New Zealand: Wellington and Queenstown

In November 2013, I put my painting on hold for a couple of weeks and traveled to a place that has been on my list for years: beautiful New Zealand.

While it has always been on my “someday” list, 2013 pushed it into my “now” list. My second cousin from Russia, Sergey (who is in his 20’s and whom I have not seen since he was a toddler) picked up a year-long gig, working for a Russian Embassy in Wellington. Thus, perfect time to travel to Middle Earth presented itself: I had to go there and reunite with a relative, of course! Promptly, Kurt and I purchased our airfare.  And after 22 total hours of flying time, we were there.

We started off at Wellington, where we met up with Sergey and explored the capital for a couple of days. Our explorations included a fascinating free tour of New Zealand Parliament (a must!), museums, a street food festival, a Balkan band concert, miles of walking, driving around nearby coastline, and hiking up a few hills.

From Wellington we flew to Queenstown, New Zealand’s “adventure central”. The natural beauty of this place is just stunning.  This, for example, was a view from our hotel deck:

When visiting “adventure central” you must start off with adrenaline-inducing adventure, of course! Queenstown area offers so, so many options, but a free fall into a canyon has long been on my bucket list – hence it was time for the Shotover Canyon Swing! Here is how Canyon Swing works: you free fall off a platform for 60 meters, and then, hanging over a river, you swiiiiing! Like a big pendulum.

I admit, I was a little nervous during the 15-minute ride to the canyon, but I practiced my jump in my head many times, so it was going to be ok. That feeling of “ok” lasted until I got harnessed up, stepped to the edge, and looked down. Around the same time, the skies opened up, and a downpour started. And so – my legs froze and refused to move. I was being told that it was safe to go, my logic agreed, but all the instincts in my body were screaming – no way! I even asked one of the guys to give me a push, but he told me: “You’re on your own, lady”. So, timidly, I jumped forward. Whoa!!! There is nothing, nothing like a feel of free fall into a rapidly approaching ground. It was amazing. And that downpour? During my flight, I never even noticed it.

If you have gone this far, you may as well do a second jump – right? – so my second free fall was done “backwards”. This time, while falling, I looked up at a rapidly diminishing jumping platform, an equally thrilling rush. And then the rush is over, and you swing over a river surrounded by stunning beauty, without a care in the world, and you wish you could bottle that feeling and keep with you forever. Sergey chose to fall into a canyon while “sitting” on a plastic chair. (Yeah, they have that jump option available too. Those guys are insane). Kurt preferred to just take our flying photos, and maybe collect my life insurance. (well, that second plan failed, clearly).

Queenstown adventure continues: the following day, we booked a scenic flight to Milford Sound. We went in a tiny 6-person plane, operated by Glenorchy Air. Flying over New Zealand fjords, in such proximity to mountaintops, was jaw-dropping.

In Milford  Sound, we cruised all the way to the ocean and back, and then – my favorite part – Milford Sound kayaking. Kayaking got even more magical – as we spotted several Fjordland Crested penguins casually cleaning their little wings and then jumping into water after some fish. These are some of the rarest penguins in the world, and to see them while KAYAKING – most likely a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence!

The rest of our time in Queenstown land was allocated to beautiful hikes.  In the evenings hiked the  Queenstown Hill track ,  part of Ben Lomond Track, and then spent a long day walking up and back down of the Routeburn track portion in Glenorchy area.

And after Queenstown area, we headed up the South Island coast. Go here to read Part 2 of my New Zealand trip review!

OC Atlanta Network Anastasia Mak

OC Atlanta Network magazine cover

I’m very honored to have my “Atlanta” painting image published on the cover of OC Atlanta Network magazine September issue, along with the article inside. I used to live in Atlanta from 1995 until 2002, and still visit regularly, as my mom and dad live in the metro area. This “Atlanta” painting depicts the skyline as I remember it, with the city light bouncing off the sky, and the neon sign of its landmark fast food joint – The Varsity – flashing brightly in the foreground.

OC Atlanta Network Anastasia Mak

OC Atlanta Network Anastasia Mak

Bucktown Arts fest poster Anastasia mak

Bucktown Arts Fest 2013 poster

Super excited to be this year’s winner of Bucktown Arts Fest 2013 Poster Contest!

I have done this festival for so many years – 9? 10? – I’ve lost count. It takes place during the last weekend of August in Chicago’s happening Bucktown neighborhood, and is one of my favorite events of the year. It feels more like a big party including artists and patron friends, many of whom I have known for over a decade. As locals know, a goat symbolizes Bucktwon, and I am very proud that my goat will be advertising the festival this season.

