For artwork that tells a convincing story filled with an enchanting sense of wonder the Ukrainian born illustrator Lev Kaplan should come at the top of your list. Each beautiful piece combines incredible realism through its fine detail, but blows you away with a light and magical touch. Traditional in feel, his work takes viewers away to new worlds that are just like our own but full of charm and expectation.
Now based in Stuttgart, Germany, Lev has over 25 years experience working in advertising agencies on animation, illustration, motion graphics and creative direction. All his experience in the agency world he brings to bear on his outstanding children’s books and commercial illustration work. From Phileas Fogg to The Brothers Grimm, his brushwork has illuminated some of the world’s best-loved and most imaginative stories.
The Northern Renaissance has been a big influence on Lev, and some of his favourites include Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rogier van der Weyden, Jan van Eyck and Hans Holbein. He also takes huge inspiration from the American realist painter Andrew Wyeth. While he paints, Lev often listens to audiobooks, but also enjoys Jazz piano and 1970s art rock like Supertramp, Pink Floyd and Genesis via his extensive collection of vinyl.
At the age of six, Lev began studying drawing and painting at a children’s art school in Lugansk, then part of the USSR and now in Ukraine. Later, he attended the Kiev National University of Construction and Architecture where he studied architecture alongside drawing, painting, sculpture, composition and art history.
When he receives a brief, Lev looks carefully at the concept and what the client wants, identifying the narrative that will underpin his piece. He renders in watercolour and coloured pencils on toned paper, and loves doing the detailed side of the work, using very thin brushes and tiny little strokes. “The details often tell more story than the whole picture,” he says.
Magic Realism is at the heart of Lev’s style. Imagine combining the traditional feel of Breugel’s paintings of the folk around him with the realism, depth and light touch of Andrew Wyeth, plus the magic of the story he’s illustrating, and you have a rough formula for Lev’s imagery. It’s the realism that convinces the viewer, while the ideas and emotions of the artwork take them away to a new and magical place.