Interview for BNN Publications

Maximus Chatsky, July 2016.

Please tell us how did you start your career.

Hi! I’m 33, I was born in Odessa, Ukraine. When I was 15, I studied in a specialized school with enhanced education in Physics and Mathematics, and I liked everything to do with sound. I played the guitar in a band and collected effects pedals. Later, In 2001 I went to Kiev to apply to the institute of cinema and television. There were few good jobs dealing with sound then, mainly tech support for night airs on the radio, or DJing for office parties. But the Web was on the rise all around, and I started a side-job, creating small banners, websites, and gradually switched to graphic design. In 2003 i found a small advertising agency. My usual work was to design a large annual reports, i worked a lot with statistics and abstract data. I was bored just to copy and decorate graphics from Excel, so i started to draw different images for them. My first commissioned illustration were for the “Popular Finance” magazine in 2008. I knew the art director, they had a rush order, and the previous illustrator did not get in touch with them. I had no portfolio, but I was offered to try , I really wanted to get this order and i got it.

What is your favorite style? What is your strongest technic? How did you acquire those styles or technics?

As a child i liked descriptive geometry in school, how to draw shapes on the plane surface. I grew up among old games on ZX Spectrum computer. Such as: Nether Earth, M.O.V.I.E. or The Great Escape. I liked those adventure games in the 3/4 perspective very much. So i call all my style as isometric infographic, it became much easier to work when you don’t need not to think about the angles, point of view and only to work with the details. A picture can lose a little bit in the expressiveness and it may not be so immediately clear and attractive at the first sight, but after some time it is interesting to look at the detail. In this style it is very easy to a space appear volumetric/three-dimensional. So all you need is three lines from a point and to drop a shadow from an object — and you have a 3D object.

Do you have any policy or motto when you create works? (Especially for client works)

I do not have a clear plot line. This style is not so popular among politics, so i doubt they will contact me to do some propaganda posters. Lots of clients came from a big data branches: sports, finances, technology. And what i don’t like to do, is to create a simulacrum. This moment when you need to show an abstract image of the statistics, and some designers draw abstract pie charts or graphics, without any connection with the numbers, just as a symbol of visual information.

How do you draw a boundary between “illustration” and “design”? Do you have any different mind set between creating “illustration” or “design”?

I really love to cook, so i will try to explain with a cooking example: design is like a recipe. In its basic form, design is engineering, construction, way to a solution. Illustration is like a spice. It makes a solution of this problem a little special, adds liveliness and sharpness. Everything becomes more attractive, more interesting and memorable in a long term.

What is your source of inspiration for your works? Do you do usually anything special to get inspirations?

I’m often looking for images in everyday objects or architecture. I walking and gazing around a lot, taking pictures with contrasting shadows on a sunny day. I like to tie the size of an object with the numbers.

Please tell us the process of how you create your works. What is the first thing you do (ex. sketching)?

It all depends on the clients, some of them require template solutions, to do everything same as the others do, but a bit different. Sometimes art director comes with an already existing idea. In this case you’re just a technical worker. Sometimes they ask you to take a look with a different point of view and make boring things more interesting.

I rarely do anything without a specific task, the customer is my main inspiration. I follow the text and list all the wild ideas that may come to my mind. Doing so i can quickly understand how sensitive a customer may be.

Then i draw a quick draft on iPad (Adobe Draw or Paper 53 are good ones for that). I find it easier to work in a digital form, easy to correct and copy the variations. I almost never draw with a pencil. Then i draw a frame of the space and try to understand how the text will look around it. Illustration better works with a context, with a history behind it.

I always ask to send me a page layout, to understand better where this illustration will be located. Top or bottom, will it wrap around text or it will have a huge empty field around. Then i add statistic elements. My wife often helps me to paint characters, so we often divide our work — I draw all the technical and strict objects, and she draws everything that is heartwarming and sweet.

Do you sketch? If so, what do you think is the most important thing when you sketch?

Clients need a sketch to better understand your sudden drastic changes to an idea. Making sketches does not always mean that you should draw it, sometimes it is enough to collect some references and make a collage.

There were few times when i lost my job-offers when the work had to be done very quickly and the customer asked several illustrators to make sketch pictures. I thought it would be enough to show some minimal forms and describe the rest of it in words, but i did not guess right. This project was then presented in front of the big bosses, and they didn’t have time to get deeper into the picture, didn’t have time to listen to all of the explanations. They just wanted something, what can be understandable in 5 seconds.

What is the most important process for you?

The most important thing in a design and illustration process is communication. When someone asks you to seek a special solution for the problem, it’s always very helpful when you can pre-call and discuss what should be a feeling of it. Sometimes it is difficult to express feelings in an e-mail letter, but it becomes clear very quickly in a personal conversation.

What is your technique / skill to convert complicated information into a simple icon (illustration)?

In its core the complex information consists of a set of simple steps: you can compare the size, color and shape, you you can imagine emotions and express them through a simple objects. Many examples can be taken from the literature and text technics: allegory, counterpoint, synonyms.

Infographics and icons are used in many different scenes and for many different purposes. How do you understand client requests properly? How do you usually communicate with clients for a better understanding of their requests?

I do a simple sketch, then i improve on it, and when a client decides that’s enough — i stop. This is a two-way process. There is big definition between artist, designer and an illustrator, so i do not insist, i do not dictate what should be done, i just propose different solutions. I use client’s imagination, then i create verbal image on the base of what i’ve learned from the clients desires. It is much easier to work this way.

What do you think about the current design style such as “Flat Design” that has been developed by Apple or Google.

I think it’s wonderful that the big companies have come to this standards. Now we can think less about the aesthetics and decorations and spend more time on the technical side. The transition from a skeuomorphism design to a flat style was obvious. Interfaces became scalable, a lot of responsive design has became very important for the screen, here the function defines the form. I am very happy that everything is becoming more simpler and so to say “democratic”.

Now it’s much easier to create a trendy interface, it requires a lot less decorative skills, than a few years back. I like Apple style more than Google. It is more abstract and flexible, even in its variations it remains with its own charme.

Google design I do like less, it is more rigid, fixed, everything looks the same, but they pay a lot attention to animations. At the beginning the idea was good, they introduced the concept of paper layers. It’s a cool example taken from the life, but now i see that a lot of designer simulate this effect in a non proper way.

If you will take a look at the photo stock sites, search for “material icons”, most of them are made with a gradient shadow that does not mean anything. This is such a superfluous decoration, which was an interesting idea to show a height of the object in such way, to make a volumetric icon, but now it has become just a formal reception. It saddens me when decor does not mean anything.

What artists or creators inspire you? Do you have any favorite genre of art for your inspiration?

My first astonishment was when i saw this annual report infographic of the studio Toko from the year 2003. It looks like a picture in the abstract style. I really like how Christoph Niemann creates his illustrations. There was a big exhibition here in Hamburg of his and i was pleased to meet him personally.

What is your most important work in the past.

In 2015 i was invited to a project for a new TESA office. They are producing tape and all kinds of adhesive materials. They wanted to open up new offices in Hamburg and in the main hallway they wanted to present all of the accomplishment of their company. They called me to do the interface of the screen, a mini game projecting a city which is devided in to 9 sections each of it describing a particular industry.

Do you have any new projects or artworks you`d like to work on in the future?

This year, i think i will finish a small personal project of mine. For a long time i’ve been collecting routes of the protagonists from various books that i have read over the years. This will be a site where the text will be illustrated by the Google Street View. Geotagging is generally a very cool thing, so i am interested in this additional layer of reality in works of art.