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Feature Friday: Mariya Pilipenko

I’m a sucker for clean, bold, and fun illustration; the kind of work that just makes you feel good. We all need to feel good in crazy times like this, right? Well the work of Mariya Pilipenko is sure to brighten your day up. Her illustrations are simple, colorful, and always seem to bear a feel good message or vibe to them. I ran into the Mariya’s work at the PHILA MRKT, it’s been a while since we featured an artist from there, and I was immediately smitten by her work. Her extremely whimsical style pours vibes of warmth and home right into your heart.

I was extremely excited to chat with Mariya about her work and her answers did not disappoint! She went into some great detail about her style, process, the progression of her work, and her influences. There’s all sorts of great stuff to take in with this one along with the joyous nature of her illustration. Enjoy!

1. I always start by asking about background, so what got you into art? Any schooling? Big inspirations? What helped shape you into the artist you are today?

I was extremely fortunate to grow up with a creative family and in particular, a creative mom. I think she noticed I loved to paint and draw from an early age so she really fostered that interest by putting me in art classes. I grew up in Ukraine and remember doing folk crafts at a community center with other kids and doing fun crafts with my mom at home.

When we moved to the United States, the only class she could find similar to my Ukrainian classes was an oil painting class taught by Sergei Lukyanov, a master folk artist from Moscow. He was a big inspiration to me. He had a perfect balance of traditional technique and a capability to take risks and experiment. He introduced me to the tedious folk art style of Fedoskino (a traditional Russian lacquer miniature painting style), but also encouraged me to break the rules and pave my own way. I went to his studio every weekend from when I was 6 years old to when I moved to college.

Naturally I wanted to go to an art college, but that seemed like such a wild decision to an immigrant family. Luckily I was accepted into Tyler School of Art where I ended up in the graphic design program. I didn’t intend to become a graphic design major, but I really loved the idea of creating art for a more utilitarian purpose. The graphic design program at Tyler was very illustration friendly and I was able to learn a lot about what it meant to be an illustrator, which got me to where I am today.

2. Your illustration work is very simple, clean, and decorative. How did you start to develop your style? How has it grown over time?

I love basing my work in the folk art I grew up around. Folk art historically had some utility in making every object more valuable by adding visuals that tell a story. The process of simplifying things to their essential form, then inserting all of these playful and imaginative details is so exciting to me. It allows you to obscure the world to be much simpler and positive, and it’s moving to follow a tradition that has existed for centuries.

Working in that style didn’t fully click until I was in college. Growing up I felt really apprehensive about projecting my culture. In my first years at school I was trying to stick to the status quo of whatever design trends were popular at the time without much of my own perspective. My work didn’t feel authentic to me and I eventually hit a point where it felt natural to lean into my cultural background for my assignments.

Since then I try to squeeze as much folk art into my work whenever I can. In my professional career after school at Hallmark Cards and Paperless Post I learned to keep those traditional roots in my work while knowing when to tone it up or down for what each project asks of me.

3. What goes into selecting colors for you? It seems like you have a few selected color palettes or colors that you like to use together, do you use color to set a specific mood or narrative?

When I was in school I would always find inspiration from vintage children’s books. The pages in those books were so bright and fun, but also have had time to dull, which created more complex hues. I’d scan in illustrations, color pick from several images, and adjust to what felt right for my work. Over time I created a palette from the colors I used the most, ending up with an assortment of earthy, bright tones. It’s fun to think that these colors have had a part in history and now live in my illustrations.

4. Speaking of mood, your work all seems to have a very soothing, happy vibe. What are some of the things you employ to maintain the calm, upbeat nature of your work?

I don’t think I purposefully aim to create upbeat work, it’s just where my brain naturally goes! Art that can make people smile is so powerful; it has the ability to change someone’s mood, as cheesy as that sounds. If a piece I made makes someone laugh or smile or get lost in the details for a moment, I get such a sense of satisfaction. That is probably what helps me maintain that upbeat nature. I like my artwork to feel like a little escape from the world.

5. You also do work as a designer, does this creative work help or alter your illustration work in any way? Does working in a creative field and having a personal practice keep your creative mind sharp or does it sometimes get exhausting?

I love my job at Paperless Post, and in the future I would like to move toward being a freelance illustrator. What I enjoy most about my design job is the range of styles I get to work in. One day I might be making elegant wedding invitations and the next day I am creating cute illustrations for a kids birthday card. Switching these styles up keeps my brain sharp and I can really test and improve my skills.

However, in the freelance illustration world, having many styles isn’t exactly a positive. My in house design work makes it difficult to market myself to art directors, which is key to succeeding in freelance. That is what I have struggled with, because I enjoy the variety of ways I can work. I’m trying to find a way to blend all these approaches into one cohesive style without having to sacrifice something I love. I’ve had identity crises at a few points in my career where I debated if I needed to pick a lane. It can get exhausting walking the line between the worlds of my 9 to 5 job and freelance career. Recently I’ve been more compassionate towards myself and not overthinking things as much. It feels as though I have to fit myself into the mold of the industry, but I’m allowing myself to just create what I enjoy and hopefully the industry can mold to me.

6. Finally PLUGS! Where can people find your work? Any shows/events coming up? Anything and everything you'd like to share, fire away!

You can find my work at and on Instagram at @mariya.pilipenko .

I have an online shop where I sell prints other things at .

I will be participating in SALUT! 5, an art show put on by the Drink & Draw Society from June 7 to July 1, 2020 in Portland, Oregon!


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