Maria Tokar is a digital collage artist based in Reading, UK. This past year she’s been making a name for herself on social media, gaining a huge following in a short period of time. After working as a freelance graphic designer for the past few years, she felt that she needed more room for self-expression and turned her career path into a more artistic direction, and started making collages. Every day. Through her art, Maria mainly explores such themes as mental health, self-reflection, and people’s inner feelings.
Hi Maria. Pleasure to sit down with you. First mandatory question. How does a regular day look like for you in Reading, England?
Hi Ruben! The pleasure is all mine. I wake up quite late – around 9-10 am without an alarm to give my body enough rest. I have a quick breakfast and then head straight to a coffee shop, have my morning coffee and spend good 3-4 hours there working. I usually start with more admin or business-related work and leave the creative part of it for the evening. In the late afternoon, I either go home or to the gym first and then home where I do the rest of my tasks, starting with posting a video and finishing with making a collage.
While we’re on the subject. You’re originally from Russia, but you’ve been living and working in England for about 2 years now. What was the reason for leaving Russia?
I’ve always wanted to experience living abroad in a multicultural environment to expand my horizons. So, I decided to continue my education in the UK and went to do my Master’s course there. Then, I quickly realized that it’s a much better place for me to stay because I have many more creative opportunities here, and the overall creative and diverse atmosphere gives me a huge inspiration. Besides, in Russia, I felt a lot more restricted in expressing my creativity, not even speaking of the economic and political instability.
What’s your take on the current situation between Russia and Ukraine?
It’s heartbreaking to see what’s going on in Ukraine right now. I couldn’t even imagine that war is still an option in the 21st century. I fully support Ukraine and wish this nightmare will end as soon as possible.
Do you remember when your creative journey began. And when did you start playing around with Photoshop, like how old were you?
I guess, there wasn’t any certain point when I began my creative journey. There were different periods of my life when I’ve been exploring Photoshop for different purposes.
So when and why did you start making collages?
I started making collages about 2 years ago, using it as an easy way to demonstrate the digital products I’m selling such as textures or PNG graphics on my Instagram. At first, I didn’t take it seriously as a full-scale art practice. But over time, the more I’ve been doing it, the more interest I’ve been growing in this medium which made me experiment more with it.
Right.. so this leads me in to my next question. You’ve got a full on online store / business where you’re selling various digital products. Talk to me a little bit about that. How did it get started and what’s it called?
I’ve started making digital design assets and selling them on Creative Market about 4 years ago as a side hustle. Later on, I’ve reached a decent income from it and now I’m selling them on my own platform, where I put out only the best quality products which align with my niche and brand aesthetics. You’re welcome to check it out!
Coming from an already artistic background as a graphic designer. Why did you feel like you needed more room for self-expression? And why did you choose digital collages as your medium, and not more traditional ways, like painting or drawing etc.
I suppose I’ve always had this need for self-expression, since I was a kid, the artist career path has been the most appealing to me. I just didn’t know how to put that into practice because being a graphic designer is not the same, you don’t always get a chance to express your artistic vision. Then I realized that producing content for social media is a way to do it, even though it doesn’t bring you income at first. It’s still somewhat beneficial for developing your business and graphic design career. Regarding your question about the medium, I’ve chosen it because I prefer my work to be easily portable, and therefore, digital. I like changing the environment and work from different places. So, Photoshop has become my best friend many years ago and still is.
Being that you already create your collages digitally. Have you thought about venturing into the metaverse? And what are your thoughts on NFTs?
Unfortunately, I don’t know much about this to have an informed opinion. But it seems like an appealing opportunity for me as a digital artist. I’m definitely planning to explore this thing more deeply in the near future, I’ve just been focused on other aspects of my business lately.
You’ve started the “365 project”. Talk to me a little bit about that. Why did you start it and how do you manage to stay consistent with it?
‘365’ project is creating an artwork every day for 365 days. It has lots of benefits, such as producing content on a regular basis, structuring my workflow and of course, developing my art skills. I’ve started it inspired by other successful designers’ stories how it has helped them to get audience and recognition, so that was my initial motivation. Besides, I felt that it’s the shortest way to develop my art style. I believe, if you practice your craft on a daily basis, it’ll almost inevitably lead to improving its quality sooner or later. In addition, I’m not a patient person, to be honest. So, the format of this project is very suitable for me. Creating one collage every day sounds easier and less intimidating thing to do than, say, working on a large scale project for a month. So, it allows me to lower my expectations from the result and see it more like an exercise. Regarding consistency, I manage to maintain it mostly due to the Instagram and TikTok algorithms which kind of force you to keep posting content.
It must be difficult sometimes coming up with new creations every day. Creating a new collage or video from scratch. Has there been moments where you regretted that decision or have you ever skipped a day?
