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StoryArt Exhibition 2024 Meet the Artist: Sona Babajanyan

By Mia Macrossan

The annual StoryArt Exhibition is all set to start  Monday, April 22 and run until Thursday April 25 at the Richard Randall Art Studio at Mt Coot-tha, Brisbane. It will be four fabulous days of art for everyone to enjoy.
This annual event showcases local artist-illustrators whose work includes creating beautiful books for children. The participants will have illustrations, models and other art for sale and on display.
Free admission, but please let us know you are coming to meet the artists at the Up Late on Wednesday 24 April, from 5:00 pm @Richard Randall Art Studio, Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens.
This year’s artists are:
Deb Taylor-Worley Charlie’s War (written by Vicki Bennett)
Ingrid Bartkowiak Naturopolis (written by Deborah Frenkel)
Sona Babajanyan Goodnight Possum (written by Coral Vass)
Sue Wright will have polymer clay sculptures of mythical and fictional creatures
There will also be a display honouring ANZAC family stories (Jacqui HalpinAustralia Remembers)

This week we feature the artist Sona Babajanyan

Sona is an Armenian-Australian artist and illustrator, known for her contributions to children’s literature and adult publications both in Australia and internationally. Her art has been showcased in galleries across Australia and abroad. Prior to dedicating herself to art and illustration in 2008, she worked as a translator of literature, editor, and graphic designer. Her evocative art blends subtle humour, poetry, and magic. She works in traditional and digital media, showing an exclusively individual style both in colour and black and white.
Sona kindly agreed to answer some questions from StoryLinks.
What were your favourite illustrations/illustrator as a child? Why/how did you respond to them? Did they inspire you? Among all the amazing artists who inspired me as a kid, Victor Pivovarov, an amazing Russian artist and illustrator, was probably the most significant influence during my childhood. He was the one who sparked my desire to become an illustrator. I was fascinated by the fantastic worlds that he created. There were so many hidden stories in each of his illustrations that I could spend hours examining them.  I recall a particularly cherished book he illustrated becoming so worn that the cover started to fall off, leaving me heartbroken. Determined to preserve it, I chose thick paper to recreate the cover, featuring the little squirrel Dook Du in Pivovarov’s style. This endeavour was likely my first foray into book illustration.
Is/are there artist/s working today that you admire? Why? Is there someone you look up to now? It feels almost unfair to name just a few when there are so many fantastic artists out there. I’ll just mention a couple of names that first come to my mind. And the first one would be our own Australian Shaun Tan. I admire his skills and ability to always develop fresh, imaginative solutions to storytelling. Then there’s Rebecca Dautremer from France, Jon Klassen from Canada, and Gabriel Pacheco from Mexico. Each of them are so incredible in their own way! And many, many more…
What is your preferred medium to work in? Why? Do you have more than one preferred medium? It changes over time. I love experimenting. And it depends on what I am working on. Pen and ink used to be my all-time favourite, but recently, for illustration projects I mostly use Photoshop and Procreate.
Where and when and how do you work? Could you describe the process from commission to finished product – we would like to know what goes on in your head. The process usually starts in my bed, (that’s a very important part of my workspace), where I read the manuscript, dream and think, sometimes doodle ideas and ruin lots and lots of paper. Then I usually migrate to my studio table which might seem rather messy, (but actually is surprisingly ordered) – that’s where I paint and draw, work on a storyboard and sketch out more ideas. Then I scan my favourite sketches and the rest of the work is probably done at my computer desk with Photoshop and a Wacom tablet. Alternatively, I can go back to bed with my iPad to work in Procreate.
Can you tell us something about the pieces that you are going to exhibit at the Richard Randall Art Studio? Why did you choose these? Are any significant in any way? For this show, I decided to pick pieces that are either book illustrations or somehow related to storytelling and leave out all my other more conceptual and “grown-up” stuff. Well, just because it is a “Story Arts exhibition” after all. I tried to select mostly prints that would speak to the younger audience and some of my older pen and ink illustrations for my own Armenian translation of Mary Poppins.
How would you describe your art style? Is this something that happened or that you worked for? I am in constant search of different ways of expression. I am quite eclectic, sure, but in all the different expressions, I believe you can still see me. Whatever that “me” is.
When did you realise that you wanted to be an artist? Another way of asking this question is what was your first paid job as an artist? These are two very different questions in my case. I have been drawing and painting since I can remember, and for a long time, I was convinced that I was going to be an artist. No, that’s not quite right; I was sure that I was  an artist. I grew up in a very creative and art-loving family, where my parents encouraged all my ‘artistic endeavours’ to the extent that at the age of 5, I was allowed to paint all the walls of our living room with gouache. I still remember those big, bright flowers that stayed there for quite a while, filling me with a sense of my greatness. 🙂
My other lifelong interest was literature, which eventually led me to the Moscow Literature Institute, and I pursued a career as a translator of literature, although I never stopped drawing and painting. My first paid job, however, came much later when I was commissioned to illustrate a book of poetry. But even that was not the proper start of my career as an artist, which actually happened only after I moved to Australia in 2008. In 2011, I illustrated my first children’s picture book, Goodnight Possum by Coral Vass. The reception was beyond my expectations — the book became a bestseller, beloved by children, and was even reprinted last year in hardcover! It’s an amazing feeling to know that your work is appreciated. It means I’ve chosen the right path, doesn’t it?
Where would you like to be in ten years’ time – artistically speaking? I would like to be still alive, still on this planet, surrounded by wonderful, creative people and my family, and proudly showing my grandkids around my exhibitions and diving into books I’ve brought to life. So basically – artistically speaking – doing the same things that I am doing today, only more and better:)

Thank you Sona, for answering our questions.Come and meet Sona at the StoryArt Exhibition Up Late, Wednesday April 24, 5 pm – 8 pm at the Richard Randall Art Studio. It’s free but you need to book here.

1942 Amsterdam Ave NY (212) 862-3680

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