorts of fairies, gnomes, woodland creatures and so on 🙂

    • Irina Mirskaya 3 years ago

      Thank you, Janneke! I love them too!

  9. Rosemary Malpass 3 years ago

    You have been so productive Irina…creating whimsical characters and serious realistic subjects. So happy to have had you in my life.

    • Irina Mirskaya 3 years ago

      Thank you so much, Rosey! The feeling is mutual. I feel privileged to have you in my life <3 <3 <3

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