Art inspiration, contemporary impressionism and establishing a brand that genuinely cares for the artists. Let's take a look at the personal and professional life of the artist, creative director and co-founder of ZenART Supplies, Ardak Kassenova.
Ardak Kassenova is a London based contemporary artist, co-founder and creative director of ZenART Supplies. Her body of work consists of paintings rendered with loose, expressive and fast brushwork focused on capturing the effects of light on subjects like tastefully arranged flowers and natural sceneries. Her visual style-contemporary impressionism-share similar aesthetic qualities with those by the French Impressionists.
After 20 years of a successful corporate career, becoming a mother to two wonderful girls, and with the continuous development of her practice by taking private lessons and art inspiration from the best artists she could find; Ardak decided it's time to align her life with her true passion, Art. Driven by this passion and her corporate leadership background, she co-founded ZenART.
"My heart and soul were always with Art, and since my childhood as long as I remember myself, I have dreamed of being an artist. I was painting after work, when I had time, and teaching myself through the books, videos, visiting art galleries and museums. I've been very curious about different techniques and styles, and therefore accumulated knowledge and experience on a variety of mediums."
Ardak was born on the 1st of April 1979 at Almaty, the capital city of Kazakhstan during the time when the republic was still part of the Soviet Union. Both of Ardak's parents are distinguished academics. Her mother, Tamara Gissanova was a teacher and later the Head of Bibliography department at the National Medical University. Her father, Kanay Kassenov was a poet, inventor and activist who worked as a geologist and engineer.
Tamara, her mother, believes in the importance of education and has a natural talent of instilling curiosity and the love for learning. Not only did she support Ardak's education but all her relatives and grandchildren, too. She made sure that Ardak grew up loving and respecting books by surrounding her with reading materials, articles, art inspiration and tales. Kanay, her father, was born ahead of his time and was actively opposing the Soviet injustices-fighting to close the nuclear testing polygon in Semipalatinsk region of Kazakhstan, his birthplace. He wrote articles about ecological problems including the Semey Polygon, the drying Aral Sea, rational usage of water resources, and the issues of Kazakh language in Kazakhstan.
Zhuldyz Kassenova, Ardak's sister, is two years her senior and has always supported her. Zhuldyz encouraged Ardak to always have a positive outlook in life and taught her to truly believe in herself. Both Ardak and Zhuldyz are now excelling and making a name in their own chosen industries. Other than her businesses, Zhuldyz also launched her self-development programme "15 Steps to Zen," which aims to empower women to find their true purpose in life and balance in all aspects of life.
Ardak's grandparents were all survivors of the great Kazakh famine of 1930-1933 also known as the Goloshchyokin genocide, as well as the first and second World War. Despite all these hardships, her grandparents survived and thrived. In them, Ardak saw strength and courage and became one of her life-long inspirations. Teaching her the true value of hard work, gratitude, happiness from helping others and just enjoying each day as they come.
Art at an Early Age
Ardak's parents were very supportive of their children's artistic inclinations. As a result, everybody in her family was given the chance to hone many talents. Having an extensive home library within arm's reach, reading was not only a necessity for Ardak but a hobby she cherished. Her mother taught them how to systematically find information and work with the libraries at the time of no internet and no computers to easily look up something. All the information could only be found in printed books and journals. Ardak's mother being Head of the Bibliography department had access to a wealth of information and would bring home various resource materials to provide art inspiration and support the interest of her daughters.
Tamara also taught them how to do all kinds of creative projects like knitting, crocheting, modelling and sewing clothes, understanding the patterns and constructing them, embroidery, patchworking, cooking, and baking amongst others. They were encouraged to focus on their main priorities-studies, music school, sports and other extracurricular activities. And for her father, Kanay, arts were a matter of pride. He would always encourage his daughters to paint, sing, dance, play the piano, compose poems, play chess amongst other kinds of self-development.
As they grow older, surrounded by their parent's creative circle of friends-musicians, poets, writers, scientists and free-thinkers-Ardak and Zhuldyz had all the support and art inspiration they needed to practice arts. They were encouraged to go to art museums, concerts and since music played a big role in their lives, Ardak's mother, Tamara, subscribed to a special pass to the local philharmonic events for children that allowed the girls to attend weekly. Ardak's parents continued to provide ample space and time to practice, to find the classes with the best teachers, supplies, tools, and instruments to support their artistic inclinations.
A Life of Learning
At a young age, Ardak has shown an affinity for studying and excelling in whatever she puts her mind to. At the age of 4, she started writing poems in a notebook that she crafted by cutting and stitching together pieces of paper and later decorating the cover with collages made from postcards and magazine cut-outs.
When she was 5, her art teacher asked them to draw 'who they'd want to be in life' and Ardak, with no hesitation, and full of art inspiration, drew an artist. At the age of 6, as advised by her nursery teacher, Ardak started school a year earlier than children her age.
