In this third instalment following my previous two posts showcasing “The Snow Queen” by the Ukrainian artist Vladislav Yerko and Belorusian Pavel Tatarnikov, we present a Ukrainian language edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless fairy tale illustrated by Galina Zinko (also spelled as Galya Zinko) and published by “White Owl” in 2021.
Zinko is a young Ukrainian artist, a graduate of the Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Arts, born in 1986. From an early age, she was fond of drawing and dreamed of illustrating “The Scarlet Flower” by Sergey Aksakov, a Russian tale similar in plot to “The Beauty and the Beast” by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Years later, this dream came true, and Galina’s first serious illustration project was “The Scarlet Flower,” which was an instant success with both children and adult readers.
Since then, Galina has worked on more than 30 classic and modern fairy tales, including “The Nutcracker,” “The Snow Queen,” “Thumbelina,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Cinderella,” and many others. She has also illustrated Lewis Carroll’s classics “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass,” as well as Russian classics such as “Lolita” by Nabokov and “Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare.
Galina’s illustrations have garnered widespread acclaim and have been exhibited at major international book fairs, including in Bologna, Frankfurt, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah. She has received numerous international awards, including at the “Image of the Book” illustration competition in Moscow.
Her versatility as an artist is evident in the variety of mediums she employs, including watercolours, linocut prints, and computer graphics, allowing her to bring a unique perspective and depth to each project she tackles. If you’re in Moscow, be sure to check out some of Galina’s work on display at the Ottepel Gallery, where she collaborates as a featured artist.
Galina is an artist who truly understands the importance of care and respect for the texts she illustrates. Rather than allowing her imagination to run wild, she takes a thoughtful and deliberate approach to her craft, resulting in breathtaking pieces that capture the essence of the characters and stories she brings to life.
In “The Snow Queen” Galina sees multiple layers of meaning and a confluence of myth, legend and fairy tale inspirations. Talking of myth she recalls the Ice Lady or Lady of Death and Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell, which is a frozen lake devoid of love and warmth. Legends inspiring Andersen were clearly those rooted in Christian beliefs such as those about Christ’s sacrifice to save the mankind. And when it comes to fairy tale aspects of “The Snow Queen”, its elements draw upon folklore where a personal quest and a journey to find a solution to a problem or to save a loved one are usually common themes.1
Galina’s style is instantly recognizable, with some describing it as “children’s gothic.” However, the artist herself prefers the term “magic realism,” which I believe perfectly captures the sense of wonder and whimsy present in her work. Her forms are flowing and her figures are elongated. Stunning headgear and jewelled embellishments add an extra touch of magic to her pieces, as seen in the beautiful fairy tale book covers shown below. In these covers, some of her characters resemble her appearance, adding a personal touch to the stories she illustrates. However, Galina denies intentionally making her characters resemble her appearance and tries to avoid it, focusing instead on bringing the characters and their stories to the forefront.
Her book launches are often accompanied by beautifully animated book trailers, like the one for this edition of “The Snow Queen”, which truly bring the story to life.
I often find that Galina’s characters seem to be performing on a theatre stage. In the illustration below, we meet Kay and Gerda, who are typically depicted as affectionate, sweet and playful children admiring their blooming rose garden, oblivious to the reader observing them. However, Zinko portrays both children standing stiffly, staring back at us with emotionless expressions and arms clasped behind their backs. It is as if their parents have instructed them to stand up nicely and greet the reader, and the children feel a bit awkward facing a stranger.
Speaking about her thought process when creating this illustration of motionless, as if frozen in time, Kay and Gerda, Galina refers to it symbolising the timelessness of myths and legends, which she sees as inspiring Andersen and imbuing his tale with its multi-layered meanings.
The Princess and her Prince, whom Gerda meets on her journey to find Kay, are also depicted in carefully thought-out sitting positions, with their facial expressions difficult to read and somewhat aloof. Gerda’s presence is hinted at by a small fragment of her red shoes at the bottom of the picture. These illustrations show that Galina Zinko not only illustrates the text but also makes her characters interact with the reader through eye contact.
In this book, many of the full-page illustrations depict characters who are looking back at the reader or are in moments of introspection or contemplation. The Snow Queen, the sorcerer woman from the Enchanted Garden, and the robber girl are all delicate and feminine.
As is typical in Galina Zinko’s work, each of these characters is wearing an elaborate and beautifully crafted headpiece. The old sorcerer woman’s floral hat would be right at home on a Paris Fashion Week runway, while the Snow Queen’s headpiece of white foxes is a creative nod to the fur hats worn in colder climates.
The Lapp woman is shown in traditional clothing worn by people in the North, and the robber girl is wearing a gauze veil and face cover reminiscent of Middle Eastern attire. These multicultural portraits are striking and imaginative. Along with the above double portraits of the children, they could almost stand alone as artwork in the Archibald Prize gallery.
The vignettes at the beginning of each chapter in this book serve to introduce elements and symbols that help to set the scene for the action to come.
One of the standout features of this book is the exceptional skill with which Galina Zinko has captured the emotions and thoughts of her characters through their eyes. As Russian writer Lev Tolstoy once said “Глаза — это зеркало души” (“the eyes are the mirror of the soul”) and this is certainly true in the case of these characters. The kind and wise gaze of the Lapp woman is full of warmth, while the icy cold stare of the Snow Queen is enough to send shivers down your spine.
Lastly, this edition of “The Snow Queen” comes with augmented reality interaction that brings certain characters and scenes to life on the screen of your mobile phone. Simply scan the QR code provided on the title page, and unlock the virtual entertainment that is sure to delight tech-savvy young readers. Some elements of it are alluded to in the animated book trailer embedded above.
All in all, this is a book that is sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who engages with it.
1 Based on Galina Zinko’s reflections on her research about Andersen and “The Snow Queen” and her illustration process for this book (recorded in an Instagram video @zinkogalia)