Balancing the Scales between Freedom and Precision - an Interview with Nika Nyoko

Nika Nyoko - exploring human connections and inner self-awareness
Nika Nyoko - exploring human connections and inner self-awareness

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Here is the next addition to our inspiring interviews with creatives who share about their journey and what it takes to make things happen.


Today I give you a conversation with a remarkable rising star who happens to be among my close contacts.


I encountered Nicky, also known as Nika Nyoko, within one of the art communities I actively engage with and support - Watercolourists and Connoisseurs - Bulgaria's largest Facebook community, dedicated entirely to watercolour.


I was immediately captivated by her artwork, which exudes a blend of skilful draughtsmanship, meticulous attention to detail, and a distinct artistic sensibility.


Over the course of our acquaintance, I have had the chance to witness Nika's artistic evolution and the unfurling of her creative potential across intricately crafted canvases. In these works, she masterfully interweaves elements of dreams and reality, symbolism and realism, seamlessly merging classical techniques with contemporary aesthetics.


Yet, the visual aspects are only the tip of the iceberg. Her pieces delve deep into human relationships and the reasons behind them, as they provoke inevitable reflection in the observer. In Nika's own words, she aims to encourage self-awareness and conscious creation of a happier life for ourselves and the people around us.


Please join our interview as we explore together the backstage story of her creative journey!


Interview questions:


  1. Hello, Nika! Thank you so much for agreeing to take part in Just How Cool Is That?! – backstage stories from the creative journey.
    When did your love for art start and how did you decide to do it professionally?

    Nika:  I'm not entirely sure if it's exactly love. I think everyone has a positive experience (whether it's an emotion or a moment) that attaches them to a certain profession or hobby.

    For me, as a 7th grader, it was the art teacher who approached me and asked if I had ever considered taking art more seriously. That was my "key moment" — the indirect praise I received. At that age, I didn't have a clear idea of what I wanted to pursue, but compared to other options — like becoming a doctor, for example (which was my uncle's dream) — being an artist seemed much more appealing.

    So this is how my journey in art began...

  2. What stages did you pass through before you dived deeper in the multi-layered technique of the old masters? How did your previous experience help?

    Nika: Why, life is so unpredictable and twisted…

    In art high school they used to show us albums with reproductions of the old classical masters. I would stare in awe at the smooth picturesque tones, wondering how could they have achieved that. It seemed like an unearthly skill to me. 

    After university my daily needs took over at full speed. My mother had just passed away so I had to cope quickly and on my own. Back then, just like nowadays, there were plenty of graphic design jobs at advertising agencies. However, I was trained as a traditional artist and I had no understanding of computers. I enrolled in a design course to learn graphic software. But the teacher was so poorly skilled that I preferred to complete the exercises using a thick teach-yourself manual, and I mainly attended classes to use the computers. Later on, I bought my own computer and continued the self-teaching process at home. During this period, I worked at an Internet café, primarily to familiarise myself with this new field. I spent the next 3-4 years in a graphic design job, but it wasn’t what I wanted — just a compromise to make money.

    A fellow designer mentioned freelance websites and it was the new direction I took — there were plenty of illustration gigs. I didn’t speak English back then and I hadn’t even touched a graphic tablet yet but I already had a good understanding of graphic software. It was a potential way to way to earn money through drawing. And so, nearly half a year later, armed with a teeny-weeny second-hand graphic tablet from Amazon and supported by my then-husband, I left my graphic design job.

    Fortunately, I started earning almost immediately. These were small, inexpensive projects, but they accumulated positive feedback, propelling me up the ranks. In 3-4 years, I'd work my fingers to the bone but I was listed in the top 5 on that freelance platform based on earnings and customer satisfaction. And my life was passing in front of the computer...

    Then a returning happy client appeared — a Brooklyn Jewish children’s organisation — and soon after, the PAN publishing house (one of Bulgaria’s largest children’s book publishers). They became my major clients for nearly 9 years. But guess what? I still didn’t feel fulfilled. Throughout this time, I was "hands for hire", executing various commissions for money. At one point, the strain grew so intense that I performed my duties resentfully, dreaming of breaking free from this commercial work.

    And then… the COVID crisis struck. For me, it was a period of transformation. All commissions dried up, and I finally had some free time. As if by God’s mercy, I won a state grant for an art project — a solo exhibition. I poured all my efforts into turning my dream to reality. In fact, it was the dream of my life — to be an artist and paint with the quality of the Old Masters. And so it happened. I gathered all the necessary materials and spent almost a full year creating. After that, I exhibited the canvases in the large hall of the Graffiti Art Gallery in Varna, and I was probably the happiest person on Earth.

