absurd.design gets sensible: An interview with Diana Valeanu
If you haven’t encountered Diana Valeanu’s incredible project absurd.design, stop what you’re doing and do so immediately.
We’re big fans of the way Diana has positioned herself in the creative sphere and of the incredible work she continues to put out, so we thought it is high time we pick her brain and learn from her.
Read on to get a glimpse into her process and business, you won’t regret it!
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
My name is Diana Valeanu. I'm the illustrator and the creative voice behind the absurd.design project. I was born in Chisinau, the capital of the Republic of Moldova. I studied at the Technical University of Moldova and have Licentiate and a Master's degree in Industrial and Product Design.
During my master's, I worked in parallel, on my speciality in a local company, and on some freelance projects in my "free time." But soon I realised I wanted to do something different. That was when I started to manifest more and more interest in graphic design and illustration, and I decided to take steps in this direction and see where it would get me. With the money I earned from part-time freelancing, I bought my very first Wacom Cintiq tablet. I had been dreaming about it for some time. It may seem a questionable decision to invest all my hard-earned money in a Cintiq for which I hadn't even enough space in my room at the time, but I felt like that was the right choice.
I decided to quit my job and go fully freelance so that I could have the freedom to choose which kind of projects I wanted to work on, and of course, have access to the international market. During all this journey, apart from working on freelance projects, I tried to create an independent project, but it didn't work out as expected. That was the moment when I realised that making a good product is not enough if you don't know how to present it to the final consumer. I ended up selling that project to people with more experience in the market.
It may sound strange hearing this from someone who works in the creative industry, but I have a practical approach to my artistic process.
After years of work, illusions and ups and downs many things changed. Now I live in Barcelona, Spain, and work on the absurd.design project, which works better than the first independent project I tried to develop many years ago.
What are the things you find most important or helpful in creating an artistic practice and process?
It may sound strange hearing this from someone who works in the creative industry, but I have a practical approach to my artistic process. I think the artistic process requires lots of freedom so that it can flow, but at the same time, to me, it's essential to be super-organised and have good time management. This practice helps me on so many levels.
One of my all-time favourite artists is David Lynch; I love his movies and lithographies.
Also, I look for inspiration in less obvious, sometimes unimaginable things - there are always hidden gems to find and explore.
And last but not least, I keep in mind that things don't have to work in the same way for everyone. What works for someone else may not work for me or may not work as well as expected. I try to observe and analyse what could work for myself and figure out how to adapt it to my specific process and needs.
With the absurd.design project, I have to deal with everything that comes with running an independent project without the resources to hire someone who could help me with all the background stuff that has to be done.
What are your main inspirations and who are some artists you look up to?
My main inspirations may not seem so closely related to illustration. I find a lot of inspiration in cinematography and literature. It's a good trigger for my brain to get in the right flow of generating all kinds of thoughts and ideas I can later translate in my specific manner.
One of my all-time favourite artists is David Lynch; I love his movies and lithographies. How I wish I could own one of his lithographies! My favourite is "I Write on Your Skin How Much I Love You.”
Other artists who come to my mind right now are Marcello Velho, David Vanadia, Niki Usagi, SICOER.
And after many years, I’ve realised there's no better inspiration for me than a good rest. I always end up with good ideas when feeling mentally relaxed.
What do you consider the greatest contribution to your growth as an artist?
It's hard to say. I don't think there's just one thing that contributed the most to my growth as an artist. I think it's a mix of various factors and the experiences I lived that shaped in a specific way my personality and the way I see and perceive the world.
But of course, without perseverance and constancy, this wouldn't be possible. I'm a dreamer, but I've never feared working hard to achieve my objectives. And I think this is a mix that can't fail in any industry.
And after many years, I’ve realised there's no better inspiration for me than a good rest.
What would you tell your 18-year-old self about your career path and lessons?
Oh, this is my favourite. I would tell my 18-year-old self a lot of things. Here are just a few of them:
— Don't stick to one thing and don't feel guilty about being interested in other things too, even if they apparently have nothing to see with the creative industry. It's not a waste of time. Just change the perspective and you'll end up using this knowledge in your creative activity.
— You're not your failures. It's just a journey, and all you have to do is to learn from all the experiences. Don't overthink about that; this kills your creative potential.
— Keep working - one day, you'll see the output and will be grateful for your perseverance.
— No matter what happens, invest in your personal development; you're your most important asset.
Tell me about the most difficult project you’ve worked on and how you managed to finish it?
