Julia Klenovsky draws on witchcraft and folklore to depict womxn’s relationships
The artist’s nostalgic illustrations draw on her own experiences of friendships with womxn and womxn-identifying people, for which she researched the ways witches were depicted when prosecuted during the medieval period.
If you’re into your witchcraft and folklore, but you’re more of a faint-hearted type, say goodbye to Ari Aster’s harrowing Midsommar and say hello to Julia Klenovsky’s softer and more comforting illustrations. Julia is inspired by ancient depictions of witches from the folklore of Scandinavia, Germany and Russia, and more specifically, illustrations produced in the medieval ages to publicly accuse women of witchcraft.
Living in the small city of Augsburg, Germany, she graduated from the University of Applied Sciences, Augsburg this year. She’s interested in the dynamics of female relationships and for that reason, she created the project Freund*innenschaft. Although there is no direct English translation for the term Freund*innenschaft, Julia explains that it’s like friendship but dedicated specifically to people who have been socialised as womxn, genderqueer individuals and everyone who identifies as a woman.
To increase representation of female friendship and to address what Julia calls the problematic socialisation of womxn through the patriarchy which makes womxn opponents rather than friends, she asked 17 of her womxn friends to write a text for her about female friendship. They dealt with different topics such as support, cooperation or solidarity and these written works join Julia’s illustrations on the pages of the Freund*innenschaft publication.
“Instead of setting womxn up against each other, my illustrations encourage and portray solidarity among FLINTA* persons.”Julia Klenovsky
It's Nice That: What other elements, apart from witchcraft and folklore, do you wish to draw on in your work?
Julia Klenovsky: I adore the oftentimes strange compositions that allow to tell more than one storyline in a picture. I wanted to utilise those brilliant illustrations for the opposite of their original intention. Instead of setting womxn up against each other, my illustrations encourage and portray solidarity among FLINTA* persons. During my research I stumbled across the fact that witches were primarily also just an independent union of womxn sharing knowledge and were persecuted for exactly that: their friendship – and friendship is a topic I have always been passionate about.
NT: Where did you draw your inspiration from to create the distinctive fairytale and folky style we see now?
JK: The biggest influences are my relationships. When I understood the impact those connections with my friends and family have on me, I chose to share it through my work and discovered how a lot of people can actually recognise themselves in my illustrations. Inspired by the concept of community and giving space to womxn’s voices, I was led in conversation with my closest friends on their perspective of female friendship, which I artistically depicted in Freund*innenschaft.
My strongest influence on my recognisable style were medieval paintings, of which the artists are rather unknown, unfortunately. More modern artists that I find really inspiring are Charlotte Salomon, Oda Iselin Sønderland and Sophy Hollington. I love how they manage space and compose their paintings!
“Establishing rules gives you the freedom to move freely inside of that structure.”Julia Klenovsky
INT: Talk me through your watercolour process - what is the sketching process like before you paint? Why do you choose to paint in watercolour? And how do you decide on a colour palette?
JK: That question made me realise that I am quite obsessed with my routine. I believe in the idea that establishing rules gives you the freedom to move freely inside of that structure. For example in the specific project of Freund*innenschaft, I gave myself the parameters of the book, illustration, and text and as the designer it was my job to solve the problem within those choices.
My process starts with broad visual research for every illustration. This entails searching for references for objects that appear in the illustration that I don’t know how to draw, to setting a visual mood for the illustration as a whole. After that I make a relatively small, rough compositional sketch, which is followed by a more detailed sketch already in the original size – both of them drawn by hand. Next comes a colour sketch: I scan the detailed drawing and try out different colour combinations by filling in colours digitally to get an idea of hierarchy and contrast. Now the moment has come, and I feel ready to paint the original picture. For that, I pin the detailed sketch on my light table and put a paper on top and start painting! It’s always both a scary and exciting moment because despite my long term planning beforehand, I never know how the painting will turn out in the end. It’s like it’s bewitched ;)
Today, watercolour is my favourite medium to work with. I guess that is because I was introduced to it early on as a child. I admire this technique because it gives me a sense of following the steps of my illustration idols, like Tove Jansson. It always seemed like the most fundamental and traditional way of creating images to me. The combination of water, brush, and colour perpetuate something tender and calm in my practice. Concerning the palette, I have to admit I don’t have something helpful to share, colours always come to me very naturally. I like to have certain colours ruling the picture and interconnecting a series of illustrations with each other. For that purpose, I really enjoy pink or orange because of the warmth of the colours but especially since I discovered colouring specific parts with them, like skies or lakes, gives the illustrations a mystical vibe.
“To me, a well-designed book has always been the peak of good craftsmanship in design because it’s such a complex and layered object.”Julia Klenovsky
INT: If you had to pick a favourite project, which one are you most proud of and why?
JK: I would say my graduation project, Freund*innenschaft. Initially, I wanted to address the problematic socialisation through patriarchy that makes womxn opponents rather than friends. I also didn’t feel seen in the often one-dimensional representation of female friendship and I wanted to show more diverse and further kinds of it, so I asked 17 of my FLINTA* friends to write a text for me about female friendship. I illustrated their words and designed a book that gives insight into the complexity of friendships among womxn.
I am actually very proud of the outcome: I mean, I designed a book! To me, a well-designed book has always been the peak of good craftsmanship in design because it’s such a complex and layered object. What makes me particularly proud is the way the project was built, in cooperation with my friends honouring exactly that community. This was only possible because of the willingness of my friends to be part of this project and their continuous support. I am incredibly thankful for all I owe to my collaborators and friends and Freund*innenschaft will always remind me of that.
INT: What's the most important lesson your artistic practice has taught you so far?
JK: Some decisions you can’t (and shouldn’t) explain: I want to say this is the magical part of painting, but one could also call it intuition. Also, embrace the softness within you, therein lies a lot of strength.
INT: What’s next for you?
JK: I am really excited for this next step — I am going to study Visual Strategies and Stories at Burg Giebichenstein in Halle, Germany, mostly because the education in my previous school wasn’t illustration-focused. Also, I am curious of what more there is to discover in the field of arts and design and though I am first and foremost a painter, I am excited to see what form my work will take. I would love to go three-dimensional with my artwork, whether that means building sculptures or incorporating ceramics into my illustration practice. Topic-wise, I want to continue bringing in feminist conversations and looking more into the topic of care work, which has been discussed so often in recent days.
Julia Klenovsky: Freund*innenschaft (Copyright © Julia Klenovsky, 2021)
About the Author
Dalia joined It’s Nice That as a news writer in July 2021 after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh. She's written for various indie publications such as Azeema and Notion, and ran her own magazine and newsletter platforming marginalised creativity.