Yeah, it can be overwhelming indeed. The only method that worked for me to deal with it is to let go of perfectionism and allow yourself to be wrong sometimes. Yeah, there were moments when I wasn’t happy with the result of my artwork but I still posted it because it’s all the part of the progress. As for skipping day, sure I have. It’s important for me not to blame myself too much for it, otherwise I’d reach a burnout pretty quickly.
While we’re on the subject. How long does it take you to make one of your collages or videos?
It varies but if I’m not experimenting or doing something completely new, on average takes 2 hours, and then about 30-40 minutes to make a video with the process.
Mental health, self-reflection, and people’s inner feelings. Why is it important for you to highligh those themes?
First of all, I have a quite selfish reason – it help me deal with my own worries and emotions. I don’t always have a person to dump all my thoughts and emotional baggage on. But I feel relieved when I do that. Furthermore, it can be helpful for other people. Perhaps, someone can recognize themselves in some of these problems and feel like they’re not alone. I also try not to showcase an issue directly, I prefer to always leave room for interpretation, so people can apply it to their particular situations.
Your social media profiles have grown rapidly in a short period of time. What’s that feeling like? Getting more and more recognition. Did you ever imagine that?
It’s something I’ve been trying to achieve for a long time, something that has caused a lot of low points and frustration on the way there. Only when I was about to give up, my Instagram has suddenly started taking off last summer. Of course, I was over the moon to see that happening. I didn’t expect to such high numbers, I was hoping to gain at least 20K followers. Now, I’m learning that numbers themselves aren’t everything, they are a huge bonus but you need to know how to use it in a smart way.
Browsing through your various collages it’s clear that you’ve got a thing for all things vintage. Talk to me a little bit about that.
I guess, it has partially derived from the trend for analog looking design that we’ve been witnessing for the last couple of years. Now, everyone is tired of clean flat computerised design which feels cold and heartless. And I was glad to hop on that trend because I’ve always been keen on classic, vintage movies. They are a form of escapism for me, the opportunity to experience different time periods, to see a bigger picture of life and not to fixate on daily problems too much.
Right.. and you use predominantly black and white colors. Talk to me a little bit about that. Why are those your prefered color palletes?
In the beginning I did that because it’s easier when you don’t have to worry about colour combinations, you can’t go wrong with black and white. Then I was realising that there’s a lot more depth to it. Playing with contrast and different tones and textures also gives you plethora of opportunities and there are still a lot of decisions to be made. Furthermore, I haven’t used strictly black and white palette for a while. I’ve been also using light pastel colours, primarily pink and occasionally I implement other colours as well.
Ok, so I know this is a brand new thing for you. But you just started making YouTube videos. What are your plans for that platform. Like what kind of content do you plan on putting out?
Yeah, I’m really excited about starting a YouTube channel, I’ve been planning it for a while. The main type of videos I’m going to start with are Photoshop tutorials, that’s what I’ve got asked about a lot over the last several months. People have been complaining that Reel and TikTok tutorials are too fast for them. And I agree, YouTube is much more convenient platform for it. Aside from tutorials, I’m also going to put on chatty videos, also design related where I talk about my art career journey or just share my thoughts on something. I’m feeling that Instagram and TikTok formats are too limited for fully showing my personality, compared to YouTube. But we’ll see how I will manage to produce enough content for all platforms, so I can’t promise anything.
What’s your channel’s name? Plug it.
It’s called by my name, Maria Tokar, the same as on my Instagram and TikTok. Pretty easy to find.
When you’re not making your collages or in front of a computer. What are some of the things you enjoy doing?
Lately I don’t get much free time, I’m constantly in front of a screen. But when I do get a chance to have a rest, I like spending time with my friends, going to museums, reading books and travelling, of course, is one of my favourite ways to recharge my batteries, even if it’s just going to a nearby town.
Who do you look up to? And who is your favorite artist?
I constantly discover new incredibly talented artists on Instagram, and it’s hard for me to choose one or even a few of them who are my favourite. But if we take the established artists long time before Instagram was there, I would pick Barbara Kruger, Jamie Reid and Grete Stern. Each of them have a very distinctive artistic voice and powerful messages behind their art.
What are your plans for the future. Any projects or anything like that in the works?
I have a lot of art related plans for this year. First of all, developing my YouTube channel providing valuable content and expressing myself in a video format, documenting my journey more. Regarding my art, I’m planning a lot of experimenting and learning new techniques to keep evolving my art style. Also, I’m going to make a few collaboration project with some of my favourite artists I found on Instagram. In addition, I’ve got a list of ideas for design assets I’d like to create, I’m going to gradually implement them this year.
What motivates and inspires you?
One of the biggest motivations for me is being an immigrant and trying to achieve at least a little bit of stability in my life. So, I understand that I have to keep being consistent with my work. Therefore, sometimes it’s hard to get into relaxed mode and give myself a break. In terms of inspiration, when I’m learning about other artists’ successful career paths, it makes me believe that it’s totally achievable and there’s no reason for me not to try it too.
Profile picture by: Sandra Potoczanin