Ardak studied in the state school no. 24 in Almaty, Kazakhstan. During her primary school years, she was sent by the school to take part in the Republic Olympiad in Math, and won second place, earning her an invitation to be a member of the National Children's Maths Club. Nearing her last 2 years of studies, the school changed its status from a state school to private and became Liceum with some of the best teachers in the capital city under its belt.
Her parents worked hard and sacrificed a lot to give her the best education in the city. And because of her excellence the previous year, Ardak was awarded the only scholarship, making her the only student in the school who studied for free the whole year. In 1995, she accomplished a certificate in Accounting from the prestigious Kazakh State Academy of Management now known as Narxoz University in Almaty.
On top of her academic achievements and visual art pursuits, Ardak also graduated with merit from Music School No. 2 in Almaty, topping the class. She was a soloist of the choir, played the piano at the most technically difficult level and was very good in solfeggio and composing music. Her teachers prepared her to study at a conservatory and encouraged her to pursue a career in music.
However, due to the unrest caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union, and considering her exceptional performance in other subjects, especially in Math, Ardak's parents strongly suggested pursuing business and economics instead. A path that would give her an edge towards having a successful career and better, more stable earnings in the future.
It was no surprise then when Ardak received a full scholarship from the prestigious Kazakh State Academy of Management-now Narxoz University-and a government stipend for being the best student. The stipend was comparable to a small salary which afforded her to help her parents. In 1999, Ardak obtained a Degree in Marketing and Economics with merit, which helped her land her first well-paid job at the British Council.
While studying for her first degree, she was selected for the exchange programme at the Moscow State University, for the Department of Mechanics and Mathematics. Due to her parent's fear of being away too far, living alone in a big, tough city, she had to decline. This she admits to regretting, but it taught her a valuable lesson in life, to make her own decisions for her future and not be affected by other people's opinions and especially, their fears.
Her love for knowledge and self-development prompted her to self-fund her continuing studies in Glasgow, United Kingdom. This was a huge investment for Ardak, as not only did she have to pay international student tuition fees, she also had to take care of all her living expenses in the UK. The people in her circle couldn't understand why she was doing it, as she had already a good job and comfortable life. In 2005, Ardak gained her Master of Science degree in Information Management at the University of Strathclyde. This degree helped further her career progression.
"I believe that investment in education always repays, and it really opened more doors for me. I was constantly studying at the different jobs I did, and still do lots of self-study on any topic I'm interested in. I believe in life-long learning."
Ardak also completed courses on Product Design at UAL Central St. Martins, Figurative Life drawing at the Royal School of Drawing, Developing Artist Practice at UCL Slade School of Fine Arts, and masterclasses of Anastasia Shimshilashvili #artshima learning #shimamethod, in addition to other courses through different online platforms.
Her next target? Ardak wants to attend summer school at the Repin Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, when the situation with COVID will get better.
"For my parents, education and skills were more important than material possessions, and my father was always saying that 'materialistic things can be lost, stolen, damaged or deteriorated, but your knowledge, skills, and values are always with you, and you can always live a fuller life if you are creative and able to fulfill your dreams, that you can always re-create your life or re-discover yourself at any point of your life, as long as you are true to yourself and your ideas."
Art Practice as a Young Adult
Almaty, which was the capital of Kazakhstan is largely considered to be the heart and soul of the country's classical and popular cultures. Growing up in Almaty, surrounded by arts, Ardak successfully balanced her academic and extracurricular life. All throughout the years, Ardak made time to develop her practice and take arts-related classes after school.
Ardak's first clients were her classmates from both Liceum and the university, who commissioned her to draw their pencil portraits for the graduation album, which she endeavoured to complete in between breaks or after classes. She took part in art competitions, won a few prizes, was commissioned by her school and the university to make large-scale posters for various occasions using gouache paint or ink with extra-large tips. She did the lettering for the university department timetables and announcements among others.
Later in workplaces, Ardak also dabbled in concept designs for the logos, packaging and publications which, at that time, were completely unrelated to her main position. Art inspiration and encouragement were everywhere.
Art and Travel Life
As part of the Republic Children's Opera Theatre, Ardak and her sister Zhuldyz were chosen to participate in the Children Singing Festival and travelled to Moscow and Belgorod. Being part of a huge festival, meeting interesting people from different republics, making new friends, singing and showing their talents on a big stage was a great boost of confidence for the sisters.
Most of Ardak's international travel began later after she graduated from university. In 2000, she landed her first full-time job at the British Council. This prompted her very first trip to the UK, which she tremendously enjoyed. She visited London, Cambridge, took a course at Saffron-Walden, and fell in love with the British culture and all the art inspiration in London. She explored main art galleries and museums, took bus tours and wandered around the streets, armed with a little map book of London.
