BY KATE WEXELL
Victoria Olt is a young Estonian artist, with her lineage coming from Estonia as long as anybody can trace. She was born in Estonia and lived there until she was thirteen. After that, she and her mother moved to Seville, Spain, where she received most of her schooling. She entered the University of Seville to study fine arts. After completing her degree, she moved to Madrid where she met her husband. After living in Madrid for two years, they moved to Amsterdam, and currently reside in the small island nation of St. Kitt’s and Nevis. Her art portfolio is mainly filled with contemporary paintings that “blend abstraction with figurative portraits.” Because of the ethereal beauty and vibrant color of her paintings, she has gained a wide social media following, having accrued over 48,000 followers on Instagram. These paintings are found in many private and public collections across the world.
Childhood in Estonia
As a child, Victoria grew up in her homeland of Tartu, Estonia. Estonia is a small European nation that rests between Finland and Russia. In modern history, Estonia has gone through great turmoil. Shortly after WWI, they achieved independence from Russia after a 200-year reign, but were annexed by the Soviet Union again in 1940. They didn’t gain their independence again until the dissolution of the Soviet Union 1991.
In the present day, Estonia has its own distinct culture. “Estonia is quite small (only 1.3 million people live there), yet it has its own language, making it really tight knit. There’s also a lot of nationalism and pride in their fellow Estonians,” Olt commented. She noted that much of the nationalism was positive and was derived from the multiple independence days that Estonians celebrate. With that being said, she didn’t identify much with her culture as a child, since she thought it was “uncool,” and she “wanted to be like the people in movies.”
Estonia is known for being the most atheist country in the world. Because of this, Victoria said that she didn’t celebrate many holidays as a child, but she described a Christmas tradition akin to the customs of St. Nikolaustag in the neighboring nation of Germany. “In Estonia during the month of December, children put their slippers on the windowsill overnight, and in the morning, Santa’s little helpers will have left a gift in their slipper. It’s usually candy, but can also be pencils, books, or other knick-knacks. I think it’s quite a sweet tradition, and it makes kids look forward to a time of the year that’s really quite dark and miserably cold.”
She was also particularly fond of Martinmas, which is another name for St. Martin’s Day. Because Estonians haven’t historically had an interest in organized religion, they have instead worshipped nature and spirits in the past. According to Olt, Martinmas is similar to the old pagan Halloween. “It celebrated the end of sowing and the beginning of winter. On this day, children disguise themselves as monsters, but not in costumes like vampires. Instead, they rub dirt in their faces and wear fake yellowed teeth and backwards clothing, or they dress with animal features. Instead of the neon reds that Western Halloweens feature, their costumes contain more browns and dark colors in their costumes. The children go from door to door singing songs and telling jokes or otherwise performing in exchange for sweets.” Although it was traditionally a holiday for boys, Victoria stated that Estonians had already made it more inclusive by the time that she was born.
Life as an Artist
When she was thirteen, Victoria Olt and her mother moved to Spain. Having only spoken Estonian, she didn’t know how to speak Spanish while she went to school there. Because she couldn’t communicate with her classmates, she took to drawing stick figures on her nails. After her first doodle, she received a compliment. The next week, she drew something more elaborate and was complimented again, which was a process that would repeat several times until she began focusing on developing her nail painting skills.
Victoria managed to create complex scenes on her nails with polish, including comic book characters, winter scenes, and zodiac designs, so she decided to start a nail art blog entitled “Brush me Blush” in 2012. In 2014, she suffered a terrible burn on her index finger and couldn’t post photos of her nails until the burn healed. Because of this, she started painting on paper and never returned to nail art. “If you pay attention, you can really see my origins in my paintings. I still largely shade the same way I learned to shade using nail polish, and I use shiny and bright metallic paints along with glitter and metal leaf, all of which I probably would have been more hesitant to use if I had come from a more traditional art background.
Olt stated that “where I’m from, people don’t really have any interest in art, so it was magical to find people that did appreciate it.” She hadn’t been certain about wanting to become an artist before, and she was hesitant about whether she’d be accepted into her desired university. Once she got into the University of Seville, her path as a professional artist started to become solidified. Even as she was studying in university, she was planning to earn her degree and have a “normal job,” leaving art to be a side hobby. “Luckily, it worked out better than that,” she said.
