Apollinaria Manko
Artist & Illustrator, Graphic Designer
Until I sat down to write this text, I had no idea how much of my life story is connected with creativity. At all stages of my life, art and design have been a kind of lifeboat for me.

I was born in 1994 in the post-Soviet capital of Belarus, Minsk. My parents tried to make a professional figure skater out of me from an early age, and from the age of 5 to 10 I devoted myself entirely to training. I didn't turn out to be an athlete, but I believe that it developed my diligence and perseverance.

In my free time between training and school, I was always doing something, mostly with paper and tape, sewing, drawing. My grandmother opened the world of art school to me by taking me on a field trip to a school not far from home. Honestly, I do not remember why, but my mother could not come and write an application for admission. So, at the age of 11, I wrote it myself and signed it for my mother. Of course, the woman in the admissions office understood everything, but without saying anything, she smiled and sent me to the office to wait for the exam to start.

Since middle school, I have been subjected to a lot of bullying in high school, both from my classmates and my class teacher. Maybe one of the reasons is the lack of communication in my childhood with my classmates due to the constant training. Or the fact that, as a defense, I made up stories and facts and lived in my own world, erasing the boundaries between reality and fiction, and after a while I wasn't sure what was true and what was false.
The new kids from art school got closer and closer to me, even though I didn't spend as much time with them as I did at the gymnasium. A new wave of bullying from my classmates was triggered by a family tragedy that happened to my older brother—he got cancer. During the several years of my brother's treatment, my mother lived with him in the hospital; my grandmother was essentially in charge of my upbringing. And the only escape for me from family problems and bullying in high school was art school.

In high school, I went to a full-fledged art school. But it didn't work out. After one year I decided to go to art college. I chose it by accident! I did not know what to do for the whole summer vacation and found a course at the college named after A.K. Glebov. This course turned out to be a preparation for entering the college to specialize in "graphic design". My parents did not want me to go to the chosen college, they dreamed of a university. However, I insisted on my own and made an agreement that if I got a free place with a scholarship, I would go to study. I got in! After the results were announced, I had to convince my parents for hours and write the application for admission.

The 4 years of college were unbelievable! 6 days a week from 9:00 to 17:00, working in workshops, so many interesting subjects, working with different materials... it all flew by.

When I was 18, I traveled outside Belarus for the first time. First I went to Germany, and then there were several more trips to Europe. A world of incredible modern art museums opened up for me. I had no idea that art was so GLOBAL, that it was so DIFFERENT. By my sophomore year, I had a dream of attending a European university. I spent several months researching where I wanted to study. My choice was the University of the Arts London. Several times a year UAL representatives came to Moscow to interview and select future students, and I immediately decided that I would go to the next selection. After getting off the night train with a huge, heavy folder, I went straight to the interview. After a few hours of waiting for the results, I was told "Yes! I couldn't believe it was really happening to me. Back home, I began actively seeking funding for my studies. But there would be no happy ending to this stage of enrollment. I could not find a way to pay for my studies in London, and at that point I decided to let this dream remain a dream.

At the end of my third year of college, I asked myself a serious question: where and what I would work after college. As it turned out, it is very difficult to start a career as a graphic designer in Belarus. And my choice fell on a completely different sphere—UI UX design. In search of an internship I sent dozens of letters to different IT companies in Belarus. Mostly there were no answers, but EPAM decided to call me for an interview. After the first interview it will be a whole year before I am officially employed. During this time I will have time to take UI UX design courses, I will be persuaded to take an internship at EPAM ... And then, only after a year I will be employed by the company.

I was incredibly drawn into the UI UX design field! I came across interesting, and most importantly useful projects from different aspects of human activity: from medical domains, to designing navigation of ships on the oceans and seas. However, after working for several years sitting behind a monitor, I realized that the level of pleasure from creating only digital products fell and began to approach a critical level. Words cannot describe how much I missed working with materials.

As I continued to work in IT, I began to search for myself. First, I tried my hand at refinishing old furniture, then I started making hand-painted brooches. Next, I took a series of ceramics classes. Somewhere in between all these activities, my husband and I opened a clothing store, approaching such a business from the creative side as much as possible. The business was not successful, the shop was closed. And all my searches for myself were also unsuccessful. Every creative person always has a very painful question: how to do what you love, but also earn a living? Although, I think not only creative people ask themselves this question ....

A few years passed and I found an interesting need that gave me incredible power and energy—to teach people, to open the world of design to them! To create educational materials, to prepare design workshops... At first I had a few students of beginner designers within the company, then I started giving lectures for colleagues on typography, composition, color science. After a while that wasn't enough! I decided to open a design school in Minsk!

Now I don't understand where I got the courage to make such a big change in my life. I left the company and became a freelancer, worked part-time in start-ups and actively prepared the launch of a design school. In 4 years I managed to graduate about 400 students! But I kept coming back to the idea that I wanted to do illustration, art, make material things. That's why I took various courses in illustration and ceramics.

An event that happened in my family in 2019 had a very strong impact on me. It turned my world, priorities, goals and desires upside down. An event that made me look at life through the terrible grief and pain of loss. My older brother died in an accident. We were very close and he was my role model and inspiration in life. This was my first experience of losing a loved one. Before I came, I had no idea how painful it was.

To get over the loss of my brother, I started working on my own projects: design school, many part-time jobs as a UI and UX designer. At the same time, I started doing more illustration and eventually decided that I wanted to evolve and go into art and illustration. And as if the stars aligned, I was offered to come back to EPAM as an illustrator!

After working as a 2D illustrator for almost a year, I went on maternity leave, but continued to develop in illustration. Eventually I had the idea to make a picture book about my childhood with my brother. That is how my first book "HUG ME ONE MORE TIME" was born, which I worked on for almost 1.5 years and which became a kind of psychotherapy for me, helping me to live and accept the loss of my brother. But it was very hard for me. I can't tell you how many tears were shed while creating the spreads.

At the beginning of 2022, I became a mother! This event plunged me even more into the world of children's literature. I greedily started actively buying children's books, studying all kinds of illustrators and how the field of book illustration works in general. I tried to understand how to make a career as an illustrator in general. How do they live and what do they do?

That same year, we moved from a small apartment in the suburbs to a townhouse and I got my own studio! That was a huge incentive to start working with large canvases. Right now I am in the process of establishing myself as an illustrator. I have a plan with big goals and part of the first canvases are just about getting there, finding my freedom and moving into a new phase of life.

I love working with simple stylized shapes, finding interesting compositional cues, and experimenting with graphic textures.

Art and design have been an integral part of me for a long time. If I don't create or draw anything for a few days, I go into withdrawal, as if life stops and I begin to feel the uselessness of my existence. But as soon as I start creating and get into the flow, I become infinitely happy and full of energy.

Gradually I am moving towards my goal of making art my main and only activity.
I am very much in love with design and everything related to it! It is an incredible field where there are no limits and no ceiling to development. Everything is interesting, everything wants to be tried and experimented! The only disadvantage of this sphere—life is not enough to try everything you want! Design and art change a person's thinking and attitude to life.
— Apollinaria Manko
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Phone: +375 29 564 62 89
E-mail: apollinaria911m@gmail.com