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Illustrator Nastka Drabot: ‘I prefer juicy colours with a decent contrast’

Nastka Drabot is a freelance illustrator and graphic designer from Warsaw, Poland, whose style is heavily influenced by her background as an architect and her love for contrasting colours.

In this interview, she tells us more about herself and her stunning vector artwork created in Affinity Designer for iPad.

We read that you have a Masters degree in architectural engineering. What led you into freelance graphic design and illustration?

That’s a really tricky question. To be honest, a young architect with enthusiasm to start her own business has a really hard job breaking through the big architectural design studios. Therefore, at some point after graduation, I decided to head in a different direction. Let me explain how and why.

Since I can remember, I had a strong connection with creative designing. I have always loved to draw and illustrate, and I always wanted to develop in the creative field.

During my studies, I needed to learn graphic design software to complete my projects, yet I got my first commission as a graphic designer just by accident. It turned out that I quite liked it, and from that moment, I took on small commissions from time to time. I began to follow many artists, and I started to get to know that area better. I continued to develop while I worked as an architect, and on occasion, for architectural projects, there was a need to illustrate the concept, vision and final idea. Nevertheless, working in an architectural studio didn’t allow me to be fully-free—I couldn’t realise all my creative ideas, and I missed it deeply.

Then my situation forced me to stop working as an architect—I went on maternity leave. I soon realised that this was a chance for me to leave and stop being dependent, and it led me to start my own business. In the beginning, I didn’t have any commissions, so I needed to make myself visible in the design market. I created an Instagram account, and that’s how it all started.

Do you feel your background in architecture influences your illustration work?

Definitely! Architecture is strictly-connected with illustration work. For instance, to get into the studies, you need to pass a series of exams, including drawing. Studying has taught me to observe the world in a specific way—to look for viewpoints and watch how objects, like buildings, are perceived at different angles. Furthermore, I found out how to learn and draw conclusions from other artists and creators work. An architect must perform as a straight line—be precise and reliable. Such instilled criteria bloomed in my style as vectors. They allow me to obtain perfect curves and lines and let me avoid imperfections. Vector artworks are almost infinitely scalable, which is mesmerising.

“An architect must perform as a straight line—be precise and reliable. Such instilled criteria bloomed in my style as vectors. They allow me to obtain perfect curves and lines and let me avoid imperfections.”

What three words come to mind when you think of your style?

My style is always vibrant, it must be precise, and I love using harmonious colours.

We love your use of colour. How do you approach colour palettes in your work?

Choosing dark backgrounds makes my workflow significantly more pleasant, as they bring out the illustrated object. I prefer juicy colours with a decent contrast. Usually, I use colours from the borders of Maxwell’s Triangle. I like to be inspired by colours found in art: photography or illustration.

How do you come up with new ideas for illustrations?

I’m keen on illustrating women—which is usually a good place to start. I use dozens of reference photos or art pieces. I often merge them into collages and imagine them as an illustration made in my style. Inspiration can be found everywhere: in the TV series I’m currently watching, or social events. My latest calendar was made because I love the world’s cultural diversity. I was inspired and I wanted to show it in my own way.

An illustration from Nastka’s calendar
Another illustration from Nastka’s calendar
Talk us through your workflow; how do your designs tend to develop?

I use Affinity Designer for iPad. Each stage of my artwork is usually created in the software. Collage is often the first step, and then I make a sketch. The last stage is the most pleasant—creating colour spots, shapes and vectors. Sometimes the whole picture is brought to me in a light bulb moment—I just come up with an idea that I want to illustrate instantly. From time to time, I have picture associations gathering in my head, and somehow I connect them together as one piece of art. Then I need: to focus, to collect my thoughts and to use Affinity.

“Sometimes the whole picture is brought to me in a light bulb moment—I just come up with an idea that I want to illustrate instantly.”

How did you discover Affinity Designer, and what are your thoughts about the app as a tool for your illustration work?

My husband is an IT guy and knows all about technology news. One day he mentioned Affinity—he told me about the full functionality and showed me the promo videos. He was also impressed by the performance optimisation and the low price.

During last years’ Black Friday event, I took the opportunity to buy and try Affinity. Well, it was a milestone for me, and I decided to stay with this software.

Do you have any favourite features?

I really appreciate that I can create sketches in the Pixel Persona. This is also the time to mention a huge advantage of Affinity—to have the ability to create both raster and vector designs in one software. I like to operate using Symbols in the Designer Persona and use axis of symmetry in the Pixel Persona.

We love the illustrations you did for #powerfulwomenweek2020, can you tell us more about them and what inspired you to take part in the challenge.

Such challenges are always a good idea to get noticed. This hashtag perfectly accords with my portfolio. Furthermore, the event was created by illustrators whose artwork I admire very much. All this, along with the fact that the subject matter is in line with what I often create made me feel relatively strong and free to take part in it.

What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

I have the greatest fondness for the ‘Squaw’ illustration, although it’s not my most popular. I finally felt fulfilled that I achieved my own style after drawing this artwork. I understood that this is how I want to illustrate—I did this freely, and I knew what I was doing.

‘Squaw’ by Nastka Drabot
Are there any dream projects that you would like to work on in the future?

I dream of illustrating editorials and working on commercials. I would like to work for big brand clients, and lately, I have started to believe that this is within reach. However, it obligates me to be present on social media constantly. I need to be visible for my current and future audience/clients.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to listen to true crime podcasts as well as reading criminal stories—I even wrote one myself, but it’s hidden in a drawer.

I’ve watched The Office series a dozen times. I love to play Heroes of Might and Magic with my husband. I used to play The Sims, and I have a weakness for Geralt—both from The Witcher game, which I have played and from Sapkowski’s books. I listen to movie soundtracks a lot—it inspires me, along with rock music by The National and Nick Cave.

Do you have any tips for artists/designers thinking of going freelance?

That they should not give up—I don’t know how many artworks I haven’t finished, thinking that they are useless. Before I got to my style, many years of unsuccessful attempts had passed. You have to try. Usually, at the stage of creation, there is a moment telling me that I don’t like the whole thing, that I should stop and start from the beginning. But the best solution then is to finish the project, anyway. The final result is often surprising.

To see more of Nastka’s work, follow @nastka.drabot on Instagram and check out her website, which will soon be available in English.