How Artist Lera Efremova Creates Welcoming, Organic Forms

Lera Efremova organic artwork.

Image source: Lera / Adobe Stock.

by Irene Malatesta

posted on 02-24-2020

Russian artist and designer Lera Efremova can’t recall a time when she didn’t love expressing her creativity.

“When I was in nursery school,” says Lera, “as young as 3 years old, my teacher told my mother I had a good sense of color and composition. Apparently even then I was showing my artistic side.”

For some artists, the road to a creative career is winding and full of false starts. For Lera, however, it seems that all paths led her to create art for a living. As a young person, she enrolled in a children’s art school, where she has fond memories of plein air drawing sessions, studying landscapes, people, and architecture in the summertime. Following that early art education, she went on to the Timiryazev Agricultural Academy in Moscow, where she studied ecology.

While this may seem like a switch from visual art, it’s actually closely related to Lera’s expressive specialty: organic shapes and soft, abstract botanical forms that recall vibrantly growing leaves and flowers.

“I feel a constant desire to be closer to nature,” says Lera. “Perhaps drawing plants and natural forms is one way for me to bring myself closer to it.”

Image source: Lera / Adobe Stock.

Inspiration in natural forms and animation

“Nature is a constant inspiration,” says Lera. She also finds inspiration in graphic design, textiles, ceramics, home decor, and in the work of other contemporary illustrators she follows online. “I see a lot of interesting ideas on Behance and Pinterest,” she says.

The work of renowned Russian husband and wife animation artists Yuri Norstein and Francheska Yarbusova made a deep impression on Lera. Since the 1980s, the team has created deceptively simple animated films such as “Tale of Tales” (which was named the Best Animated Film of All Time at an American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences event), and “Hedgehog in the Fog.” Their distinctive style uses color cutouts and pencil sketches of animals and landscapes on multiple glass panes to create a soft, organic handmade appearance while evoking mystery and depth. The effect is immersive, sometimes child-like, and often emotionally moving.

While the accomplished artistic duo may not be well-known in the West, they are celebrated in Lera’s home country of Russia. According to The Washington Post, Yuri is “considered by many to be not just the best animator of his era, but the best of all time.”

“These geniuses create real miracles,” says Lera, admiring the extensive handcraft of their films. “I love their exclusively manual work. They created these films without using a computer. There are almost no artists left [who work this way].”

The Handmade Humanism trend

Lera’s enthusiasm for clear elements of handcraft in visual art is part of a growing surge of interest in what we’ve been calling Handmade Humanism, a rising trend in graphic design, home decor, and visual communication in general.

Defined loosely as an approachable, handmade style, the popularity of Handmade Humanism reflects a widespread desire for visual art with a personal touch.

For her illustrations, Lera doesn’t stick rigidly to any one style, but she tends to return to painterly images and a collage process. “I get to use my ability to combine color and shape best with this type of art,” she says. When collaging, “I’m fascinated by the process of creating an image and the unpredictability of the final results.”

Image source: Lera / Adobe Stock.

Lera notes that the increased availability of great software for creating watercolor and other naturalistic painted effects has contributed to the popularity of this trend.

“Working with live materials is usually more difficult than doing something similar on a computer,” Lera says. “For example, experimenting with watercolors using artistic brushes in Photoshop is fast and simple: everything you need is right there. Using real watercolors on a sheet of paper isn’t so easy. You need to have certain skills and materials just to try it.”

Analog and digital process

For one of her most popular offerings on Adobe Stock, a set of hand-painted floral designs, Lera shared a look inside her creative process.

“Floral elements are always popular with stock buyers,” says Lera. “They’re used in all sorts of decor, for greeting and wedding cards, invitations, and much more. I wanted to make my flowers interesting and textured, so I took out my brushes and gouache paints and started by painting individual elements, spots, and backgrounds.”

Examples of hand-painted elements and backgrounds during Lera’s creation process. Process images are courtesy of Lera Efremova.

After painting the initial elements, she scans the paintings and brings them into Photoshop, then removes the white background and saves each individual element as a separate PNG file. Once she has those elements saved, she can layer and manipulate them until she’s happy with the look.

“My favorite program for creative work is Adobe Illustrator,” says Lera. “I did all the work for this set in that application, combining some elements together, using clipping masks, and creating my desired shapes and backgrounds.”

Image source: Lera / Adobe Stock.

She enjoys the process of building up small elements to create the final collage.

“It’s always so exciting to create objects from different shapes, colors, and textures,” says Lera. “The most important trick here is the simplest thing: it’s to have inspiration and imagination. The ability to combine colors is also a big benefit.”

The evidence of her craft in the layers of hand-painted elements creates a note of “sincerity and honesty,” she says. This allows her to evoke warmer emotions that capture attention, a defining feature of the larger trend toward handmade, process-oriented artwork.

Find more of Lera Efremova’s work on Adobe Stock and more inspiration in our Handmade Humanism Collection.

Topics: Creativity, Illustration

Products: Stock, Photoshop, Illustrator, Creative Cloud