Since then, Ardak made sure to visit the UK once every year, and in 2004 decided to take a risk and continue her studies at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, where she earned her Master of Science in Information Management. Strange enough, one of the main reasons she chose Glasgow was because it was full of Charles Rennie Mackintosh' art and architecture, which was a big inspiration for her at that time.
Later, Ardak travelled more to explore different cultures and collect lots of positive memories and art inspiration for her paintings. To date, she's visited South Korea, Thailand, the USA, including Niagra Falls and Hawaii, Italy, Spain, Greece, Indonesia, China and Hong Kong, Germany, France, Switzerland, Turkey, Romania, Kyrgyzstan and others.
Out of all those countries, Italy was love at first sight for Ardak. Since she was very young, Italy had been on the top of her list but whenever she planned to go, something always came up that would require her to postpone her long-awaited trip. Call it serendipitous, chance, fate but since she met Roberto in 2008, Ardak has been to her beloved Italy many times than all other countries. Especially now that she has her Italian family to visit.
Love and Family
In July 2008, soon after Ardak moved to London, she met Roberto. Ardak and Roberto's love bloomed every day. They got engaged by the end of 2008 and in 2009, the couple exchanged their vows in three weddings surrounded by friends and loved ones-first in London, second in Kazakhstan, and third in Italy.
Though it took a while, in August 2013, Tamara, their first daughter came into the world. Ardak had to undergo two ivf-s to conceive which took a huge toll on her health. Roberto supported his wife and despite the post-natal depression struggle and strong hormonal imbalance Ardak turned to her family and lived an artful life. She joined an art club to meet fellow artists, and consistently draw in art inspiration, painted regularly and worked on developing her own visual style. In October 2015, Laura, their second daughter was born. Both Tamara and Laura are making the life of the parents even more joyful with their creativity and talents.
Now a mother to two beautiful girls and used to a life working in the corporate world, Ardak and Roberto decided to establish a company that they can run from home. Ardak created her own brand of art materials, a business that is true to her passion and vision.
Journey to Zen and ZenART Supplies
In 2015, because of the difficulty of going to physical art shops with a baby and a toddler in tow, on top of having to choose among thousands of options, quality issues, and all other struggles with art supplies, Ardak and Roberto added a 5th member of the family-ZenART Supplies.
ZenART Supplies is a family-run business, a brand that continues to endeavour helping artists fulfil their creative dreams and achieve best results first by using high-quality art materials at an affordable price, second, by guiding artists in every part of their artistic journey through useful resources and tutorials and lastly, by inviting artists to ZenART's vibrant online community of fellow artists supporting each other.
Ardak also made sure to work closely with other professional artists to design and create the best possible fine art tools. In this, she was guided by the advice from her art teachers, who were always encouraging her to use professional quality tools from the beginning, or as they say "the best fine art tools you can afford" because the quality of your tools and materials matter in taking the pain out of painting.
"ZenART is a journey to Zen-your harmonious self, calm and energised, through ART-the universal language of the soul, which speaks when your mind is quiet. Ardak personally considers art as a joyful meditative process. A process that brings about time to slow down and be mindful, content and be one with your true self."
The movement Impressionism has been a constant art inspiration for ZenART Supplies and Ardak's visual style. The rendering of quick short strokes and layers of wet paint on canvas all to capture where the light touches an object, a view. Let's take a look at some of Ardak Kassenova's works.
Poem by Ardak Kassenova
Creativity is something inside me
It's so hard to explain with your logic.
Creativity is what do you dream of
And it flies away or flicks back in second.
Inspiration is everywhere around us,
Keep your inner child curious, happy.
Think of art as an echo, expression
Of eternal soul's blissful whispers.
It comes late at night when it's quiet
When the whole world is sleeping and dreaming.
When accomplices are moon and my armchair
When I can't stop wild spirits inside me.
Keep awake my canvas and brushes
And exchange flows of energy currents.
It's the time when my mind is so silent
I dissolve in such mindful moments.
It can spread from dawn till the dusk time
And feeds hunger for my self expression.
Come and join the solitude wonder,
Capture life moments forever.
Say hello to our ZenARTist for December 2020, find @ardak_zenart on Instagram! What questions do you have for Ardak? Leave your comments below, we'd love to hear your thoughts!
- MEET THE AUTHOR-
Fabrianne is the Ambassador of Art Buzz at ZenART, resident eccentric pocket-sized art curator, editor, and art world liaison. She builds and develops relationships with the arts community and makes sure that ZenART's inspirational articles get to you "hot off the press." She co-founded an online contemporary art gallery, worked with over 100 artists on exhibitions and performances, wears only black clothes and when she's not creating buzz or curating and saturating in art, still daydreams of becoming a quirky Wes Anderson film character.