Croatian artist Željka Grobotek, aka Shutterstock contributor Zeljkica, finds inspiration in conceptual art, Biblical themes, and the pitfalls of modern life. Her hand-drawn illustrations embrace abstraction, darkness, color, and contrast, depending on her mood. Unlike many who create for stock, Grobotek came to Shutterstock through a different path, finding new life for works that originally served a different purpose. Her unique approach has earned her the title of our newest Shutterstar, so we caught up with her to find out more about how she started out and where her head is at these days.

What techniques or applications do you use to create your work?

I like to use ink and brush, black marker, or watercolors. Sometimes I paint tempura on foil, then scratch the surface to get an interesting kind of texture. Most of my work on Shutterstock was originally sketch drawings that I made years ago, as practice for the entrance exam at the Academy of Fine Arts. When I discovered Shutterstock, I used those sketches to make vectors. And, of course, I use Photoshop and Illustrator after scanning the images. In Photoshop, I clean each image up, then I prepare it for vectoring in Illustrator. I take my sketchbook with me everywhere, and whenever I have a spare moment, I free my mind and draw.

Sun illustration by Zeljkica

How long does it take you to create each image?

Since I created most of my images years ago, I can’t tell you the exact amount of time I spent making each one. I would say that a drawing can take me anywhere from half an hour to four hours. Vectoring usually takes about half an hour, and property releases/keywording can take a whole afternoon. I usually send in around 20 images per batch. Maybe when I buy a new computer, the process will be quicker.

Some of your images seem darker and more emotional. Do they have a deeper meaning?

Yes, but not always intentionally. I think they seem that way because of the influences reflected in my work. Unlike my abstract-pattern and background works, the figurative ones tend to reflect more melancholic feelings. When I draw human figures, for example, I always try to bring out the mood I’m currently in. As for the meaning, anyone can find their own in any work; it’s all about the eyes, heart, and mind of the viewer.

Abstract illustration by Zeljkica

What do you think makes your work different from everything else out there?

I think it’s that I don’t bother trying to make something commercial. My intention is not to sell a lot of work, but to sell valuable work. My motto is to “take it or leave it.” I’m very turned off by sterile art and design, copycats, and the idea of hunting for money. My work is mostly drawn freehand; when I first started sending it in, I didn’t think it would be approved. I just submitted my images just to see if they would pass. When Shutterstock accepted, I was very happy, because I felt free to do whatever I wanted, while getting paid for it.

What’s the most exciting thing that has happened to you as a result of your art?

I’ve loved drawing since I was a child, so the most interesting and exciting thing for me was just to become an artist. I was discouraged many times by other people, but I’m glad that I found friends and peers who encouraged me to do what I do. Sharing art is like speaking on a level that’s beyond regular speech, and communicating via art introduced me to people who share the same interests as me.

Owl illustration by Zeljkica

Is your work influenced by what’s popular with customers, or is it just what you want to create?

Sometimes I look at popular images and think, “Maybe I should make something like that so I can sell more of my work and make more money.” I’ve tried a few times to make more commercial works, like vector postcards with rose motifs, but it wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped. There were no downloads. It’s interesting, because works that I thought would never sell, and didn’t even want to submit, are my bestsellers. Maybe the world is saturated with images that are too similar and people are hungry for something new. So the short answer is that, at this point, my work is solely based on what I want to create. I think that’s one of the many differences between a designer and an artist. I like to think of myself as an artist.

Who are the artists who inspire you the most?

I’m inspired by grotesque medieval human sculptures and paintings, as well as artists like Hieronymus Bosch, Vincent van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, William Blake, Edvard Munch, and Mladen Stilinović. I like Piero Manzoni’s work Artist’s Shit, Manet’s Olympia, Andy Warhol’s Do It Yourself, and Massacio’s Expulsion from the Paradise. Other influences include Entartete Kunst, Laibach, Kandinsky’s book Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Oscar Wilde’s The Nightingale and the Rose, Dragutin Tadijanović’s The Ring, the Bible, Jesus, Miroljub Petrović, Peter Steele, the image of Norwegian singer Mortiis, dressing dolls I see everyday in shop windows, consumerism, and stereotypes. I’m also inspired by works that reflect Biblical end times.

Head Made of Wire illustration by Zeljkica

What’s your favorite thing that you’ve created?

I don’t know if I have a favorite thing that I’ve made. I think every artist likes to say that their works are their babies, and I like to think that’s true. I’ve made several works that were exhibited in galleries, including sketchbooks, digital prints, silkscreens, etchings, acrylic paintings, collages, oils on canvas, and pencil drawings. I guess my favorite thing that I’ve created is really my own world inside my head that can protect me from the perils of everyday life in the contemporary world.

Explore more of Grobotek’s work in her full portfolio »