This poster design combines “City Goat” acrylic on canvas painting with graphic design by yours truly.

Bucktown Arts fest poster Anastasia mak


Waveland Bowl art decor by Anastasia Mak!

Just recently I wrapped up a project that involves the most UNUSUAL use of my artwork to date!

Waveland Bowl art by Anastasia Mak

The images of my Chicago paintings got purchased and installed as masking panels over FORTY BOWLING LANES at Chicago’s largest bowling center – Waveland Bowl. Yep, from now on, when you go there, you’ll be throwing your ball under my paintings (well, prints of my paintings) – so I do hope it helps your aim!

Waveland Bowl art by Anastasia Mak

The artwork panels were printed by Chicago-based studio, Marshall Productions.

Waveland Bowl art by Anastasia Mak

I also have to add, the Waveland Bowl owner, Gary, was such a joy to work with. This may be a large facility, but they are a true Chicago family business.

Waveland Bowl art by Anastasia Mak

My bowling skills are very rusty, but it is time to put them to use again. We have a couple of bowling outings scheduled next month – can’t wait to return there!

Graffiti in Southern Spain

When people ask me what inspires my paintings, I can’t just name one thing, or one artist anymore. Yes, back in my very-very young days it was Dali, and Van Gogh, and such masters; but now a variety of things, like alignments of buildings along a street, or certain colors in the sky, or even a melody can create a cocktail of inspiration inside my head.

One thing I very often name though is graffiti I see when I travel abroad. Graffiti (or, street art) in certain countries is painted with such freedom, such creativity – and Spain has never disappointed in that regard. After all, stores in Barcelona hire graffiti artists to go to town on their metal doors so that pedestrians have something to gaze at along the quiet streets after stores close.

A few days ago I have returned from a wonderful trip to Southern Spain (particularly, Seville, Cordoba, and Granada). Here are some pictures of great wall / sign / gate embellishments I’ve collected during my time there.

(…Ok, this very first image is not graffiti. This is Jesus on a wall of a church in Sevilla. But what a beautiful street image nonetheless!)


Pathway services mural by Anastasia Mak

Pathway Services entrance mural commission

It was a wonderful experience to travel to Jacksonville, IL earlier this month for a mural project. Pathway Services, Unlimited is a great organization that provides opportunities, activities, and other types of assistance to individuals with developmental disabilities and other physical or mental challenges. The organization has recently expanded and moved into a brand new building. So they wanted to brighten up their entrance wall.

Through Jacksonville’s Imagine Foundation, I was commissioned to travel downstate for a few days and create this mural. The design was my own and came from a couple of recent paintings of mine. The mural was painted with latex wall paints.

Total painting time added up to about 30 hours, and it was HARD work. In the end of my 3 painting days my arms and back were quite sore and I was slightly dizzy from the paint fumes. But the project was SO VERY rewarding. People who work at Pathway Services are the nicest, friendliest bunch. And to watch their clients faces light up with a smile when they approached my developing mural was priceless. Thank you, Pathway, for this incredible opportunity!

Here is the completed mural (my apron kinda goes with the design, eh?):

And all the progress photos, starting with the sketch:

Pathway services mural by Anastasia Mak

Pathway services mural by Anastasia Mak

Pathway services mural by Anastasia Mak

Pathway services mural by Anastasia Mak

Mural front page news Anastasia Mak

Mural Front Page News in Journal Courier

The big mural that I am painting in the entrance of Pathway Services Organization has been documented by Journal Courier newspaper of Jacksonville, IL. This is what happens when you travel to paint a mural in a small town – you make front page news! (it was a bit awkward to pose for the photographer, so… I just kept working!)


Mural front page news Anastasia Mak

“With Respect” Radio Interview

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of driving around the lake to southern Michigan, where I met up with a radio host John Smietanka and recorded an hour-long With Respect radio interview in his station in Three Oaks.

John and I met after he stopped in my booth at Krasl Art Festival in St Joseph, MI earlier this summer. John’s also an attorney, and he annually travels to Czech Republic, where he educates Czech and Slovak lawyers about American legal system. We had a great little chat about Eastern Europe, and he then invited me to be a guest on his program, titled “With Respect”.

I have never done a radio interview before, and have to admit I was a little nervous at fist. After all, I can’t show my art on the radio, AND have that weird Ukrainian accent! But, as we started talking, the nervousness dissapeared rather quickly and was replaced with my eagerness to tell stories. It was partly due to John’s interview style – he is a wonderful host, and immediately puts you at ease. In the end, I had so much fun doing this, that an hour flew by before I knew it. We have even been discussing recording a “Part 2.”

