photoshop creative

Communicating through art

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Interviews, by Mark White
November 10, 2017

Discover how Marija Tiurina created a viral series of images in Photoshop, illustrating words that have no equivalent in English

It’s often said that a picture paints a thousand words, but with her Untranslatable Words project, Marija Tiurina strived to create artwork that illustrated words themselves. After moving to London, Marija had the inspiration to research amusing or interesting terms that couldn’t be translated into English, and from it, she created 14 images in Photoshop to communicate these foreign words.

Though Marija claims the project wasn’t particularly original, it’s been viewed tens of thousands of times since it was posted in 2015, with people actually getting in touch with her to share their favourite words. We caught up with Marija to ask how she created this project, where her inspiration came from, and what she’s working on right now.

Can you tell us a bit about how you first discovered Photoshop?

Well, I have been drawing as long as I can remember. My first memories are from the age of around four, when I discovered art. I attended an arts academy during afternoons for a few years, which mainly involved traditional art subjects and I came to the UK after finishing school to channel my passion into a multimedia design course. Photoshop wasn’t available to me until I was 14 or so. Before that all computers could handle was MS paint, and that, of course, is not the most inspiring software. Today I use Photoshop the same way I tie my shoelaces or ride a bike; it has become an activity that I am very comfortable with.

You came to the UK in 2009. Did your experience living in an English-speaking country inspire the idea for this project?

Yes, the idea for the project had been in my head for a while. It comes from the first time I realised I could not find an English word for something I was trying to express. I did some research and it turned out that there have been similar issues in lots of languages. The idea has always been very popular, as people love spotting and comparing differences between cultures. London might be a tough place to live, but it is also a continuous source of inspiration and ideas, as well as an ocean of delicious coffee, edgy murals and unique characters populating the streets – a perfect environment for an artist.

It’s become extremely popular: it’s even gone viral online

I was pleasantly surprised to see how popular the project has become, mainly due to the help of media portals like 9gag and Bored Panda. The idea is not new at all, it has been done a few times before, however I still decided to go ahead and illustrate my own vision of the words. Feedback has been very positive, and a lot of people have contacted me to tell me about their favourite words.

How did you choose your favourite words in the first place?

The list of untranslatable words is long and rich – people have been adding to it for years. I simply picked the ones that amused me or fascinated me the most, and came up with simple illustrations to accompany them. My goal was to keep the artwork light and bright, even cartoony, as this way it would be more effective in connecting with the audience.

Which Photoshop tools helped you with this look?

I mainly used a set of my favourite Photoshop brushes, which comprises of a pencil, an ink pen and a pastel brush to add texture. That is my standard set. Sometimes I feel like throwing in a texture overlay here and there to create a more hand-crafted effect, or help define the origins of material that are portrayed in the illustration.

What advice would you give to Photoshop users wanting to create artwork like you?

My main advice is not being afraid to experiment and try new things. Photoshop is a very powerful piece of software with a range of tools so wide it can help any traditional artist feel at home. Stepping outside a comfort zone is when the creative adventure begins. It’s also important to look at other people’s work to keep inspiration flowing, as the web is rich with amazing work that might trigger an idea and help experiment with a style for those who feel like they are a little stuck.

You must be overwhelmed with the response that you’ve had from this project!

I am pretty happy with most of my projects that can be found online, as I never publish something I wouldn’t be satisfied with; but yes, this one has taken on a new life. I have been pretty busy lately working as a children’s book illustrator, but I am hoping to make some time for new, interesting projects very soon. I continue working with watercolour, as that really is a technique of bottomless possibility, as well as experiment with other materials such as wood and clay. So many things to try, so little time!