Creative Living: Interview with Nela Dunato

nela dunato

One of my favourite ways to stay inspired is to read about how other people put their creativity into practice and learn to live creative lives. On the first Friday of each month I’ll be interviewing someone who is letting their creative light shine. Hopefully, these folks will inspire you as much as they inspire me. 

I kept seeing Nela's insightful comments on the blogs I was reading and when I checked out her website I was super impressed. Not only is she a talented artist and designer, but she also has a ton of wisdom to share about creativity and creative businesses. I'm excited that she's here to share some of that wisdom with you!

What sort of creative work do you do?

I’m a multi-passionate creative, but my two main things are visual art and design. I run my own design studio, and that’s what pays my bills. I create branding, web sites and other graphic design solutions for small businesses.

My other big passion is art. I work in a variety of media: traditional drawing and painting, as well as digital painting and mixed media. I occasionally do illustration commissions for books, and I’ve participated in art shows in the US and Europe, but mostly I make art just for my own enjoyment.

nela dunato

Have you always thought of yourself as a creative person? Why or why not?

As long as I've been aware of that word, yes. Even though I didn't always consider myself an artist (that's a title I had to grow into), there literally wasn't a time in my life when I wasn't doing something creative. I've cycled through phases of various interests like drawing, painting, playing the piano, jewelry making, sewing, computer programming, design, writing... The urge to make something from nothing was very strong in me since I was a kid.

How did you get started?

I had a long pause in making visual art during my teenage years because somehow I got the idea that I wasn't “good enough”, and that I'll never be a decent artist. When I started hanging out with some artistic friends, their passion for drawing has rubbed off on me and it inspired me to give it another shot.

After a while, my experimenting with art grew into something more: I started spending days and nights immersed in drawing and learning new techniques. I was very depressed back then because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and art has given my life a new meaning. I really believe that art helped me to heal, and that things turned for the better because I started seeing more possibilities that I haven’t even dared to dream of before.

I started publishing my drawings and photo-collages on DeviantART and other online art communities somewhere in 2005. I received a lot of support from complete strangers from all over the world, and it encouraged me to keep going. Then I started getting commission inquiries and opportunities to exhibit my art. In 2009, after testing the waters by freelancing on the side, I decided to drop out from the university and get a full-time job as a designer. I’ve been supporting myself by doing creative work ever since. I quit my last job in September 2013 and founded my own design studio so I could have more control over the kind of projects I got to work on, and spend more time on personal creative projects that nourish me.

nela dunato

What's your process like?

My process begins with an idea that I immediately doodle in my sketchbook so I don’t forget it. Sometimes these doodles marinate in my sketchbooks for months or years until I’m ready to commit to them.

When I decide I want to create the artwork, I draw a more detailed sketch, using personal references and googled photos to get the shapes and proportions right. I’m pretty pedantic when it comes to creating art, and I rarely just wing it.

After that, it depends on the technique I’m using. I might do quick color studies to decide on the color palette. Digital mixed media requires me to take photos of all the elements I’m going to use before starting to work on my image.

The last step is usually a wild, crazy ride as I love to immerse myself into a work of art and put everything else to the side until I'm done. I'm not patient enough to work in small increments, which is why I only paint large pieces when I can dedicate more time to it.

The process for design or illustration commissions is a little different, as it involves a lot of research in the beginning, as well as being focused on what the target audience would find appealing. When creating personal art, I try not to think what others would like, and stay true to what I enjoy.

What or who inspires you?

I draw symbols and elements for my works from nature, mythology and the human anatomy, while my main stylistic influences are art, fashion and the architecture of the Victorian age and Art Nouveau. As for the themes themselves, most of my inspiration comes from a daydream or an experience I've had. Sometimes I can trace the inspiration to a particular source, but often it’s not very clear until some time has passed. I don’t question inspiration when it comes, I’m just grateful that it’s there.

nela dunato

What's your biggest creative struggle and how are you coping with it?

I’ve found that our biggest strengths and our biggest struggles are often the same thing. One of these for me is that I get a ton of ideas for new projects all the time – which is great, but it’s also overwhelming. New ideas tend to push the old ones to the side, and this makes it difficult for me to finish projects. I can’t even count how many projects I’ve started and never bothered to finish.

I’ve tried out different strategies to cope with it: project management tools, accountability partners, publicly announcing that I was working on a project, doing a bit of work every day... Most of these didn’t work for me. What did work is maintaining momentum: jumping into the idea when I feel a strong urge to get working on it, and working only on that one project until I see it through. This means putting off client work, housework, and anything else that takes my attention away from that project. It takes intense dedication and things can get a little crazy because I’m thinking about that project 24/7... But I say when really strong inspiration strikes, run with it. If you wait for too long, it just fizzles out and another idea will soon take its place.

What's your # 1 tip about everyday creativity?

Keep your creative tools at your fingertips, and push your distractions as far as possible. Often we let unimportant things like social media or TV suck out all the time we might have used for something creative. I use apps that block certain websites and social media on my phone and computer in the mornings and evenings, which enables me to focus on things that matter.

The other part is always carrying your tools with you. I don’t leave my house without a sketchbook and a pencil case. You can choose a tiny sketchbook and a pen, nothing fancy. Use any pockets of free time during the day to engage with your creativity, instead of reaching for your phone. These “speed dates” with your art can be very valuable, I tend to create many ideas for artworks in these short doodling sessions.

nela dunato

What are you working on next?

I’m working on a free email course called “The Art of Authentic Branding”. This course is designed to help creative business owners to create their own brand in a way that’s rooted in their core values, and figure out what’s unique and special about their work, so they can stand out among so many other creatives who do something similar.

In my personal art practice, I’ve been thinking about the idea of sabbaticals dedicated entirely to painting. I prefer to work in short intense bursts, than to drag a project along for weeks, so this would enable me to complete more larger paintings. The challenge is to block an entire week off from client work, but I expect that I’ll finally get to do it this April. Wish me luck!

Where can we find you online?

The main hub for all my creative projects is my website Nela Dunato Art & Design, where I also publish an almost-weekly blog. You can also find my work on:

Facebook: Instagram: @nelchee Twitter: @nelchee YouTube:

Feel free to say hi, or ask any questions you might have about my techniques, tools, etc.