She made a work of art out of her struggle

Animation alumna published a book on self-acceptance

February 14, 2017

Before the age of 10, University of Colorado Denver alumna Elena Reznikova started disliking her body. The feeling continued into her mid-20s, negatively affecting her health and relationships. “I was so uncomfortable with my body that it took a toll on the rest of my life,” she said.

Reznikova’s process to work through those feelings eventually led to her new book, “Thank You, Me,” ranked No. 1 among new releases in the Children’s Inspirational Books category of Amazon.

alumna Elena Reznikova
University of Colorado Denver alumna Elena Reznikova and a character from her book.

When Reznikova started the College of Art & Media’s 3D Graphics and Animation program, she was far from technologically savvy. She lagged behind her peers on computer skills and worked hard to catch up. “The most important thing I learned at CU Denver was how to learn, and that was really thanks to the 3D Animation program,” she said. “It was so challenging that I almost wanted to quit, but the professors were supportive and overcoming the steep learning curve felt very rewarding.”

The struggle proved worthwhile because of her lifelong fascination with illustration and storytelling.

At age 4, Reznikova moved with her parents from the Russian city of St. Petersburg to the United States. As a child she struggled to connect with her peers, largely because of the language barrier. Her parents, both physicians in Russia, decided not to continue their practices in the United States due to that same barrier.

Feeling like an outcast made self-expression and dealing with self-image all the more difficult. As a child, Reznikova discovered that visual storytelling can express so much more than just words; she found that drawing characters could express a breadth of emotions. Reznikova’s interest in visual storytelling was further inspired by Travis Vermilye, MFA, assistant professor in the Department of Visual Arts. His class opened her eyes to how art can be used to teach complex subjects, like the medical anatomy he illustrates.

‘That’s kind of a big error’

Her experience in the animation program taught her how to adapt to difficult circumstances and led to a “learn-by-doing” approach to book design, layout and distribution. Initially Reznikova wanted to use print-on-demand publishing, so she could avoid carrying an inventory and attendant overhead costs. That way she could just “push a button, publish—done,” she said.

She printed the first copy of her book as a test run just to see if everything came out as expected. While the cover looked great, inside was the text of another author’s book. “That’s kind of a big error,” she said, “and maybe it’s a sign I shouldn’t print this way.”

Instead, she printed in bulk, which led to other complications. She received the shipment and then had to teach herself about distribution. “If everything had gone smoothly with printing on demand, I wouldn’t have learned about shipping, distribution, and the finances of books. That mistake allowed me to learn more about the publishing process.”

Elena Reznikova's book, "Thank You, Me"
Elena Reznikova’s book, “Thank You, Me”

Her book, “Thank You, Me,” is meant to be read aloud by a parent to a child younger than she was when she began having problems with self-acceptance. Her idea is that this way she can affect both generations at once, and teach them about using gratitude to change their lives. What ended up as a book to change other people’s lives began as a journal she kept to change her own. Through journaling about things she was grateful for, Reznikova found that it changed her perspective about her body.

Over time, her mindset changed from neglecting herself in order to hide her body, to taking care of herself because she appreciates what she has. “I try to eat well because I appreciate my body and everything it can do,” she said.

Reznikova says that starting a gratitude journal is easy – it just takes a piece of paper and a pencil. The journal is simply a list of things that you’re grateful for. Perhaps these are everyday things that are easily overlooked, such as the ability to hear music or the ability to walk through a park.

“I feel like some people have an aversion to gratitude because they believe it will cause them to become complacent, and they want to change their lives,” she said. “Gratitude leads to change, it’s like a key that unlocks a door, but it takes the experience of gratitude to understand that process.”