Elizabet Yessiien‘s art tells a story of evolution, transition, and a deep-rooted passion. With every brushstroke echoing whispers from distant epochs, she’s an artist who boldly tackles transitions with curiosity—from writing, to coding, to visual artistry. Her art, characterised by strategically placed fluid lines, bares a raw, arresting honesty, suggesting waves of change ready to erode age-old structures.
A Nigerian-Ukrainian, Elizabet, fondly known as ‘Liza’, moved to Germany for her Master’s in English Literature and Culture during the escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian war in 2022. As an artist, Liza draws and paints with passion evident in the way she gives herself to her craft. Yet, amidst these transitions, it seems visual arts may have found a lasting place in Liza’s heart. ‘Somehow, in the midst of this, making art has made me happy, so while I still work on finding myself, it’s what I’m sticking to in the meantime,’ she says.
In this exclusive interview, Liza was gracious to share her art and art processes and techniques with us. We were also excited to chat about her journey and her transitions from writing to painting, as well as the future of her art.
This conversation was conducted by Ifunanya Okolie in September 2023. Elizabet granted Creatives Around Us permission to feature her photos.
Liza, for those who might not be familiar with your journey, could you share a brief introduction about yourself and your multifaceted background?
Liza: I’m a Nigerian-Ukrainian, currently living in Germany (I had to move because of the war in Ukraine) and pursuing an MA in English Literature and Culture at the University of Goettingen. I don’t have any siblings. I’m also an artist. I started as a hobbyist, but I’ve recently started to label myself more seriously as a real artist. I create a lot of digital art and for my traditional artworks, I tend to work primarily with watercolours, and sometimes I combine that with gouache.
Can you walk us through your journey from being a writer to a coder, and now an artist? What inspired these transitions?
Liza: I have these cycles where one of my interests tends to dominate the others. I wrote for a long time because I was lonely and writing was a way to find a community of like-minded people. Then my real life became more eventful and I didn’t have to run away from reality as much. Now I prefer to watch series on Netflix and I’ve become a more visual person. I learnt how to code because I thought that would be my ticket to wealth, but that didn’t quite work out for me. With an unsuccessful job hunt, the tech layoffs and all that tech misfortune in recent times, my interest started to wane again. Seeing too many ‘tech bro’ fights on my Twitter feed and all that gatekeeping around tech stacks made me recoil. Somehow, in the midst of this, making art has made me happy, so while I still work on finding myself, it’s what I’m sticking to in the meantime.
How has your background in English Literature and Culture influenced your approach to art and design?
Liza: I’ve given this some thought and honestly, as much as I’d like to find some connection so I can weave out a story of connectedness, I really don’t think it has. I think a part of this is because I don’t try to tell a story through my pieces, so there is no grand theme. Maybe sometime in the future, I might incorporate that. At the moment though, I just like to draw and paint pretty things and most of the time, that means beautiful female portraits.
Who or what have been your biggest inspirations throughout your artistic journey?
Liza: I don’t have any artist I follow religiously to build upon, however I’ve admired certain artists like Tom Froese. His ‘odd bodies’ illustrations have helped me think of human bodies in a less structured way. I generally tend to follow artists who have a playful element to their work as well as use bold splashes of colour.
Your first charcoal portrait on Instagram highlighted the challenges of working with charcoal. How do you decide which medium to work with, and how do you adapt to its unique challenges?
Liza: For me, art has to take away from my stress, not add to it. Charcoal adds to my stress :), so unfortunately, I will not be going further with it. I’m however glad that I had some practice with it because I think it’s important to try new things. So far, watercolour has been the least stressful for me to use. The clean up after painting is so easy. Literally just wash your brushes in water and you’re good to go. You can also paint outdoors with watercolours. There are so many portable sets for travelling artists. The versatility of this medium is amazing, so it’s my all time favourite. I also love working digitally because it is the most forgiving. You can undo as much as you want and build on new layers, allowing for the greatest flexibility and freedom of expression. This is a double-edged sword because if you’re not careful, you could iterate till infinity and never finish an art work. With watercolour on the other hand, there is a limit to how many layers you can paint before your paper decides to buckle up, so at some point you need to wrap it up and show off your finished piece of art.
How do you approach a new piece of art, especially when experimenting with new techniques or mediums like the loomis method?
Liza: I approach it with excitement. At the end of every piece, one thing I know for certain is I have become a better artist just because I practised and another thing I aim to achieve is a work of beauty. So I see art as a chance to study and improve as well as a medium of self expression and creativity. I usually watch tutorials on YouTube and look for inspiration on Pinterest to generate ideas of how certain things can be done.
How do you decide which tools or mediums to experiment with, and what has been the most surprising discovery for you in these experiments?
Liza: When I see something I admire in a medium I’ve never or rarely used, I crave for the experience of creating it myself. That builds into an obsession and so eventually I find myself looking for the tools to create something similar.
How has your journey into drawing and painting influenced your work as a UX designer?
Liza: I’ve actually stopped practising my UX design skills. While I was learning how to use UX design tools though, I could see an overlap in things like colour theory. Apart from that, there are very few similarities in these fields for me.
You’ve transformed paper sketches into digital art. Can you describe this process and the tools you use?
Liza: Yes, I usually start with the paper sketch, then I take a photo of the drawing with my drawing tablet. I upload it to my drawing app of choice which is currently Infinite Painter. Then I create a digital outline of the uploaded sketch on a new layer and from there I paint with my preferred brushes.
How do you see the intersection of art and technology in your work, especially as both an artist and a UX designer?
Liza: These two are actually quite separate for me. The tools I use are different. The reasons for creating are also different. UX design is rarely ever done for me. My creative art is usually me-centric. I am not trying to please a business or help them get customers or follow ‘industry standards’ when I create art.
How do you envision the future of your art? Are there any new tools, mediums, or techniques you’re eager to explore?
Liza: I just want to be really good at it. I am not eyeing any new mediums at the moment, because I haven’t seen anything as stress free as the ones I currently use. So the future of my art is just me creating my art with a better sense of direction and technique.
With your diverse skill set, what’s next for you? Are there any projects or collaborations on the horizon?
Liza: Growing my Instagram account is my current project. I started taking it seriously a month ago by making reels consistently. That’s the way to grow on Instagram, and I’ve come to accept that my stills are not going to help my reach. I want to be better at creating video content around my creative journey.
For those looking to explore new artistic tools or techniques, what advice would you give?
Liza: Do whatever you like. I’ve always told the people I talk to that trying out things for the sake of fun is how I like to approach art. So, it’s the same advice I’d give someone else. Just have fun with the tool and express yourself. You will definitely stumble on something interesting.
Reflecting on your journey, is there anything you’d do differently?
Liza: Yes, I wish I’d started making reels earlier.
What message or feeling do you hope people take away from your art?
Liza: I want them to think of my art as colourful. I use a lot of what I consider to be happy colours. So I hope people look at my art and think of how vibrant it looks and that it evokes feelings of warmth and happiness.
Are your artworks available for sale? If so, where can readers and admirers of your work find them?
Liza: Not yet. I am still allowing myself to create for the sake of creating. If I do sell them, I will only be selling pre-made art and will most likely never do commissions.
You can follow Liza’s art on her Instagram.