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Hospital sketches craft young Victoria artist鈥檚 path to second children鈥檚 book

Nikolai Deleff releasing companionship tale with illustrated book Superdog Jake
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From the start idea to the finished hard copy with 鈥渙ff and on鈥 work, Deleff said it took about seven months to create his latest book, Superdog Jake. (Nikolai Deleff)

Two years ago, fresh out of high school at the age of 18, Nikolai Deleff was living in Yellowknife when he was assailed by Ulcerative Colitis, landing him in and out of the hospital for a month.

鈥淚t was a really hard time to go through so much uncertainty,鈥 he said in an interview.

Deleff, now living in Victoria, had always loved drawing but a shift happened to him while spending long days and nights at the hospital. He discovered how much art could give him a 鈥渞enewed sense of purpose鈥 and help him weather 鈥渓ife鈥檚 toughest storms鈥 as he drew away on the hospital whiteboard or in a sketchbook.

Drawing gave him a gateway into his inner world, spurring mental images that would his first children鈥檚 book 鈥 the northern adventure tale Bear and Ivory. Images of a ship stuck in an iceberg were almost a metaphor for his surroundings at the time.

鈥淚t almost felt like I was a ship stuck in the iceberg, in the hospital room in a way,鈥 he said.

Two years later, Deleff is unstuck and cruising towards a world of possibilities. The 20-year-old is releasing his second illustrated children鈥檚 book, Superdog Jake, on Feb. 10.

Deleff, whose eyes light up when he talks about his work, has had a fast-track launch in his career. He鈥檚 been featured in the NorthWest Territories Arts program, CBC and Cabin Radio to name a few.

And he鈥檚 been busy creating resources to connect with his book鈥檚 readers. His website is full of colouring sheets, drawing tutorials and behind-the-scenes videos that show his creative process working with watercolour.

Deleff will be touring schools for the release of Superdog Jake, which follows an imaginative journey where Jake the dog tries to figure out what to do when he鈥檚 given too much birthday cake. The book is also being sold at Russell Books, Books & Shenanigans, Ivy鈥檚 Books and Bolen Books.

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Deleff uses watercolour with an outline done with a dipping pen. (Nikolai Deleff)

The author wants young readers鈥 takeaway to be a sense of companionship from the story, which is based on sketches and poems he did of his dog.

鈥淭here鈥檚 definitely an element of making friends and how good things come back to you.鈥

The joy that comes from immersing himself in the creative world of picture books led him to children鈥檚 books. He read the first copy of Superdog Jake at a school in his hometown and recalled how excited the children were as they wanted to read the story again after finishing it. For Deleff, it鈥檚 a familiar feeling that went back to his childhood, when he鈥檇 read picture books or make his own by sticking his drawings between cardboard pieces.

鈥淐hildren鈥檚 books were something that inspired me as a kid a lot and to see all those creative worlds and ideas vibrantly shown in picture books, it really stuck with me. So when I started doing more illustrations and drawings, I thought 鈥楬ow cool would it be to create something I would鈥檝e enjoyed as a kid,鈥欌 he said.

Deleff doesn鈥檛 show any signs of stopping soon as he is enrolled in creative writing at UVic and is interested in exploring short or graphic novels.

Whether it鈥檚 children鈥檚 books or graphic novels, at the end of the day, his mission remains the same.

鈥淚 hope to inspire others to embrace their struggles, discover their strengths in art, and dare to dream bigger,鈥 he said.

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Nikolai Deleff鈥檚 book, Superdog Jake, is based off of poems, stories and drawings of Deleff鈥檚 dog. (Nikolai Deleff)



Sam Duerksen

About the Author: Sam Duerksen

Since moving to Victoria from Winnipeg in 2020, I鈥檝e worked in communications for non-profits and arts organizations.
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