Dace Sietina’s fantastical maps and charts are made with a scientific penchant for exploration and wonder. She attributes her obsession with stars and space to her last name, which means ‘Seven sisters’ or the star cluster ‘Pleiades’…
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
I love to stare at the stars at night, take a long walks in the fog and bike through open fields where cows or sheep are working their digestive system. I daydream a lot, I closely observe everything that catches my attention. Sometimes a five-minute walk can take me two hours. Nothing has more incredible beauty than our own surroundings. You can probably see all these characteristics in my work. I like to make a kind of an organized system in my drawings, that somehow it would make a sense why things are the way they are. Maybe you can interpret it as my urge to get rid off all the impressions my brain is keeping: so I kind of “file” them – like a doctor that files the case of patients.
Could you tell us a bit about your creative process, from the initial image or idea to the finished piece?
Often when I am doing photography, I don’t have a particular theme. For example: a photograph of a stones I found in France lead to the comic festival installation character. At first I was sketching a stone in pencil, then I painted it and afterwards I cut it from coloured paper. Because I liked the last version better than the others, I decided to use this image for an installation, which was then made from plywood panels.
How do you conceptualize/construct a piece? Do you think of it as a story, a snapshot, or an abstraction?
I like to frequently change the ways of my ways of working, otherwise I get bored with my results. So sometimes I just take a piece of paper and start drawing without knowing where it will take me. I also like to flip the page upside down, to see how things look that angle. For my stories, I always write about the topic first. Then I rewrite it, make it tighter, and then I make it even smaller: sometimes compressing it into just in one sentence or two. After this I start to draw, trying to capture essential things. For example: if the theme is revolves around a picnic, I also draw a stomach as separate thing. I try to challenge the reader: he has to think about what he sees and above all, what he feels, while reading my story. The story has to get under your skin and get absorbed in your system. That you think you vaguely understand it but when you have to explain to somebody what you see, it seems that your words aren’t enough to explain. It has to stay on the tip of your tongue: if this works for a few seconds, I’m satisfied already.
It appears pencil as a finished medium might be a recent material for you? What appeals to you most about working in pencil?
At the very beginning of my career, I used bright un-mixed colours in my work: I liked to create clear contrast with no nuances at all. Yet somehow after awhile, I became calmer in my visual language. I also realised that nuances are as important as contrast, because it has the power of comforting appeal. Now, I’m absolutely in love with pencils and its powerful but yet soothing ability to surprise me, while I’m working with them.
You are also very talented across many mediums – photography, animation, drawing, painting (plus what else have we missed?!). Do you have a preferred medium and why?
No, I don’t prefer any medium above others: every medium has its own language and sound. I find some challenging but it doesn’t mean I don’t like to use them. As a matter of fact, when the challenge occurs, I know I’m in the process of learning. Like as I said: the more languages you know, the richer you are and the same rule you can apply to the knowledge of a medium.
You also recently did a 3-week artist residency in Helsinki. What did you work on there and how does being in a state of temporary dislocation affect your creative process?
My dislocation felt absolutely perfect. I experienced many different things that left an impact on me. Every day, I had to take a ferry from Helsinki’s centre to the Suomenlinna island – the place of the residency. Seagulls followed the boat hoping to get some breadcrumbs but it was strictly prohibited to feed them. I had just gone grocery shopping and was feeling miserable because I felt like I was betraying the seagulls by not sharing my bread. All seagulls left but one: it floated above my head and I stared right into his eyes. We had such an intense eye-contact that I almost could see reflection of his whole life-experiences. After that I was so kind of ‘lost’: I couldn’t forget it, I still can’t – it was a short but very breathtaking moment. Oh, and about my work, I was working on the installation for a comic festival that was placed on the Lasipalatsi square: the work is about 2.5m high and 5m long.
Was there anything in particular you discovered in Finland that you’d like to share with the world?
In Helsinki, I met many good souls as well as exciting minds! I think that the local people are what makes Finland a real treasure.
Do you have a favourite subject matter? What’s the particular attraction?
I have always like to read, watch or listen about discoveries made in space. Weird creatures found in the depths of the ocean, also fascinated me for months. I love plants and any educational pieces about them: mammal-anatomy and their disorders, old-world atlases and ancient civilizations. I think those particular things attract me because of the scientific angle – exploration and explanation of how things work. Sometimes when I hear a song, I am setting up a kind of system in my head: an explanation or you may even call it a map from the information I hear. I guess it’s all about the senses.
