Slovakian illustrator Martina Paukova’s work consists of jam-packed but mundane scenes filled with lanky characters, often rendered in a modern color palette and filled with Memphis-inspired pattern. For such a young illustrator (she graduated with an MA in illustration from London’s Camberwell College of Arts in 2015), Paukova has an impressive client list: she’s worked for CNN, Ikea, Refinery29, The Guardian, ASOS, WeTransfer, and The New York Times—the list goes on and on. Her original training as a graphic designer perhaps explains Paukova’s systematic and organized sense of composition.
Here, Paukova tells us the story of her first important commission—the job that made her realize that a freelance career in illustration would not only be possible but fruitful too.
“Back in 2015, my illustration was just starting to take off. I was doing small editorial assignments on a semi-regular basis, and I had two campaigns for bigger brands under my belt (for Converse and Pull & Bear).
“At this point, I had a lot of doubts. Was illustration the right full-time career for me? I wasn’t convinced. I wasn’t thinking, ‘Wow, this can happen, my work can happen. I can happen.’
“It’s strange when you switch to illustration after a degree in graphic design, as I had done; all my designer friends were taking a different path, so I had no one to compare myself with. Illustration felt like this special, random hobby that was an addition to my normal life as a recent graduate, a life that was filled with non-industry related part-time jobs and a general feeling of uncertainty.
“I was executing my first commissions and assignments from my bedroom, away from the illustration community or shared studio spaces. The fact that I could be around like-minded people was a foreign idea to me, and therefore, the idea of being a full-time illustrator had this ephemeral, unreal quality to it.
“My first major commission managed to break this feeling. In August 2015, I received an email from German advertising agency Heimat asking whether I was available to work on their project for Google.
“When the project arrived in my inbox, something snapped—I was entrusted with huge responsibility! There was a team of people waiting and relying on my delivery. I had to make ten images in 14 days, and I happened to be on a family holiday in Slovakia at the same time. So yes… it was a challenge!
“The art director in charge was Jonas von Schwedes; I ended up establishing this bizarre, very continual Skype/email/phone relationship with him. For a period of two weeks, we were in contact with each other almost every hour, sending each other stuff, exchanging feedback, discussing concepts. The majority of the time was spent in the local bar of my family town (it was impossible to focus at home), drinking cheap espressos and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice while working on my Macbook with virtual Jonas by my side. Day after day after day. Mornings were consumed by idea generation and sketching, and the afternoons and evenings were spent on realizing the ideas of the previous day.
“The initial daunting idea of working for Google got drowned out in the execution and stress of it all. There was no time to feel daunted!
“The conventional luxury of having a couple of days for one image was not there, and I had to learn to make rapid decisions, not to feel precious about ideas, and to color with the speed of light. I think of the time fondly though—it proved to me that things can get done.
“Jonas was great to work with. Patient, supportive, and strangely not stressed at all. I learned that he was a massive fan of my Sausage Man character (from a previous job), and that made our whole dialogue all the more sweet. The whole project—its speed and time-pressure, along with the resulting campaign that ran on a national level around Germany—provided me with the last piece of my weird, self-reflecting puzzle: Yes. Illustration is totally doable.”