Creator Spotlight: Maria Zheleznova

Credit: Maria Zheleznova

Maria Z Nova is a Dubai-based watercolor artist, illustrator, fashion designer and art coach.

Her bright whimsical paintings have a touch of fantasy that reflect her vivid imagination as a multitalented creator. Not one to be content at a desk job as a graphic designer, she followed her true passion and made the switch from using digital media to old fashioned watercolor and paper. She also helped others tap into their creativity by teaching watercolor workshops for all skill levels through her company, Art Escape UAE before shifting towards focusing on her art full-time.

Creativity Undefined spoke with Maria about how she chose her artistic career path and how to get rid of mental blocks and the fear of making mistakes to unleash your creative potential.  

Tell us about your artistic journey. What is your earliest memory of creating art and how did you become the artist you are now?

The very first drawing was of a lady ice-skating. I did it when I was two. Of course, it was a very schematic drawing, but my mom was amazed at the unusual topic I had chosen as a child. So when I reached the age of four she brought me to an elementary art school, and then at the age of six I won a big art contest. She took it as a sign to determine my path.

After secondary art school I won a grant to study Fashion Design and graduated in 5 years with a diploma of honor of VSUES University of Russia. After I worked as a graphic designer for more than 17 years, all my drawings and designs were digital only. Then I was tired because I was hidden behind a monitor doing a routine job, so I skipped it and returned to physical paints and papers. My friend encouraged me to run art painting workshops for adults, and I chose my favorite watercolors. So, it has been four successful years as I was teaching adults across the UAE to paint. But nowadays, I want to be more of an artist than a teacher, so I started to narrow down my attention to painting for exhibitions and orders.

How would you describe your style? Who/What are your greatest influences and how did you develop your style?

Well, as far as I studied Fashion Design, this really influenced my style. It is a bit decorative, a bit cartoonish. Definitely not that much realistic. And I’m a big dreamer. So, I like things that look fantastic and stylized. My main medium is watercolor. It is very sophisticated, not easy going but emotional and soulful.

Credit: Maria Zheleznova

How has life as an expat influenced your art and creative process?

Hmmm…Dubai is an amazing place to live. I feel at home here. It’s so friendly and because it’s a young city, a lot of opportunities are vacant.  

You say, “I’m sure – each one of us is an artist!”. Some people believe that artists have to be born with talent. What would you say to convince people who believe they cannot paint? How do you “teach” creativity?

I believe the talent is just a sort of a pointer. It helps a person to understand where to input energy and time, and because of the talent he does a lot of practice with pleasure and inner fire. And creativity is not a thing to be taught. It is a core of each human being. For adults, it just needs to be unleashed. Somehow, I try to help them to get rid of mental blocks, fear of making a mistake and overcoming the limiting borders of the systematic way of thinking.

Is there a painting you would never part with? If so, which one is it and why?

Hmmm…there are few of my artworks I liked the most and felt a bit sorry when they were sold, but I still have the photos of them, so they are with me. 

Looking back, what was your greatest achievement and your greatest challenge?

I believe everything is yet to come. 

Is there anything that you would’ve done differently or wished had happened differently? What? Why?

Well…to be very frank, I think I could become a world famous dancer, as in my humble opinion my dance talent is way brighter than the drawing one. All the dance teachers seeing the peculiarities of my body and movement suggested that my mother send me to a serious ballet school. It really was difficult for her to decide which path to take for me, and you know how the visual arts were assigned from the above.

Where do you draw your inspiration from? Has that changed since the pandemic hit last year? Why?

Childhood fairy tales, beautiful princess clothes, sweets, and dances have been things to inspire me. Well, it might sound average, but this lasts till now. :)))) The pandemic didn’t make any significant impact on my life.

How do you overcome artist’s block?

I’m not sure I have them.

Who would you jump at the chance to collaborate with, if given the chance? Why?

Maybe an experienced mural artist, because I’m curious how to deal with large scale artworks.

Credit: Maria Zheleznova

In all the years you’ve been living and working as an artist in the UAE, what developments have you observed in the arts community? What changes would you like to see?

As I said above, I’m not that much into this field yet. Hopefully I’m on track to become a well-known artist in the UAE and it takes some time. To be frank, I’m kinda in my own shell, not really following trends. Mostly I even don’t like to visit exhibitions and do it quite rarely.

What are you currently working on? Can you share some details about some upcoming projects?

Nowadays, finishing an artwork started on a wedding conducted on a helicopter pad of Burj Al Arab, where I was honored to be invited to capture the significant day of a young happy couple.


If you had to choose to be remembered in history as either an iconic fashion designer OR an iconic painter, which would you rather be and why?

By my nature I’m definitely an artist/illustrator rather than a couturier. So better if I’ll become famous for it.

What advice would you share with anyone starting out that you wished someone had told you?

Just dive in into the practice regardless of your skills or knowledge. After you try there are some questions that will pop up and that’s how the answers can be found – when you have an inner intention to know. And straight away implement it into the practice. That causes neuron synaptic growth and this leads to a master skill. 

Credit: Maria Zheleznova

What’s the WORST piece of advice you’ve ever been given and why?

To be humble and don’t jump above average. This led to the fact that for a long time I hesitated to give out full power in order not to offend others. Finally, I got rid of this blocking program and can calmly and responsibly accept the fact, without bragging, that I was gifted with great talents in many aspects.

What’s a goal that you hope to achieve, personally and professionally, in the next five years?

Oh, this is always the hardest question for me … I am a person of a flow, not a plan. But I have a feeling that a supportive and friendly universe has something amazing in store for me, and my job is to be aware of my intuition in order to respond to the right requests.

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