You also publish under the name Nolandhead! Could you tell us the story behind that name?
Originally I’m from Latvia, but now I’ve been living for quite some time in the Netherlands. I realized that when I was visiting Latvia, I didn’t have a feeling of belonging there nor a full attachment to country nor people. Yet I also had this same feeling when I was in The Netherlands, therefore I became: NoLandHead, I was always somewhere in between. In the last year, this feeling has been changing: probably because I’m accepting things the way they are. Perhaps I should get rid off that name soon: I’m happy to be floating from one space to another.
Can you tell us about a favourite piece of yours, or a favourite creative experience?
I have difficulties to name a favorite piece, as a matter of fact: I don’t think I have it. But I do have a favourite creating process: I loved building an installation for Helsinki Comic festival this year. The process was very exciting, very physical as well, you know with an electric saw and sanding machines. It was an exciting moment, when the characters I made suddenly stood in front of me. Giant things. Some of them even bigger than I, standing in the middle of the square; staring into the world. It was a bit intimidating because normally my characters live on paper. I loved that moment, when I just could sit in between of my created characters.
Do you have any early memories of drawing or, what’s your first memory of an image?
I can’t remember me not drawing. I have always had many notebooks full with drawings and stories. My first memory of a drawing I made is of a potato head, accompanied with a little poem about why potato is happy to be eaten.
Quite a lot of your work features elements of science fiction or technology. Where do you suppose that interest comes from?
As I mentioned above, I love things that have a system, a chart or a map. Research is a big thing for me. Actually I believe you can map anything you want, even plastic garden chairs! Take a chair and zoom in or out, depending on your preference. Ask questions: ‘What is the chair made off?’ ‘Where was it made?’ ‘How many people made it?’ ‘What is its durability?’.etc. At the end, you create the chart of the plastic chair.
What have been some of your biggest influences and inspirations?
Byzantine and Medieval age. 18th and 19th Century educational plates. Hortus Botanicus. Ghost photography. Monsters. Microscope. Astronomy. Stones. Masks. Artists. Grandma. Costumes. Theater decors. Books. Dogs. News. Songs. Silence. etc.etc.
You’ve mentioned before a little black book where you write down your nightmares and dreams. Would you say it’s filled with mostly nightmares or mostly dreams? What other notebooks do you keep?
My black book is filled with nightmares and dreams. I don’t know, I haven’t counted yet how many nightmares I have had but I like you to believe there are more dreams than nightmares. I also have an ideas notebook, a sketch notebook, a ‘things that keep bothering my mind’ notebook, a ‘dried leaves and flowers’ notebook, a ‘text I write in reverse’ notebook…
Could you tell us about your recent exhibition in St. Petersburg?
Because 2013 was a Russia-Netherlands year [celebrating the countries relationship- CW] The Netherlands offered a program in Russia with a variety of economic, cultural and social activities. My colleagues and I were invited to take part in the Comic Festival in St. Petersburg. The exhibition was a wonderful experience, the whole festival was great: filled with amazing exhibitions of works from artist around the world.
What are you working on now? What can we look forward to from you next?
I’m working on my book but it’s still a little secret. I’m also making costumes at the moment and trying to set up the online shop.
Where can people get a hold of your work, or find out more about your previous projects?
Right or left-handed?
What was the last film you saw in the cinema?
I don’t remember any movies. They disappear from my memory as soon as they are finished.
What books are on your bedside table right now?
Picasso, Basquiat, Byzantium miniatures, Bauhaus, Symbols and sign encyclopedia, plant encyclopedia, Lucha libre, The Astronomy Atlas, 150 years of Photo Journalism, Honky zombie tonk by H.Wagenbreth, Kuš!, la Cruda and lots of National Geographic magazines.
Coffee, nicotine, or booze?
Favourite city in the world?
I prefer nature to cities.
Favourite city to draw/sketch/illustrate/create in?
Dace Sietina’s work appears in Issue 3 of Tiny Pencil: The Beast Issue… Monsters, Machines and Unnatural Things! Available to buy here.
This interview was brought to you by The Tiny Pencil – fine purveyors of the pencil arts.