Here is the link to the invterview:

“With Respect” hosted by John Smietanka with guest Anastasia Mak

And this is John giving me a mini-tour of Three Oaks:

Interview will also air on Sunday, September 2, at 11 am EDT and Thursday, September 6, at 10 am EDT on

2011 Lakeview East Art festival promotion with “Owls Over Windy City”

Now that the Lakeview East Art Festival is over, I wanted to share all the photos of this year’s promo, in which they used my artwork to advertise the 2011 fest. I have been posting many updates about this on Facebook, but for those of you who don’t (yet) follow my FB art page (you probably should:, here is a little pictorial summary of where the Owls have appeared in Chicago.

I was very honored that the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce selected my “Owls Over Windy City” painting for this year’s promotion. The selection of this image, I think, was very fitting with the reason of why this piece was originally created. (read about it here). Anyhow, its been so much fun to spot the Owls around Chicago in various print forms (starting with the Gay Pride Parade in June, which also takes place in Lakeview East). Here’s a photo gallery of many places where the Owls have “landed” this summer. And thank you everyone who came out to the festival, and thanks to my customers for all your support!

Owls on Chicago Gay Pride Parade float:



Owls lurking behind DJ of the Pride Parade float:



Owls on Lakeview East street billboard:



Owls on Lakeview East light posts:



More Owls on light posts:



Light post banner up close:


Owls landed on the bus stop:


Owls behind stage at the festival:


San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

March came and went, and with it a scary thing happened: I
turned 30. Well, maybe not so scary, but still – thirty! I’m not used to saying
that number yet. As Chicago tends to have still cold and glooomy weather in
March, it became my annual habit to take a mini vacation and celebrate my
birthday elsewhere – and this year we descended down to Mexico, specifically –
San Miguel del Allende.

For the last several years, during Chicago’s Bucktown Art
, I had the pleasure of exhibiting across Berit and Pat, the owners of
J.P. Wilds Jewelry. They spend half a year, during the art festival season,
based in Madison, WI, and the other half – in their home in San Miguel. They
have been inviting us to visit them in Mexico for a few years, and we finally
took them up on their gracious offer!

A few years ago, we visited Guanajuato – a neighbor/sister
city of San Miguel, and this time I knew to expect another town full of charm,
sun filled streets, fresh tortillas, and bright colored houses. San Miguel is
situated in a dessert, so the landscape and vegetaion here is somewhat similar
to Phoneix, AZ area – but because of its higher elevation, San Miguel has more
temerate climate with fewer blazing hot days.

The house of Berit and Pat is so cozy, and so beautifully Mexican.
On our first evening here, they put me to work  (well, I offered to help!) – with preparing some raw
vegetable-based crackers that they sell to a neighborhood organic foods store.  These crackers get dehydrated
overnight, and in the morning they are ready for delivery and so delicious,
that I had a hard time not eating more than just a few of them.

What I always loved about Mexico is that it is so close, but
yet so far. The flight is easy, but it trasports you into a different world –
much more slow paced, with less rules and regulations, bright, sunny, and
always friendly. The crackers don’t have to be approved by any FDA to be sold
in a corner store, either.

The day after arrival was my birthday, and we set out to
explore the town. In the center of San Miguel is a zocalo (or, el jardin – as
locals refer to it) and the absolute gem of the city is the pink granite Cathedral (official name – Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel), which
was built in 1800s, apparently from a european postcard photo. The church’s pink color changes its shade with sunlight. 

Across from el jardin is a Starbucks – yep, even authentic
San Miguel couldn’t escape it, but this one wins the prize of being the most
gorgeous Starbucks I have ever visited. Very colonial décor, with a big
coutrtyard – wow. 

San Miguel is not large and is very easy to navigate. It is
in a valley, with some very steep streets going outward. The town is also full
of American expats (who significantly drove up the real estate prices in the
area) – and it is amusing to watch the retired ones lazily move about the town
from el jardin, to a coffee shop, to a restaurant, only to repeat the same pattern
on the following day. Below are some street shots from our explorations.


San Miguel is also full of artists – many immigrated from the States, but there is also a lot of authentic Mexican
talent. A short walk from Pat and Berit’s home, there is Fabrica La Aurora – a
big warehouse building that is an old textile factory that has been converted
into art galleries and artists’ studios. We spent a few hours here, exploring.
I enjoyed looking at so many paintings, and should have taken more photos. Here
is some art by Juan Ezcurdia, one of the
resident artists of Aurora who made quite a name for himself in San Miguel.