  3. You use nudity as a means of art and not erotic suggestion. Would you share some more about it?

    Nika:  Oh, that nudity! I hadn’t even imagined how peculiarly people react to the nude body. At university, we’d spend days painting and drawing live models. NUDE. You study anatomy, you explore the human figure. I even posed at times. In Ancient Greece and during the Renaissance, the human body was raised into a cult. I don’t see anything inappropriate in nudity. Yet, social media constantly takes down my posts due to "sexual suggestion." Obviously, nudity is being identified with sex and sex alone—I find this ridiculous.

    I chose the nude body as a main symbol, as clothes carry messages, labels of status and prejudice. But under all these labels, there always stands a person. This person experiences the same drama, moral decisions, moments of happiness and hardship, as anyone else.

    In fact, though my art, I am addressing the person without the formal social masks, regardless of the current status and profession. А huge part of prejudice we hold against someone is just an illusion. At our core we are all the same, we all seek sharing, appreciation, recognition, praise and success, and we all go through difficult situations.

    I am always examining some aspect of our human nature. And if some people limit their perception to nudity and give it an erotic character — well, I can't do anything about it. Everyone perceives through different filters.

  4.  What is the message you want to convey through this series of paintings?

    Nika:  Much of the problems we face today stem from our way of thinking. Think about it: if you live in a civilised country without war and don’t risk being eaten by a lion in the street, the real threats are getting hit by a car, being involved in a plane crash, or falling ill. All in all, these are perhaps the most peaceful and safe years in all of human history. The main issues we encounter daily are largely influenced by our thinking, expectations, and desires.

    I advocate for greater awareness and understanding of one's own behaviour and the motivation behind it. If a person has good mental maturity, they can alleviate a lot of stress and disappointments — for themselves, their relatives, and their colleagues. Narcissism, inflated self-esteem, unhealthy ambition, emotional projection, competitiveness, and more — these are simply “mind games.” If one understands and recognises their motives and acts in a positive direction, they can live much more easily.

  5. Do you think that the painting should speak for itself and to need no explanation – or if it does, then it's not good enough?

    Nika:  Huh, the picture does speak, but only if there is someone to hear it. Something interesting I learned from a friend who graduated from journalism is the so-called "field of shared knowledge". She gave the following example: “If a boss and an employee talk on the phone, they will understand each other because they share common knowledge. But if one is, for example, a programmer and the other is a plumber, communication will likely be more difficult.”

    It's the same with paintings, people have different experiences, morals, cultural backgrounds, and senses of aesthetics. Not everyone will resonate with the picture, but those who share a similar worldview will "hear" it.

    Do we need to explain what the artist meant? I think so. Of course, there will always be free interpretation. As I mentioned, everyone perceives in their own way, "everyone projects their own movie".

    But how to determine if a given painting is good enough? By what parameters do we measure it? Currently, there are almost no measurable aesthetic principles or criteria of any kind. Modern art relies mainly on personal statements, provocation, and media hype. It is very hard to tell objectively if a certain piece is good or not.


  6. What is the biggest challenge for you as a creative? What compromises do you have to make? Have you had times when you wanted to leave it all?

    Nika: The biggest challenge is staying on track. The general perception of art is as something sublime (and the creative process itself really is), but at its core art is a business.

    You have a product — a very specific product with a narrow audience — that is not a necessity. After you create it, you have to sell it in order to continue working and making a living. And here comes the challenge of finding the right market.

    I think a large percentage of artists face this problem: where and how to realise themselves. And yes, there are times when I feel like sinking and wish I could abandon it all and return to the world of commercial art. It's all clear and straightforward there — the customer orders and pays. Being an independent artist is almost like being a jack of all trades: manager, performer, marketer, PR, logistician, visionary... everything! All that combined with a sensitive personality, which most creatives have, is an almost impossible combination.

    And here I will share another insight of mine: when you face difficulties, they bind us much more than if things come easily. A goal won through struggle, something you’ve worked for and put time and effort into, is much sweeter than something easily achieved or just happening effortlessly. Easy come, easy go.

    When I applied to art high school, my preparation consisted of a 10-day course. I was accepted in 37th place out of 40. For many years, I thought I wasn't particularly talented. But after 15 years of non-stop drawing as an illustrator, I was reunited with my best friend from high school. She had been one of the most capable students, taking art classes since the fifth grade. After so many years, her life had taken a turn towards interior design. To my surprise, there wasn't much left of her former magnificent drawing skills.

    It wasn’t until then that I began to realise that it is not so much overpraised talent, but systematic practice that develops high skills. Talent, in my opinion, is the ability to see and absorb things easily. Some people pick up things very quickly, while others find it much more difficult. But practice is the crucial factor.



  7. What is your favourite part of the creative process? What stages do you go through when working on a painting? How much time approximately does it take to complete a painting from an initial idea to end result? 

    Nika: My favourite part is coming up with the composition. It’s such a wild brainstorming process in my head! I might have a specific idea and spend days figuring out how to visualise it. Once I have a sketch-level composition finished, I often test it out by asking friends for feedback to see what it says to them.

