As crazy and chaotic as modern life is today, our passions somehow manage to find their way through the noise, no matter how long we ignore them. At least such was the case for Klaudia Penkwit. This is the story of her artistic journey, wherein she discovered her love of drawing, abandoned it for the trappings of “normal” life, then reignited the fire that laid dormant for far too long. It’s a story with which many artists can relate because, as easy as it sounds, “follow your heart and do what you love,”isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Klaudia doesn't recall the exact age she started drawing and making art. "I was drawing for as long as I can remember," she told me. Such is the typical case for many of the passionate artists I meet.
Raised in Poland, Klaudia moved to Germany with her family at the age of nine, and when she was 14-years-old, she bought her first digital drawing tablet.
“It wasn’t anything fancy,” Klaudia told me, “like with a screen or anything. Not like the Wacom Cintiq I have now. But it kind of opened the gates to this whole digital art thing.”
At about the same time, the internet was just becoming widely accessible to everyday people.
“I can still remember the horrible sound that the internet modem made when you’d log on,” says Klaudia. “But even so, it was really quite exciting to have access to a vast amount of artwork from people from all around the world. Things that I probably would have never seen otherwise. And that inspired me to be more thoughtful, and really start thinking about what I want to do with my future.”
Klaudia dove into the world of art online and began exploring the idea of formal art education.
Unfortunately, as often happens in life, dreams get put on the back burner.
Despite her desires, attending art school just wasn't possible for Klaudia at that time. And although drawing was her passion, she had to take a rain check on her dream to pay the bills. "I had to give up the dream because, financially, I just couldn't really afford it," Klaudia told me.
To make ends meet, Klaudia took up a job as a temp, which eventually led into a full-time job on one company’s production floor. What started as a temporary gig to pay the rent turned into a permanent path for her career. And by late 2016, Klaudia felt that this path couldn’t be any further from her aspirations.
“My life was heading in a completely different direction than I’d always hoped for and imagined,” says Klaudia. “I was really down about it. I hadn’t really been drawing a lot for the last five years since I’d started working.”
She was tired and depressed, working long hours in a highly demanding industry. She was mentally and physically drained on a daily basis. Klaudia was on the verge of a burnout.
"At the end of 2016 I actually started to get mild panic attacks," Klaudia told me, "and I actually had to take antidepressants just so I could make it through the day without crying, having stomach aches, really just to get by. And that's when I kind of knew that this was only a solution for now just so I could make it through the days and through the next weeks. That way I could really think about how and what I was going to change in my life."
Being away from the drawing board affected other parts of Klaudia’s life as well, notably by severely damaging her relationships with those close to her.
"I was a miserable person for the whole time when I couldn't be creative," Klaudia told me, "and it affected my relationship with my boyfriend, but also to my friends and just my general mood every day."
By early 2017, Klaudia had had enough. “That’s when I decided to change my life,” she said. “I was fully prepared to actually quit my job if they hadn't approved me reducing my hours.” Luckily, Klaudia’s boss empathized with her plight. Klaudia was given a new, part-time work schedule in a different role.
With an uncertain and exciting challenge ahead, Klaudia finally had space in her life to follow her heart and start a new creative journey. And it didn't take long to realize what a profound effect creativity made in her life and relationships. Suddenly, no more panic attacks.
“Since 2017 I started doing Instagram and drawing pretty much every day,” Klaudia says. “I'm just trying to improve as much as I can and make up for the time that I lost. So that's where I am now. Trying to catch up!”
It's important to note that Klaudia didn't pick the "nuclear option." As in, she didn't quit her job, even though she was willing too. Instead, she pitched a new arrangement to her employer, and they went for it. That's because while Klaudia is hyper-aware of the importance of balance.
Klaudia's beautiful home workspace, bathed in natural light.
“Focusing only on drawing and neglecting your social or work life is just another unnecessary extreme,” Klaudia says. “You can’t just paint and draw all day and not relax with your friends.”
From this perspective, it's also essential to Klaudia that she set some constraints on her art. Often, she'll set a limit of a few hours per drawing to avoid "overdoing it" and ending up with an undesired "plastic look" to her work.
With constraints in place, Klaudia strives to improve and do better work all the time. She says she is still working on finding her own style and that she really wants to achieve a more consistent and “curated” look.
"I think it's really funny when people tell me that I have a style," Klaudia told me, "because I still really can't see it. I mean, I know, and I kind of do. I draw some things a certain way, but I am still feeling like I'm struggling. Maybe because I had this long break and now I just feel like I want to try out all of these different things that I missed out on just because I didn't have the time."
As such, Klaudia is mostly agnostic towards her tools during this experimentation phase. And while Klaudia is very happy with the convenience of the iPad, including the ease with which she can edit and change her drawings, she finds beauty in the imperfections and the more natural look of traditional painting.
“I want my digital work to look like my traditional work,” says Klaudia. “So I'm always trying to find a way where I can use similar colors and similar approaches to both. That way I can maybe, eventually have this one technique or one style that works for both traditional and digital.”
Perhaps this is why, when asked for some advice for aspiring digital artists, Klaudia says they should start analog.
"I think it's a lot easier when you already know what you're doing in traditional mediums," says Klaudia. "Like if you already know how to use a pencil, and you're already pretty good at drawing and then start with digital it's probably a lot easier. That's because if you start out with digital, then you get really used to pressing the undo button."
This gets back to something we touched on earlier: constraints. This may just be my opinion, but real art has limitations. The fewer constraints you have, the more difficult it often becomes to produce great work. The more constraints, the better the work. For example, this article about Klaudia shouldn't be a book. What's more, you shouldn't spend a hundred hours perfecting one piece of artwork.
After a successful start with Instagram (now at 83.5k followers; 5K more than when we talked two weeks ago), Klaudia wants to start selling prints of her work. However, she’s reluctant to offer her work on print-on-demand platforms.
“You can’t really be sure of the quality,” she says. “I don’t know what people will get, and this makes me nervous.”
This demonstrates Klaudia's approach to quality over quantity. She would rather take her time and make something truly great instead of doing anything to fill up space. As such, she is slowly building a new website and experimenting with small print runs.
When we look more closely at her story, there is a consistent theme throughout Klaudia's journey. And that's balance. By trusting her authentic self, Klaudia was able to find the right balance between work and art, between art and friends, and between digital and traditional. Perhaps it's that balance that's helped her reach the point where she thoroughly enjoys her life and is genuinely content.
“If you have something in your life that's your passion,” says Klaudia, “then you definitely understand how empty and unhappy it feels when you can't do it. There will never be the right time to follow your dreams. You can make all kinds of excuses, but the feeling that you’re not doing the thing you love will never go away.”