To watch the sunset, Kurt and I lounged in one of several
bars near Jardin that have a rooftop deck, with some mandatory birdthay drinks!

For birthday dinner, the four of us drove outside of the
city to Da Andrea – an italian restaurant operated out of a huge La Landeta hacienda which is
known for its excellend food. Da Andrea doesn’t have a menu – the chef verbally
tells you what he is preparing that day. This lady was actually making our
ravioli and gnochi from scratch!!!

Needless to say, the restaurant did not disappoint – it was
a perfect birthday! (with some appetizing sunburn)

The following day, we drove to swim in La Gruta – a series of outdoor pools and waterfalls fed by thermal hot springs just outside of San Miguel. I did not bring my camera there since
the plan was to be soaking in mineral-rich water all day. The greatest thing about La Gruta
springs is the grotto – a huge cave where you can relax in the warmest water. Trust me, this place is worth a visit!

Another day, another adventure. We wanted to spend a day
riding bikes through the surroundings, and Pat, who goes biking regularly,
gathered a fun group to show us the area. So, we rented some wheels. We started biking on the paved highway leading out of San Miguel, but
followed them off road and stayed on dirt roads for the rest of the day. My
butt, but being used to dirt road bike seat abuse, protested, but the pain was
worth it. We saw some Mexican country life that no tourists usually get to see.
For example, how often do you bike in the middle of nowhere and find an 18th century abandoned church??


And here is the abandoned church’s ceiling, you can still make out the original designs.


Here is a bridge that we crossed over a river, that is actually old railroad tracks:

Here is an encounter with a farmer and his “family.” The
cows and sheep didn’t know rules of the road, but we eventually got around them.


We biked through a town called Atotonilco, a small village with only one mail street, which is famous for its
beautiful white-washed pilgrimage church. I was interested in the fame of this tiny town and a Google search brought me to, which says this about Atotonilco church:

“Thousands of Christians come each year to participate in religious exercises such as sleeping in stone cells on cold rock floors, crawling around the perimeter of the shrine on bare and bloody knees, wearing crowns of thorns, and flagellating themselves with whips. This is done for a variety of reasons. Many of the pilgrims feel they must experience some of the pain they imagine Christ felt during his carrying of the cross to hill of Golgatha, and his subsequent hanging on the cross. Local history recounts that from 1880 to the present times as many as 100,000 people a year have made pilgrimages to the shrine.”

Wow. There you have it. The interior of the church is quite beautiful:


…and so is the exterior:


And THIS local tradition even has Mexicans
scratching their heads: all the new male members of the church have to parade
around town in white veils. I respect their customs and all, but it was quite hilarious.

And here’s a mandatory snack cooked right on the streets of Atotonilco – washed down with some fresh carrot juice.

In the end of the day, Pat’s group – 3 guys in their 60s and
70s – left us in the dust. We rode about 40 miles on dirt roads, and towards
the end I slowed down to an embarrassing speed and told everyone not to wait on
me. My butt was numb by then. But once we finished the trail, had a cold beer
in our hands, and my butt came back to its senses, we were delightfully happy
with our day.

The following day we went to El Carco del Ingenio, the botanical
gardens. Even through they are outside of the city, we decided to follow the
map and walk. It ended up being a longer walk than we expected, but that’s
ok. The botanical gardens themselves weren’t too impressive – well, unless you
like cacti… Lots of cacti. Pretty much, the same cacti that grows OUTSIDE of
the gardens (just my humble opinion – I don’t want to offend any botanists).

But, hiding in the back part of the gardens’ trail, there is a
small, but beautiful canyon. Upon further exploration, we hiked down some rocks
and eventually noticed some metal… which ended up being a ladder all the way to
the bottom of the canyon! Yess! We climbed the ladder, of course, and were
granted with a nice little water oasis (and a small group of Mexican teenagers
jumping into that water from various rocks). It was such a fun detour from
otherwise plain botanical garden.

By the way, that (very sturdy) ladder is hidden behind the sign that says
“danger.” This is NOT my legal advise, but going around the signs that say “danger” pays off sometimes!!!

Our last couple of days of San Miguel were spent walking up
more steep streets, exploring city’s park, eating chocolate churros, tortas,
and breakfast crepes, taking in more of San Miguel’s views, sleeping in late,
and listening to mariachi and flamenco guitar performers outside in the jardin.


And of course, I sketched the beautiful Cathedral:

Well, sorry I couldn’t post about 300 additional photos that I took. It was a GREAT birthday vacation. I returned inspired by all the bright colors and ready to paint, and can’t wait to return there someday!