    When I’m ready with the concept, the first step is stretching the canvas. Thus, I control the quality of the materials. Next comes adding the imprimatura (toning the canvas) and then the sketch. Sometimes I sketch in ink under the first transparent layer; other times, I do an oil sketch with a paintbrush on top of the dried imprimatura.

    Then I start with the grisaille, also known as the dead layer, where I develop the highlights. Sometimes I use red and yellow plus white and black, and other times just greyscale, depending on the effects I want. After this layer dries, I usually add another layer. I build up more white paint in the lightest parts, develop the forms, and add finer details to the figures.

    The next stage is applying the first colour layer and this is when the magic starts to unfold and things come to life. And so I work until I achieve the level of painterliness and plasticity that I like — by using at least two, usually more, layers of colour, necessarily waiting for each one to dry before applying the next.
    It's not quick, it actually takes months, but the end result is worth it, so worth it!

    Sometimes when I'm in a rush I do "quick" pieces. I paint alla prima (all at once) or use acrylic to start and continue with oil, sometimes I include a fineliner or work with large patches of color.

    I can't limit myself to just one thing, I like to keep my skills "sharp", as they say nowadays. By the same logic, I periodically do some watercolor paintings, just to keep my hand trained.

  8. Have you suffered from perfectionism and fear of not being good enough? How do you know it IS good enough or complete?

    Nika: I don’t know where this endless pain of pursuing perfection comes from, but I think it’s incredibly useful. It’s what pushes you forward and elevates your skills. A complacent person rarely pushes themselves beyond their limits and doesn’t achieve great results. Of course, in excess, this drive can be destructive.

    I recall the parable of Buddha and the golden meanif you pull the string too softly, it won’t make a sound; if you pull it too tightly, the string will break. This rule applies to everything in our lives, from painting to fitness. It’s good to strive for perfection, but it’s also important to sometimes relax and enjoy your achievements.

    For example, when I’m working, I’m rarely happy with the results. I feel this almost self-destructive discontent with myself. Then, after some time has passed and I’ve set the canvas aside without me staring at it for days, a miracle happens — I look at it and can’t believe it came from my hands! It feels as if someone else was inside me, painting it for me. Then another fear sets in — can I ever replicate this brilliant result again? It sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

    The moment you decide a painting is finished is very subtle. It’s something you need to train within yourself. If you don’t strive for perfection, you stay mediocre. But if you’re too meticulous, you overwork the piece and it becomes dry and constrained. Finding the right moment of completeness is like balancing the scales between freedom and precision. You have to overcome your internal yearning for “perfection,” but with time and practice, you learn to recognize that right moment.


  9. Do you use professional marketing services or you do it all by yourself? How can someone acquire your painting?

    Nika:  Ugh, this marketing stuff! I get that in today’s world, so full of social noise, if you don’t play by the rules, you’re invisible.
    Right now, if someone wants to buy one of my paintings, the best way is to contact me directly. I don’t have an exclusive gallery representation yet.

    I’m diving into marketing, always trying to learn new things — video recording, video editing, keywords, social posts, copywriting, personal branding… So exhausting! It feels like a whole other profession, and honestly, I don’t enjoy doing it. It eats up my time and messes with my emotional state. In order to paint, I need to be in the high vibes, and marketing is distracting.

    At the moment, I’m not using any professional marketing services, but the more I read and learn, the more I realise I need to team up with a pro who knows their stuff.

  10. What is the best of a compliment you get regarding your art?

    Nika: The greatest compliment so far came from a lady who said she got goosebumps looking at the canvases. As she talked and explained how they affected her, she managed to make me cry. A very powerful moment, to hear how someone feels 100% all your zeal and invested emotion. As I said, we all need to feel shared and supported.

    The comments from some of the other colleagues also make me very happy — that I am wading into the deep end with these human figures and the double coded message. Come to think of it, I guess that's exactly what I ever wanted.

  11.  What is your final message to anyone reading this?

    Nika: Why, a message… It all begins with the Self. Everything that will drive you in life and determine your decisions and results is YOU. Your conscious or unconscious needs, fears and desires; the way you accept and deal with problems. The main motor nowadays is our brain, our thoughts. The better you understand yourself, the easier your journey will be.


Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions! Keep on bringing more inspiring beauty and thought provoking conversations to the world!


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Nika Nyoko today

Nika Nyoko at her studio
Nika Nyoko at her studio

My current focus is building a recognisable personal brand and reputation. My main efforts are to establish international presence, while constantly improving the quality of my art. 


I am open to collaboration with international art galleries.


It is a great honour for me to be featured on Beautiful Bizarre Magazine, and Realism Today as a realism ambassador. 


You can order my pieces online on my official website for a worldwide delivery or by contacting me directly on my social media accounts below.


People can find me on FacebookInstagram and Tik-Tok.


Have your say!

  • Where could you relate the most?
  • What is the greatest insight you got from Nika?
  • Have you underpriced your art and if yes - for what reasons?

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