When I was eight years old and growing up in communist Sofia, my teacher told my mother that I had no artistic talent, but she was going to give me an ‘A’ because I tried so hard in painting class. Out of sheer stubbornness I kept drawing every day and fell in love with the sound of a 2B pencil on a school textbook page. Soon that pencil became an extension of my dreams, and in college those dreams transformed into set designs. Every movie has its own particular challenges and artistic needs, so my role as a production designer is to communicate to the audience the director’s vision.
Maybe because English is my second language, I find words slippery and I rely on my drawings to best express my ideas. To do that I start drawing on a piece of vellum, and I play with light, space and proportions. I draw fast to avoid over-thinking, and as the pencil moves rhythmically, the design ideas crystallize. I lose myself in the process, which is now controlled by intuition and passion. My research plays an important part of the overall design; yet sometimes the end result surprises me because it’s different from what I intended to do at the start of my drawing. I also try to change my drawing style depending on the subject matter or genre, in order to capture the mood of the story.
One of the great pleasures of designing for Robert Redford is that he really loves paintings and sketches. He started as an art student at Pratt University, and can draw rather well. For THE CONSPIRATOR sketch, I wanted to capture the moment when Lincoln’s wounded body is carried out of the theatre and into the street. Some people are rushing to the scene as the news of the shooting spreads, while others are out on a stroll oblivious to the events. Lincoln was shot on Victory Day, and I wanted to show it through the celebratory flags.
The second sample is a color sketch from the HBO movie GREY GARDENS. I wanted to capture the bohemian, carefree style of Big and Little Eddie, as well as the 1930s period décor. During the creative process, the director, Michael Sucsy, and I decided to eliminate the flower wallpaper, and let the fabrics’ patterns be the accent. I love that my drawings are not set in stone, and that they are just one piece of the puzzle we call production design. This is an example of how my drawings are not set in stone; they are only the beginning of the design journey.
The sketches I create are not precious; they are a tool of communication with the director and the art team. I enjoy making them and I think of them as the first gate into the subliminal and emotional understanding of the script and its characters.