Windows Of Wonder

Our seasonal artist windows are a regular feature here at Owl & Monkey; joyful collaborations that celebrate the wealth of local talent and the simple joy of creativity.

Each installation is unique with elements of the artwork often for sale after the installations end.

Here we meet Elena Skoreyko Wagner, our 2019 Winter artists who’s creation celebrated the wonder of a childhood winter season.

Tell us a little bit about your work

I work as a freelance illustrator and make little books and intricate hand-cut collages from collected paper snippets. My work is often autobiographical, depicting women and children to explore social issues, find magic and uncover meaning in the mundane.

How did you get into creating collages?

It’s funny, it was never a choice I deliberately made! I am a total magpie, always collecting lovely bits and bobs, and I had been inadvertently collecting paper scraps for years for no particular reason. I remember imagining making a paper scrap quilt with them, which is kind of what I do now, in a way! Piecing together papers that have already belonged to many other stories, to create a new one.

What was your inspiration for the winter window?

When Helen approached me to do the window, I immediately thought of the feelings I had as a child at this time of year. It was such a magical time! I grew up in Canada, and although we’re all pretty sick of snow by February, every year there was this great excitement about the first snowfall! I would sing “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” all day at school, even though it was probably, like, early November! I wanted to capture that feeling.

You use up-cycled papers in your work; what is your favourite paper you have worked with so far?

I love vintage paper that has already lived a life. Like, saved scraps of wallpaper or envelopes rescued from 50 years nestled in a drawer somewhere. The hues and textures are different, I think it’s partly older printing practices and inks, plus the fact that colours change with age. And the history of the paper, the things it has seen, people whose hands it has been through – that all adds magic to me.

How do you create your collage figures?

Sometimes, I basically “sketch” with paper. I just free-snip, this little shape and then that one and piece it together as I go and a figure emerges. That’s my favourite way to work. But sometimes, for example when working to a brief, that’s not always prudent or possible, so I will sketch first by hand on my iPad. If I really need to be exacting about the result, I will make drawings and print them and use them as a template for the papercut figure.

What do you think is most special about the winter season?

Ah, that’s a nice question. I love the sun, so I’m afraid I complain a lot about the wet winter! But there is something to be said for the way it draws people inside, into cosy spaces together. It gives us a chance to slow down and just be together.

What do you do to capture of moment of calm?

I have a pretty chaotic existence, partly due to my personality which is forever seeking something new and exciting, and partly because I have two small kids and modern life is nuts! I have to be pretty deliberate about slowing down. I try and make choices to take 20 minutes for a coffee by myself, or walk someplace instead of drive and purposefully check in with my body, relax, notice all the lovely little things around me. I also read to my kids everyday, which is one of my great pleasures.

What is your favourite space in your home?

Oh my, well, at the moment, we are renting a space that we’ve really grown out of. We are in the exciting process of moving to our first home of our own, and I am tempted to say of our current place, NONE OF IT! But that’s not entirely true. I’ve carved out little corners that make me happy, as I think one needs to do. I’ve hung a little gallery wall of art that is bright and meaningful, and strung up three beloved hanging plants in a window that I have managed to care for for over a year and their beautiful flourishing textures are a joy.

What is your top tip for a good winter read?

Can I suggest a picture book? I am going to because that is my world at the moment, and anyway, I don’t believe that picture books are just for children! If you have never read Ms Rumphius by Barabara Cooney, I would whole heartedly recommend it. I have read it probably a thousand times, it’s my absolute favourite. Especially in the cold winter, it will warm and move you.

What’s next? Do you have any exciting projects you can share with us?

I’ve got a few things that will come to light over the next few months, some lovely editorial projects that I can’t say much about yet! But on a more personal level, I’m working on gently pivoting towards picture book illustration. I’ve been making lots of work in that direction and you can expect more of that – real little books that I am really excited about – in the new year! I’ll be at York Open Studios at venue 93 in the spring with some of that!