I think I'm currently working on the most challenging, but at the same time, my favourite project I have ever worked on. It's been a work in progress for almost three years now. With the absurd.design project, I have to deal with everything that comes with running an independent project without the resources to hire someone who could help me with all the background stuff that has to be done.
This means that as well as creating illustrations, I do almost everything in the background, too. Planning the project's roadmap, writing monthly newsletters, answering emails... And the list continues. There are many other tasks that, apart from other skills, involve decision making and take a lot of time too, but remain invisible to the public. The only aspect I'm not as involved in is the tech side of the project, but I still keep an eye on that too.
And do you know what? I really enjoy doing all that stuff. I feel that I grow on many levels working on this project and I'm happy to be able to do so and for the credit of trust the project members give me when choosing to use my illustrations and support my creative endeavours.
Are you currently trying to learn any specific skill, and how do you go about learning it?
I'm always trying to learn something new. Of course, sometimes it isn't very easy to find sufficient time in my schedule to learn a new skill, but in the end, it's a matter of choosing my priorities well and sticking to good time management.
Usually, I plan in advance my schedule when deciding to learn a new skill. And before starting the learning process, I get all the pending work done and reserve sufficient time in my schedule for taking courses and practising specific skills.
And yes, there's something I'm currently trying to learn, but I prefer not to share the details - yet! I don't like to speak about anything until I can show the result of the invested time and effort.
What is your dream project and can you tell us a little more about it?
For me, the dream project means one that offers enough space for creativity and gives me the opportunity to realise all the creative ideas that come to mind without being limited in my decisions as a creative. It's a project that makes me feel that I grow as a professional and that makes me happy when working on it, and of course, that allows me to earn enough for a decent life.
How do you monetise your artistic endeavours?
Apart from the absurd.design project, I work on custom projects when I have enough time in my work schedule to take commissions and receive interesting collaboration offers. It's always fulfilling to know that I have something meaningful to bring to a specific project and that people are willing to pay for the value I can bring to their final product.
What do you think is a good way to think about money in the creative field?
A creative business is still a business. Creatives should think of their activity as creative problem solving which adds value to a final product. Creatives invest their time, money, effort and dedication into developing specific skills to be able to create that value.
And this means creatives exchange that value they can bring for the money they consider appropriate for that value. Just because it's a business in the creative industry, it doesn't mean it should run differently than other businesses.
What was your first creative assignment where payment was involved?
Oh, that happened so many years ago when I still was a student... I created an infographic template with various elements and sold it on Designmodo.com. Actually, with the money I earned from those sales, I've been able to buy that Wacom Cintiq I was dreaming about.
Do you think there is ever a good reason to work for free?
I know opinion is polarised in the industry on this subject. But I prefer not to take a side. I think it's a very personal decision, and every creative should decide for themselves whether to work for free or not. Sometimes working for free can be a strategic move. It depends on what creatives want to achieve when they do it for free, and in this case, it's needed a good strategy and a basic understanding of how the market works, not just working for free for love for art.
It's always fulfilling to know that I have something meaningful to bring to a specific project and that people are willing to pay for the value I can bring to their final product.
What would you say are some good resources for figuring out payment structures and pricing?
One resource I find really useful is the "Graphic Artist's Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines" - it's full of insights and helpful information for people who start a creative business. I can't recommend this book enough.
Another good resource is the Internet, where one can find all kinds of guidance on payment structures and pricing and look for inspiration to other industries' payment structures too. As I said earlier: it's a good idea to look for inspiration in less obvious places and then adapt it to your product's specifics and your creative strategy.
What is the best advice you've ever received with regards to operating a creative business?
People will always have something to say - sometimes good things, sometimes less so. There are many different ways to see the same thing. You do what you think is fair from your perspective because the only way to know what works for you and your business is to try it first.
What projects are you currently working on?
At the moment, I'm only working on the absurd.design project. I’ve had various custom work inquiries in the last few months, but unfortunately, I couldn't accept any of them because of the lack of time in my work schedule.
There are some changes to come soon in the absurd.design project, intended to create a better experience for the project members. This means that apart from creating graphic content for the people who support this project, I need to invest a big part of my time into some decision-making tasks and other background work no one sees, but that has to be done.
I don't want my current limited time availability to affect the quality of my work, nor for my project, nor for the client's projects - and this is why at the moment, I choose to focus just on one thing. As Mies van der Rohe said - less is more, and I couldn't say it better.