Artist Journey: concept artist Helen Ilnytska

Helen Ilnytska

Concept Artist & Illustrator

“To avoid those lows, it helps to praise myself for small victories.” Take a dive into concept artists Helen Ilnytska’s artistic journey so far..

Helen's ArtStation


Thank you for sharing your journey so far with our readers. Let’s begin: please introduce yourself and let us know how long ago your journey started? What drew you to art? Any early influences?


Hi guys! My name is Helen Ilnytska. I am a concept artist currently working for Dragon`s Lake Entertainment. I am grateful to 3dtotal for this opportunity to recall my artistic journey and share it with you. For the moment I don't have as much experience as I would like, but I am sure that this is only the beginning of my creative path.

Let me tell you how it all has started. My mother draws beautifully, but she has never associated her profession with art. I remember that one time when I was little, she wanted to teach me how to draw. She gave me pencils and said: "Let`s draw something!" But when I started, she took my pencils and said: “It's wrong, you need to draw accurately - you should draw smooth lines….” I threw away the pencils, and since then, I only allowed myself to draw when no one could see.

Since drawing was not taken seriously as a profession in my family, I also did not think much of it. Especially seeing my mother work as an engineer when she could draw that well. I decided to follow her steps and become an engineer. Continuing to work as an engineer, I drew all sorts of doodles just to relax. I was bored, changed several jobs, but still could not find satisfaction anywhere.

While being in search of my vocation, I met my future husband. And it turned out my husband wanted to become a 3D artist. He studied a lot and showed me drawings by artists that he found on the web. One day I saw the concepts of Mark Kolobaev, and listened to his interview. That was the last stroke. Mark spoke with such inspiration. It became clear to me - concept art was what I needed and was looking for. It’s okay to paint in spots, chaotically, anything is possible, and I no longer had to draw lines only.


Do you still have any early artwork? We’d love to see your early work, be they digital or traditional. How do you feel about these works now?


I'm going to share one of my very first digital artworks. I had decided to try creating my first concept artwork after watching some tutorials on YouTube and lessons on the web, but before taking courses. It was solely a product of my imagination of course without any references.

It turned out badly, and I feel a little embarrassed to show it now. But at that moment, I was so happy because the image looked like a finished piece. It was 2017. It has been a year since I've started watching videos on YouTube. Those didn't take me very far, as you can see.

environment horror concept art mood atmosphere 2d
First concept artwork (2017)


What training or learning did you do in those beginning stages? Could you see your progression?


Back when I started I could see that a number of things were off with my drawings but I had no idea how to improve my skills. Then I came across Mark Kolobaev's course and got super excited because, first off, at the time it was the only course taught in Russian, but most importantly it was devised and taught by an artist whose concept art was very inspiring to me.

As I started the course at virtually zero level, those two months of classes were exceedingly stressful. The final results for me, nevertheless, were excellent as I left the course feeling super motivated to continue my studies and pursue more workshops. At that point I could finally clearly see what exactly I needed to learn, as well as how and where to look for the necessary information and training.

I don't mean to advertise any particular artist's courses here, but rather to emphasize the importance of finding the right course for you, the right mentor whose artistic style and technical approach appeal to you. Then the studying, however difficult it may get at times, will be way more exciting and easy!

Then I discovered ArtStation and tapped this platform for more inspiration from such amazing artists as Raphael Lacoste, Jama Jurabaev, Dylan Cole, John Park, Darek Zabrocki, and Florent Lebrun.

Result after the course (2018)


Were you always happy with what you produced, or was there a turning point where you thought; “This is it, I’ve made it!”?


Of course, I was not always happy with the results. Sometimes there were complete failures. There was that one time when I spent almost a month on a new personal project, but the result was terrible. The only thing I could comfort myself with was that I pulled up some techniques in the process.

I almost never feel like I've done something incredible. A good result for me is when I am able to create an image that fully expresses my emotions or thoughts. The second thing for successful work is learning something new in the process. It's great when I kill two birds with one stone.


Which piece are you most proud of, and why?


It’s hard to tell. Each artwork is a small personal achievement, even if it is not visible to others. I enjoy every little step. There are moments when it seems like everything is worse than bad, and I just need to give up. I think though it happens to many artists. To avoid those lows, it helps to praise myself for small victories.

I have a funny story about one of my pieces. I made this art quite a while ago. There is nothing to be proud of, but there was an idea, which I managed to deliver with that art. As most artists usually do, I posted it in the art community to hear comments and critique. After I received a decent portion of negativity, I almost removed it from my portfolio. But a few months later, Clarkesworld Magazine bought it from me to use as a cover for one of their issues.

It felt weird and very satisfying. I had other works that looked more interesting and were technically better done, but they were interested only in this one. Therefore, I realized we need to be less critical when it comes to art, all people have different tastes. And the idea is often more important than its technical implementation.

Personal project - the cover of the November issue (146) of the Clarkesworld Magazine (2018)


What are you still working on improving (if anything) - or have you reached a point of high consistency? Do you have any tips for keeping it fresh?


There is still so much to learn. In addition to improving the basics of drawing - composition, shape, color, light, I constantly try to learn new programs that help speed up the execution of work tasks.

Usually, I find it very boring to do master studies, although I understand its importance. So I’ve made a decision that this part of the training will be away from the computer. Now in addition to my main activities, I am mastering the traditional techniques - painting with oil, so far only learning. But this is a pleasant combination of study and rest.

My favorite works from 2019 (Personal projects)


What advice would you give to any of our readers who are just beginning their journey now?


It is extremely important not to stop. Draw every day! Really! Two hours a day spent on learning is enough to make it a habit. Do not listen to those who underestimate your work on the web. Professional artists never do this. Those who write unhelpful nasty things most likely are not much better in art than you, if not worse.

Try to take courses with a mentor. I take courses very often, but at least once a year with a mentor. An artist with a higher level of knowledge will help you figure out what is not working out and show you how to improve your art.

Aim to finish most of the work you start. Every time it is crucial to go through from the very beginning to the very end. Draw sketches, choose the interesting one, complete it, polish it and load it to Artstation. That will help you see your pace; that you are moving, not standing still. If the work looks worse than that art posted nearby, you can always delete or hide it.

Keep calm, as in any business; the first steps are the most difficult.

My favorite works from 2020 (Personal projects)


Have any of 3dtotal’s published books been useful in your development?


I bought 2 excellent books published by 3d total. One of them was "Digital Painting Techniques: Volume 6 ". I found many useful techniques there. Another one was "Sketching from the Imagination" – tons of inspiration that comes in the form of sketches from famous artists.

It was also a great honor for me to be involved in creating tutorials for the publishing house's collection of usefulness for newbies "Beginner’s Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop." There are so many beginner tips and detailed step-by-step tutorials.


What can we expect to see from you next?


More concept art! Once again, many thanks to 3dtotal for this opportunity to share my experience. It's substantial for every aspiring artist to understand that he is not the only one, that all professional artists once were like him and knew as much as he does. I hope my professional journey can help someone to believe in themselves. If I can do it, you can too!

Images from a series of artwork I`ve made for the Alchemy RPG system (2020)

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