My journey to art

When I was a child, I always thought I would grow up into a business lady living somewhere abroad, working in an office with floor-to-ceiling windows. Because art is “not a serious job”. I was a young girl in a small town and my parents told me so.

It did not happen so. Life can be funny that way 😉

I did start my career in a beautiful office with windows from the floor to the ceiling, in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. But after 3 years of hard work something happened… I quit my job and left for a Greek island searching for the meaning of my life.

I have been painting since I can remember: once, my father brought a book about watercolor techniques to my folk dance class. I didn’t think anything of it, but I liked the images. So, at home, I tried to copy all the paintings myself.

And this is how my watercolor journey began.

It wasn’t anything serious until 2014. I mean… who wants to live the stereotype of the “starving artist”? Back then, I was very focused on pursuing a “serious” career in a PR Agency, and honestly, it was going really well.

Except that I earned a severe burnout at the age of 20.

At 21, I quit a stable job, an apartment in the center of Kyiv, and a promising career and left for Greece. To be a volunteer on an island without a clear vision of the future. The only thing I knew was that I did not want to do a corporate job that had no meaning to me except for financial gain.

Living in Greece gave me a well-desired break to think.

When you are Ukrainian, you don’t have the safety pillow of governmental support if you stop working. And so, people have to rely only on themselves to keep themselves afloat.

It was scary at first just to be a volunteer, or rather an intern, on that Greek island without money, income, stability, vision.

At the same time, it was freeing to just BE.

After Greece, I had 8 years of traveling, living in different countries, and jumping into various projects. Why am I devoting so much time specifically to Corfu Island now?

It was there I met a person who encouraged me to take a serious look at my art. Anthea, who took me in as an intern and provided a place to stay, was a kind woman with good senses. She told me, “Yana, focus on your art, and I promise you have a big future there.” I didn’t believe her. But I really didn’t know what else to do. So I tried.

After my visa was over, I had to go back to Kyiv, but I knew I was not ready to jump back into the work-no-life routine. So I camped on my friend’s balcony for a bit, looking for opportunities abroad. At that time, even going to Europe for one day required a Schengen visa, which in turn required a whole hassle of the application process. So, I looked for places that were easy to enter, warm, and inexpensive. And bingo! I discovered Thailand.

Having never been to Asia before, I packed a tiny suitcase, 500 dollars, and left for a hippy island. There, I was supposed to be a part-time volunteer doing some wall paintings in an eco-hostel. However, that place turned out to be not what they promised (much, much worse), and I quickly learned it was a BIG mistake. On top of that, I got dengue fever and spent a few nights in the hospital.

It was a real dilemma as I was not ready to go home the first week after I arrived, and there was nowhere else to go (the hostel project was just too horrible even to consider).

And then, a local Thai man invited me to stay in his family’s house for free just to help me out.

I know what you might think… weird, right? What was his intention?
But I took the risk. This is how much I hated the hostel volunteering thing and how much I did not want to return home without answers.

It was heartwarming to get to know Thai culture and learn how kind, supportive, and caring they are from the first weeks of my visit. Later on, I would see this trait in different situations over and over, but now I am grateful for having my first impression of Thailand formed by the kindness of this family.

I lived for 4 months with them.

There were 8 people, a simple house with 2 rooms, a mattress on the floor, a mosquito net, and a mirror. We ate sitting on the floor, and the bathroom only featured a hole for the toilet and a bucket with water for the shower. It was as simple as it gets, and I loved it.

I spent my days meditating on the beach, walking barefoot, painting, helping my host at his bar, and just living in the moment.

A lot of things happened there: I started practicing yoga, met amazing people from all over the world, hitchhiked across Thailand, was bitten by a street dog, went on a meditation retreat with Buddhist monks, did a yoga retreat in a jungle, worked on a startup, freelanced for a yoga studio, and painted commissions.

Koh Lanta gave me much-needed time for myself to be able to truly listen to who I was and where I wanted to be in life. It also allowed me to try things I would have never thought of. Living out of my comfort zone became my motto.

After Koh Lanta, I moved to Chiang Mai, where I volunteered at a socially responsible company that was helping local hill tribes make a living.

It was also the place that introduced me to the digital nomad culture: Chiang Mai was bustling with expats and remote workers running their businesses online and enjoying the tropical lifestyle. Living from your suitcase, making friends from every corner of the world and working anywhere, anytime, just with your laptop. A dream! And so I tried that.

In Chiang Mai, I freelanced, also I launched and managed a business on Amazon, sold it.

The city had such a powerful energy from all the networking and sharing knowledge that it was inevitable… I got the courage to do art seriously!

I launched my first project, TravelArt, and my first online course.

At this point, I had been living in Thailand for three years. I missed my flight back home and stayed there, knowing I was not done with this adventure. Thailand became my new home.

I started hosting “Art and Coffee” events, which slowly transformed into watercolor workshops at attendees’ requests. It was amazing to see how my students of different nationalities and ages were coming together and enjoying the art of watercolor. The best feeling was to see their excitement from noticing progress in their skills. I found out that I really love teaching and encouraging people on their watercolor journey.

Heck, I myself learned a lot just by breaking down processes that had become automatic by that point.

Chiang Mai showed me the lifestyle of a digital nomad, and it became my new lifestyle for years to come. I had my “base” in Chiang Mai and took short trips around Southeast Asia.

Dancing salsa in Kuala Lumpur? Check! Couchsurfing in Hong Kong? Why not! Browsing art shops in Singapore? Yes, please! Bali, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, all those places gifted me with exciting and eye-opening experiences that heavily influenced my values, how I see the world, and, of course, my art.

In Chiang Mai, my art started to look like a career.

I hosted regular watercolor workshops, created online courses for Skillshare and Udemy, sold my paintings in online galleries, and created my own official website. This one 🙂

It underwent many modifications to become what it is now, but it was the first official statement of me as a working artist.

When I finally felt like I had got all I needed from Thailand and was ready to move on, I met Lesly. Even though I still left the country, as the next half-year was already planned and booked, we reunited later and have been together ever since. Seven years and counting.

Together, we continued exploring the digital nomad lifestyle, living in Vietnam, Colombia, Peru, France, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, and, of course, Thailand. Loving Asia and Europe, we split our time between the two, spending winters in the tropics and summers in Europe. 

Both creative and easily excited by new ideas, we united our passions and created a Watercolor Painting Academy. Lesly took care of the tech side of things, and I created a library of online courses. Now, it counts 47 courses for all levels, from novice to advanced. And I am determined to grow this library.

Then came COVID and the russian full-scale war on Ukraine, which changed our lives and plans. We are navigating these times together, supporting each other, and staying strong.

Currently, we live in Kyiv.

In the midst of it, a little and fierce Shiba Inu, Kaiju, joined our family. He handled traveling through 8 countries a couple of times, staying in more than 20 hotels and has been living the true life of a digital nomad (pawmad?). 

Together, we are ready for new adventures, with you joining in through this blog.

Now you are all caught up and hopefully will stay here for more.

Thanks for being part of my story.

Cheers!

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Yana Shvets