Coming full circle, a former Sedalian returned to show her art in the NoBro Art Walk this month, with future plans to write illustrated children’s books.
Natasha Chernookaya, a 2008 Smith-Cotton High School graduate, now teaches sixth through 12th grade art at Christian Fellowship School in Columbia. She participated in the NoBro Art Walk for the first time Aug. 3 and was invited to show her work by her former SCHS art teacher, Michael Shukers.
Chernookaya said she enjoys creating artful illustrations that are colorful, whimsical and centered around the thought process of children.
“I’ve been creating art forever, but I’ve been focusing on illustration since 2016,” she said by phone in Columbia. “I have the ability to draw or paint realistically, but anytime I sit to do art for myself that’s what I desire to do.”
Using her whimsical illustrations Chernookaya plans to create children’s books in the future.
“I’m doing the research that it would take to make a children’s book,” she explained. “I have joined SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and met a friend through that. Together we’re just kind of building up the base and knowledge it would take to write a children’s book.
“It does take a lot of training,” she continued. “But, my ultimate goal is to eventually have my own written and illustrated children’s book series.”
Her book series would center around her own childhood. Chernookaya immigrated to the U.S. in 1990 with her family from Ukraine. She comes from a large family with four brothers and two sisters.
“Some of the themes that are important to me are the longing, because I was an immigrant, to find a place to belong,” she said. “Then another theme for me is fun and silliness and joy. I like to write stories where someone gets to be recognized for their creativity.”
She is writing a story about a penguin who creates ice sculptures.
“It’s not all written out yet, but all of these stories are kind of in a sketch form,” she explained. “There’s a lot of ideas but nothing is concrete yet. I’m still exploring that option.”
She added she’s not interested in being a book illustrator for other writers, but wants to illustrate her own writing.
“I want to be the storyteller and the illustrator myself,” Chernookaya said.
As an artist/illustrator, Chernookaya said she finds if she creates for others she looses the “drive” to complete the work.
“What drives me to create is exploration and fun and expression of emotion,” she said. “So, I guess the thought as an art teacher would be for people to create art for themselves, and let their own style come forth.
“As you explore your interest, your purpose in art-making will come to you, rather than trying to force that purpose,” she continued. “As I sat down to make art, I would have these little sheep come forward or a frog in a birthday hat.”
She added the purpose for her was to create joy with her art, and she wants the person who views the work to also experience joy.
Chernookaya also teaches her students to make art for themselves.
“Because I teach at a Christian school, I’m not bound to any sort of curriculum,” she noted. “So, I really try to get them to decide what they like. Then, I teach concepts of art and let them draw and paint what is meaningful to them. Even as children they are creating their own body of work and learning about what’s valuable to them.”
For more information, visit @foxinsmocks on Instagram, Etsy at Fox in Smocks Designs or Facebook at Natasha Chernookaya Stories and Illustrations.