Diana Stoyanova is a Bulgarian illustrator specializing in character design for the product and tech industries. Have a look at her lovely home office in Sofia, Bulgaria which is filled with plants and her collection of cult movie postcards. She tells us about the challenges of balancing work and personal life, how to get out of a creative rut, and what helped her grow as an illustrator.
Where do you work? Tell us about your space.
To be honest, anywhere with a nearby plug is a potential workspace for me. Currently, I’m at a transitional period of my life where I’m moving into my own place while indulging in a full-time freelance illustration career. This past year I’ve been balancing studio work and freelance work while commuting to and from each. I don’t think a specific space is something that really matters to me. I don’t need a super zen arrangement of elements to get that creative juice flowing.
I really like looking at plants and taking care of them. I think it furthers your responsibility skills. I also got a turntable two years ago that I use pretty rarely now. I started collecting some cool looking vinyls from the Soviet Bloc, which are an easy find in Bulgaria. The one in the picture above has an awesome color combo and typography on it. Cult movie postcards are a must!
What hardware and software do you use to create your designs?
For hardware, I work on a 13’’ MacBook Pro with a magic mouse (that really hurts my hand), a Wacom Intuos Pro medium tablet, some dongles, and a million cable cords. I’m also thinking about getting an iPad Pro next year. For software, I use Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator.
Tell us about your routine (or lack of one.) How do you structure your days to get things done?
I’ve learned so much about time management this past year or so. From neglecting your sleep and missing out on family gatherings to prioritizing the deadlines of your projects. I used to always say yes to every project like the rookie that I was, thinking that I’ll never get a better chance. Luckily through trial and error, these times have long gone.
I have an inner focus software built within me that runs quite well especially when I’m pumped about a certain project. I really forget to drink water, check the time, or on some occasions I forget to blink and my eyes get super dry! Not finishing my tasks for the day really bugs me so I do my best to have a good night’s sleep when I’ve crossed out all the to-do points. I think it’s my plant mom behavior that really helps me stay on track.
How do your space, tools, and habits benefit you? What about those things do you think needs improvement?
I’m super old school and love writing things down on actual paper with my own human hand. I use just one organizing tool which is my small, kind of nasty looking notebook. I’m not a sucker for apps besides Instagram and Dribbble! Somehow, having a dozen organizing apps and calendars puts extra pressure on me and is one more thing I need to take care of, which contradicts the main reason I would need it. I try to use my memory for everything else. It’s like a mental exercise because you have to render the important and get rid of the unnecessary.
When tackling improvement, I constantly try to experiment with different aesthetics and techniques because honestly, I get bored too easily and find myself always looking for something new to try out. Whenever I’m in need of a break in between projects or having a really hard time thinking of the best illustrative metaphor for a client, the thing that always helps is drawing something for myself. It might seem too much for some, but drawing in between drawings is an instant recharge for me.
What helped me grow the most as an illustrator is probably all of the cartoons I was exposed to as a child. To me, it didn’t matter what show was on—everything was interesting to me: the way the cartoon was drawn, colored, and animated. Each cartoon had a specific style and mood that affected me in different ways and later on had an effect on my art as well.
Another skill that is really helpful to learn as an illustrator who’s tackling the product and tech industries is exercising your metaphors and your storytelling abilities. Most tech companies have difficult data they want to explain in the most understandable and human way possible, while still keeping the meaning behind it. So proposing a couple of interesting out of the box scenarios to your client is always a big plus.
What I think I’m really lacking at the moment and need to improve on is paying attention to my other interests like watching good movies, cooking, thinking of good jokes to tell, and maybe finally learning how to swim.