Irina Howard - Being an Artist Is Not a Choice; It Is a Way of Living (Artist From New York)


It was in me, always. Being an artist is not a choice; it is a way of living. Stop being an artist means to get lost in the space of existence, and I experienced that every time by choosing different careers or trying to replace my artistic call with something else. It put me into misery, struggle, and a sense of unfulfilled purpose

Tell us more about your background and your artistic journey. 

I was born in the main city of Ukraine and spent my earlier years at the elite group of young people who surrounded themselves with arts and literature. We had literary evenings, attended theatrical performances and art exhibitions. It was an exciting time since the dissolution of the Soviet Union when the country was going through a lot of changes in the economy, social structure, and political structure. The communist party collapsed along with censorship and control of the press to allow democracy and freedom of expression to take over.

As a result, it was a flourishing time for the arts. I started as a performing artist at one of the newly organized professional chamber theaters. At that time, theater meant everything to me. I felt alive in that environment while experiencing a lot of challenging moments in my life at the same time.

I began drawing at an earlier age but came up with serious artworks in my teenage age to cope with personal and family tragic events. Feeling powerless, all I could do was express how I felt about it. Around that time, I met an artist who introduced me to a metaphysical concept of existence and the human mind. He said something like - the artist must not contribute more pain to a world full of struggle and despair. That was a shocking discovery and became my personal belief throughout life. Since I couldn't produce anything other than surrealistic fantasies of life and death, I stopped drawing for many years.

I am not sure what would happen if I didn't, but I probably wouldn't become an artist as I am today. I lived and faced many controversial, overwhelming encounters with experiencing pain and joy, desperation and hope, disappointment and fortune, rejection and approval, discouragement, and fulfillment.

In other words, I had to mature and understand these experiences to reflect them through my art truthfully. Not only that, to give other people hope and inspiration for a better future. I have always believed that speaking from my heart will touch other people's hearts, while art communicates without relying on words but with visual language coming from the artist's heart.

When did you decide you wanted to be an artist? 

It was in me, always. Being an artist is not a choice; it is a way of living. Stop being an artist means to get lost in the space of existence, and I experienced that every time by choosing different careers or trying to replace my artistic call with something else. It put me into misery, struggle, and a sense of unfulfilled purpose.  

A mid-life crisis happened to me, and I have decided to go back to school to study fine arts. 

When I took a brush into my hand for the first time, magic happened, after all these years that I rejected my gift, denied who I am… I experienced joy and a sense of serenity. 

What is your inspiration for creating art? 

It is a need within me to create, inspire, and uplift the souls struggling with their life choices and experiences. It involves a vision, drive, and planning. Based on my design drawings, I came up with the idea for a collection of 15 paintings and five sculptures, which are still in progress, titled "Patterns of Life." I planned themes for each artwork in advance to highlight the most important values and life events. This is my inspiration and motivation to see it through. 

I am also inspired by the form and texture existing in nature and am compelled to express their meaning, unique purpose, and beauty in connection to human experiences through my work. 

In addition, art brings a feeling of freedom, which we are limited to experience in life, yet inspired to experience while creating.

Tell us about your process. What does it take to begin and finish the artwork?

My processes combine thoughtful, conscious decisions and spontaneous, intuitive solutions to create compositions. First, I intuitively select the central element symbolizing the idea of the theme to create a logical meaningful dialog. Then, based on the subject matter, I build the visual narrative applying the psychological meaning of art elements (line, shape, texture, value, etc.), my own experience, philosophical view of the subject, and aesthetical preferences.

Finally, I combine other components intuitively put them together in a composition, where they harmonically exist in support of each other. Something happens on the canvas beyond my conscious choices to make visible the invisible. 

       The development stage is very exciting. I have never known how the painting will look until it is done. Since my world is imaginary, I develop details as I paint, trying different textures and color values to create a visually pleasing experience. Sometimes I face problems I cannot resolve at the time. So, I put the painting aside and keep investigating and searching for a solution until a solution is found and I can move on. By the time painting is done, I am so attached to it, of course, due to the investment of the thoughts and emotions, spent time, and effort to express some parts of my inner world and a mental state of the experience.  

So, how long does it take for you to complete a piece?

       Since I work with oil, layering techniques, and an imaginary world, I would say two to three months from developing an idea to finished artwork.

Is it a financially stable career? 

I must support my career as an artist financially. I teach art in public school and two art studios to pay bills. Art is probably one of the unstable careers unless you are an established, well-known, and wanted artist. I didn't get to that level yet. Even more, nowadays, artists have to be many things: a business person, a writer, marketeer, a copywriter, an organizer…  and in many cases invest before getting paid. Pay for studio, competitions, residencies, apply for unguaranteed grants, pay for shipping, supplies, art fairs, even for exhibition wall in some cases – and it is a lot of money. You must pay taxes and commission % to the galleries on the top.

Who is your favorite painter/artist, and why? 

It would be a long list. It is easier to name the movements in art than the artists. Sometimes I feel like I can live in the museum by spending hours looking at the classical sculptures stunning in their perfection and beauty. The works of Michelangelo and Botticelli leave me speechless from the themes and aesthetics.

The time of Renaissance brings unforgettable experiences. Works of Caravaggio with his mysterious light on a black background. Leonardo Da Vinci with his secretive, enigmatic spirit, unique sculptural faces, and emotional expression. Impressionistic paintings with their color and brushstrokes.

When I first saw Van Gogh's sunflowers, I was thrilled by his creative world of color and expression. The techniques of Claude Monet delighted me. Abstract Expressionist Wassily Kandinsky with a new spiritual language and appreciation for music that I can relate to so much in my practice. Pablo Picasso, Gustav Klimt, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O'Keeffe, Yayoi Kusama, and many other artists are worthy of attention and admiration.


What piece of advice would you like to give to future aspiring artists? 

Listen to your inner voice, be authentic, seek validation internally, follow your own instincts, develop your own language, don't copy any artist from the past, build your own style. Educate yourself in the art business, marketing, communication, be persistent, organized, be ready to work hard, and have a vital source of income to support your career as an artist. Unfortunately, not every artist lives out of their art.

Which is your favorite book and why? 

I grew up in classical and modern literature and poetry; they are in my heart still. Authors like Homer, Sophocles, Alexander Dumas, Miguel Cervantes, Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov, Aleksandr Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetayeva, and many others made me who I am today. I love to read art history books. History in general, psychology, and philosophy are my great interest. 

Since the topic of our conversation, I will highlight "Concerning the Spiritual in Art" by Wassily Kandinsky, where he expresses his fascination from a spiritual power of non-objective painting - as an expression of the artist's inner life and music. I can relate to Kandinsky with my visual language and spiritual direction. He said that "there is nothing on earth so curious for beauty, as a soul," and I stand by aesthetics within any style.

Interviewed by- Yashika Khanna


Irina Howard was born in Ukraine in 1969 and currently lives and works in New York City, USA. Her work is centered on painting, sculpture, and design. She draws inspiration from organic texture and composes her themes giving physical form to a conceptual idea. She embodies personal experiences and philosophical views through her artworks, expressed via visual language elements (e.g., lines, shapes, forms, textures, and colors). Her current series of works explores the challenges in life and their influences on the development of the human soul. 

Irina studied art at the City University of New York and Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States and presented at the world's largest fine art trade shows. Her works were published internationally in books and art magazines. She is an award-winning artist for excellence in oil painting. Her artworks belong to several private collections in various countries.