About the artist

A portrait of the artist, Nikolina Petolas

This week we meet Nikolina Petolas, a photographer and visual artist from Zagreb, Croatia. Nikolina’s artwork is distinct, with her use of surreal dreamscapes inhabited by strange creatures and animals as a metaphor to depict the human condition; portraying questions relating to emotion and conflict both as an observation and from her own experiences.

“My artwork searches to underline the psychological and social aspects of our identity and the effect that endless soul-searching has on our lives.” – Nikolina Petolas

Nikolina works with various techniques and across several mediums, including photo collage, oils and acrylics. Her work has gained multiple awards and has been shown in numerous international exhibitions as well as several art projects. Most notably, her work is included in the largest exhibition of contemporary surrealism art in the world, International Surrealism Now. She is also represented in the prestigious art publication, Lexikon Phantastischer Künstlerinnen by Gerhard Habarta.

What first drew you into digital art?

I’ve been taking photographs and experimenting with this medium for a long time and was also working on graphic design projects. After a while, I wanted to take my visions further; I started working with photo composites to incorporate my imagination into what I see in front of me as a photographer.

What artistic styles are you particularly drawn to?

For my digital works, I try to achieve the impression of a photograph being of some unreal scene or character. I like the viewer to feel like they have entered some world where things seem real, but they are obviously not. I pay a lot of attention to details and colouring, as I also love to present these scenes in this dreamy feel, but not to go overboard and make them look unrealistic.

Tell us about the process you use to make your art.

I will have an idea in my mind, which I sometimes roughly sketch. Then I will search for the appropriate photographs from my enormous database. If I need a particular scene, I will go and photograph a location that fits the vision I had in mind. I also shoot parts for my collages in the studio. Occasionally, I’ll get an idea from the photographs I already possess and I will bring together other elements to create the final image.

What inspires you?

It is a combination of magical worlds, animals and their correlation to people and their personalities, which I find very appealing for my work. I am also inspired by people’s emotions and other engaging characteristics; their deep urges, and how they reflect behaviour and what we see on the surface.

What is your artistic motivation?

I love to experiment with different techniques, from photography and digital art to traditional painting in oils and acrylics. Every medium has its limitations and advantages. With a painting, I feel that I can achieve different results and tell different stories to that which I can with photography and also the opposite. I am currently exploring these differences, and I am enjoying both techniques very much.

Of all your images to date, which is your favourite, and why?

Uh, it is difficult to answer that. I love to work on a series, and there are still a few that I wish to continue. All of these series are dear to me. My favourite is usually the one I am currently working on or the one that helped me to discover something new.

Which three words or phrases would you use to describe your work?

Surreal, dreamy, sometimes childish.

What notable responses to your artwork have you had?

A few people have told me how my work touched them and lead them to some distant parts of their imagination; areas that they didn’t even know they had. I love to hear that because that is precisely what I want to achieve. I know I have succeeded in creating when people step in these worlds, and it makes them feel something.

Name three artists who inspire you.

Max Ernst, Yacek Yerka, Remedios Varo

How do you think you’ve improved as an artist compared to when you first started?

I have more confidence now with what I do; my techniques have improved, and I am more organised. Other than that, my art is still a mystery to me, and I think that is why I am still not bored with it and why I continue to do it.

What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started making art?

To relax and enjoy and be patient. Other than that, I believe everything else is a process that I needed to experience to get where I am today.

Do you use images from stock sites as well as your own photos and if so, which are your favourites and why?

No, I use my own images, although I do occasionally use stock brushes for illustrated parts. For me, photographing, searching for locations, exploring what I need for my work, all of that is a part of a process and a part of every piece of artwork I have made. It is a long process, but I like it that way.
When I look at my collages, what matters is the scene as a whole, because that is what people see, every part of that image has its own story for me.

Do you find that people dismiss digital art as a valid art form?

Yes, unfortunately, I do. There is an opinion that digital art doesn’t have the same value as the traditional techniques, as the ‘original’ is a digital file and not a one of a kind painting.

Some of the digital techniques are so complicated that they take weeks, even months to create. A computer can only help so much in terms of making colouring easier, or no drying time. I believe that with time, people will accept digital art more than they do now.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, ideas and artwork, Nikolina!

Where to find Nikolina’s work online



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