During university and out of personal curiosity, Victoria worked with a plethora of different mediums, including: pencils, oil pastel, watercolor, acrylic, nail polish, marker, sumi-e, oil, egg tempera, encaustic, gouache, airbrush, scratchboard, embroidery, woodcut, linocut, collagraph printmaking, etching, and sculpture. She has described that she enjoys picking up a new medium and mastering it, though she recognizes that most of her work is done using watercolor. “I’ve almost always been working with multiple mediums at a time, but it happens that one of them is usually watercolor and that’s how I’ve ended up making so many watercolor paintings. As soon as I feel like I’ve mastered a technique, I lose interest in it, but for some reason I’ve always stuck with watercolor. I guess it challenges me like no other. I like the unpredictability of it. Most mediums are so straight-forward. Every color remains the same and in the same place as where you put it. It doesn’t work like that at all with watercolor.”
While she was studying, she first started making money selling paintings, but as her career progressed, she never had to transition to a regular job from art. When she completed her degree, she simply continued painting, and developed a distinct style. Most of her subjects are vibrant and female, with a focus on the subject paired with an abstract background to blend realism in portraits with color and surrealism. “I like to combine the two styles because I feel that it makes the process of painting like an allegory for life. I always start with the abstract parts, and then depending on how the paint dries, I choose how I want to paint the portrait. To me, the flowing abstract ink represents everything about life you can’t control, and the realism I paint on top of it represents what you do with what life gives you.” Victoria views her art as creating windows into the human soul, exposing all the endlessly complicated emotions we try our best to hide. Her paintings offer solace to whoever needs it, and help find a sense of belonging in an otherwise perplexing universe.
In 2016, she started an Instagram account to share her paintings. At first, she began with older pieces, but quickly grew a following. Now, she has over 48,000 followers and an online store where she sells original paintings and homemade paint collections. Victoria frequently engages with her fans, and has even hosted community challenges such as “Mythober” in 2020, which was a challenge to paint 31 creatures from different myths or folklore.
Now, she hopes to publish her own book with a collection of her mythical paintings. “I wanted to challenge myself to make paintings with more elements and that could tell a story. But other than that body of work, most of my paintings are about mystifying the small things that make everyday people feel special. I have a big fascination with the infinite little complexities of people, so I don’t really feel all that compelled by fiction.”
With that being said, she also portrayed life as a full-time artist as being difficult. “It is still hard to make a living as an artist,” she said. “If you’re looking into art as a possible path for your life, you just have to be ok with working a lot. When I was just starting, I used to work from 11am- 2 am seven days per week. I would wake up, do some painting, shower while that dried off, do another layer of painting and have breakfast, then paint another layer, and so on. I’d fit every normal life thing into the gaps where something had to dry. I haven’t taken a day off work in six years, not even for my wedding. So yes, it is possible to make a living off of art, but it’s a very low wage per hour of work, and you have to be alright with that.”
Within the past year, she has also become enamored with creating her own paint and hopes to return to different mediums and techniques in the future and make a good-sized body of work with each. After finishing her book of myths, she is also interested in creating a solo show that is a series of paintings representing her heritage.
Saint Kitts and Nevis
During her adult life, Olt has been fortunate enough to travel, experiencing lantern festivals in Japan and other interesting holidays. One that was particularly notable to her was Sant Jordi, or St. George’s Day, which is a holiday from Catalonia. It is very similar to the English holiday of Valentine’s Day. Traditionally, men give the women roses, and women give men books. She also appreciates the Estonian equivalent of the holiday, which is a much more neutral “Friend’s Day.” This is a day where you show your friends how much you appreciate them. It only draws in romance if somebody chooses for it to do so.
After selling art in Seville, Olt worked in Madrid and Amsterdam before moving with her husband to a studio on the islands of Saint Kitts and Nevis. This island nation is the smallest sovereign state in the Western hemisphere, composed of the two islands of Saint Kitts (the larger island) and Nevis (the smaller island) in the Caribbean. Overall, the islands only make up one hundred square miles and have a total population of 50,000 people. Nevis, where Victoria lives and works, only has a population of about 10,000 people.
“It’s different from any other place I’ve lived in because it’s very tiny and it’s a third-world nation. The way of life here is very different than what I was raised with. Mainly, it’s made me feel very fortunate to have been born European. Even though my country was poor and occupied for most of its history, it has become a developed nation in my lifetime. For the people here, it’s infinitely harder to progress in life. Food is expensive and salaries are low. Good education and even healthcare are very hard to find, and both power and water are shut off at random. So even though I wasn’t born in the first world myself, it really makes me feel fortunate that growing up we could always afford food and medicine.”
Here’s how you can find Victoria Olt-