Elena Bespalova was born in 1986 in Moscow, Russia. She graduated from the 1905 Memorial Moscow College of Art. She has worked as a lead character artist for the fantasy MMORPG Allods Online. She is currently working on various freelance projects and a graphic novel. She lives and works in Moscow, Russia. Visit hellstern.deviantart.com to learn more.
Did growing up Russian predispose you to science fiction/fantasy? William Gibson famously said that Japan is the “global imagination’s default setting for the future.” However, that probably wasn’t true before the 1980s. For many decades, it seemed like the Soviet Union was the most science fictional country on Earth: a totalitarian government, obsessed with technology, space, and war; an inhospitable natural environment; cities filled with heroic public sculpture and stark, monolithic architecture. Is that a fair view of the former Soviet Union or is that an overly Otherized Western portrait of it? If the former, did growing up in Russia influence your interest in science fiction/fantasy?
In some ways, it did. I have a lot of Soviet science fiction books at home. It was a dream come true to visualize what I’d read about. I had all that I needed to satisfy my growing passion for what can lie far beyond our imagination. Travel to distant planets, mysterious anomalies, glorious achievements, and unfortunate deaths. As a child, I was sure that humanity could achieve almost anything and that we were on the brink of full-scale exploration of our universe.
Your science fictional work is filled with shades of blue, stark, graphic compositions, negative space, and the romance of bleakness. Your fantasy works are warmer in colors, busier in composition, and more filled with ornament and detail such as spiraling cloth, hair, and water. Do you deliberately try to divide your work into these two styles? Do you ever collide science fiction with fantasy?
In my opinion, the fantasy genre is usually interpreted as an idealized Middle Ages. Not only in the modes of living, but as a place where all myths and legends of that time became real. If we look at what that means visually, it usually means a huge amount of decoration. People of the past were inspired by their surroundings, and their arts and crafts were filled with stylized elements of nature, including pagan symbols, which used spirals and circles a lot.
In contrast, modern life, which is getting closer and closer to science fiction, is filled with designs that are driven by more practical solutions while still remaining pleasant to the eye. Neat and plain. New materials and textures give artists many other ways to express themselves, instead of just using heavy decoration. I try to catch the essence of both genres, and the result is the difference of shapes and color schemes that you refer to. I don’t split up the stylization intentionally; I usually just go with the flow. In some cases, I do merge fantasy and science fiction.
Talk to us a little bit about technique. Is what we are looking at entirely digital? It can be hard to tell, especially with some of the fantasy works.
When I was in college, we did all our works traditionally. After graduating, I switched to digital. It gave me more opportunities to find a job and still sharpen my skills as an artist. I also appreciate not being limited in my work space (such as not needing to have a dedicated place to put a painting easel and paints, etc.) or in the materials I work with.
Nonetheless, I still like the feeling of real paint. I sometimes try to achieve this look in my paintings, by using texture brushes and carefully applying strokes. It feels like creating an illusion of layers of paint. However, it is all being done on a flat screen.
Your “pen name” is Hellstern, which sounds like the name of a valkyrie or a dominatrix or a female Olympic shot-putter. Do you have a unified persona for yourself as an artist that you are trying to convey through the pen name as well as through your work itself?
I picked up the name in high school as a web nickname. From the German for “light star.” For a teen, it was quite dreamy and romantic, a fantasy name. And it just stuck. In English, it sounds quite different, and it is funny how people usually tend to see this side first.
What has your experience been as a woman working in science fiction/fantasy illustration? How does your identity inform your work, both from a business standpoint and in the substance of your art? If at all.
I never feel that I should stick to a gender role as an artist. I don’t identify my choices as male or female choices before I make them, I just act. Professionally, what really matters is the final result. Thus, I have had no issues as a woman working in science fiction/fantasy illustration.
What is your dream project?
I’m still working with my scriptwriter on several comic book stories. I’ve had this dream for a long time, and I’m going for it in small baby steps. I draw all my projects in my free time. I hope to publish at least one of them next year.
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