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Lidija Paradinović Nagulov, independent surface and pattern designer/ illustrator

Lidija Paradinović Nagulov, independent surface and pattern designer/ illustrator

Published by Leonardo Calcagno

Who are you: 

I’m a fan of unusual juxtapositions. I’m also a very friendly and talkative person, especially if the subject is art or illustration. In my personal life, I’m easygoing to the point where it starts to annoy some people. In my work, I’m obsessed with bringing clients’ visions to life by blending them with my own.

Your current job: 

I’m an independent surface and pattern designer/ illustrator

In which city are you located? 

Currently living in Toronto, and soon moving to Montreal.

A word to define what kind of worker you are: 


What tools are essential to your life (app, software, etc..) 

I’m addicted to Adobe, like most other artists I know. My Cintiq is like a fourth family member. But the one thing that really revolutionized my life are archival ink micron pens – I was a big fan of 0.1 until I discovered 0.05, and now I’m permanently hooked on that wispy thin line. Hope they make a 0.025 someday. I still sometimes find myself annoyed at the 0.05’s for being just too thick.

What does your office space look like? 

Messy. I work from home and my son is always trying to ‘improve’ my desk, so I’m constantly removing LEGO bricks, random kitchen utensils, and crayons (the art supplies are strictly divided into mine and his, we’re both kinds of bad at sharing). There are always sketches and thumbnails and pens and pencils crowding around my keyboard and tablet. Also, my desk seems to attract empty tea mugs in droves, no idea why. But I find it makes little difference to me what the physical space looks like because once I start drawing I get completely lost in the piece. Art has the power to transport you away from the physical stuff.

What kind of music do you listen when you are working? 

It varies a lot, anything from Lana Del Rey to Die Antwoord to Philip Glass to just picking random old favorites from YouTube. Another thing I often like to listen to while I’m working is spoken word, so anything from stand-up comedy shows to podcasts to Cracked videos to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s musings on space and science. Drawing thankfully doesn’t engage the parts of the brain that I need to focus on spoken information, and I spend so many hours drawing, so it’s a great opportunity to double the impact and use that time to also listen to something interesting or educational. I’ll even sometimes listen to online courses on different subjects while I’m drawing, because honestly if I didn’t do it then I’d just have no time to do it ever. Audio books are also pretty cool, I’ve been listening to fairy tales in French recently to try and prepare myself for my move to Montreal.

Do you have a way to organize your day to maximize your work? 

I spent a long time working in an office environment before I switched to making art and working freelance, so what really gets me excited about my life now is optimizing my days for maximum balance rather than maximum output. I generally have a tendency to get very immersed in my ongoing projects and have a hard time stopping even when it’s definitely time to quit for the day. Learning to put the pen down and make time to play with my kid, prepare some healthy food, go work out or do some yoga has been a challenge, but my life has never been better since I’ve mastered that skill. The best thing about being an independent artist is being able to change plans at the drop of a hat, so if I pick my kid up from school and he says ‘Mom can we go to the aquarium now?’ I can just say ‘Sure, let’s do it.’ Having that freedom is just priceless, even though sometimes it means I have to make up for it by working well past midnight.

What tips would you give to improve productivity? 

Look for inspiration beyond the obvious places – it really helps to keep your mind full of different content that can feed into your work. If you’re looking at people who do things similar to the things you do, you’re swimming in a very small pond, and that leads to stagnation. Also, take care of yourself – you will not be creative or fast if you are overtired or undernourished. Sometimes you’re behind on work and you feel that need to keep pushing even though your eyes are closing – unless the deadline is literally a few hours away, it’s almost always better to take a rest and come back to it later with a fresh mind.

You’re better than your colleagues to: 

With so many amazing artists in the world, it’s hard to single yourself out as best at anything, really. But my strengths are passionate attention to detail, a playful and exploratory relationship with color, and great communication – in one of my old jobs I had to handle PR and customer service-type assignments so I’ve learned a lot about good ways to communicate with people and to ensure you’re always being both clear and approachable. 

What is the best advice anyone has given you? 

No. 1 – ‘Inspiration is for amateurs.’ Too many artists are constantly chasing that inspiration high, feeling that in order to make creative work you have to be touched by the Muses somehow. The famous ‘creative block’ is so common for artists to discuss, but you’d never ask a chemist or a banker if they’re experiencing ‘chemical block’ or ‘bankers’ block’, as Liz Gilbert once wisely pointed out. When creativity is a daily job it’s like any other – you show up and start working, whether you feel inspired or not. And the magic of art, in distinction from other types of work, is that once you do that, inspiration will usually arise from the work itself. 

No. 2 – ‘There are no ‘Clients From Hell”. We’ve all seen artists complain about the silly or horrible things their clients sometimes ask of them. But the day I realized that every single thing that goes wrong between me and a client is always exclusively MY fault, is the day I became a professional designer. Yes, some people will know a lot about working with artists, and some won’t. Some will pay in advance and others will never pay. But you are the professional in that relationship, and you have a responsibility to protect both the client and yourself. If a client doesn’t understand the printing process, you have to explain it clearly enough for even your grandma to understand it. If a client is new to you, insist on a non-refundable deposit that will act as a kill fee if they disappear mid-way through the project. If they won’t pay a deposit, they wouldn’t have paid the final bill either – don’t take the job. Have a basic contract that lays out how many rounds of revisions are included in the agreed price, or you could be making hundreds of iterations because the client is ‘just not sure they look right’. Everything that goes wrong is your fault, but that also means that you alone have the power to prevent every single one of those things from happening. Don’t pin that responsibility on the clients, or you’ll both be disappointed. 

What is your best tip for saving time? 

Meal prep, oh wow. Feeding yourself or your family well is exhausting if you’re constantly trying to think up meal ideas on the fly, and the thing I hate the most is having to stop mid-work to think about food, and then chase down the necessary ingredients, and then prepare it all, and then eat. And eating out all the time is not great either. So if you can devote some focused time during your week to roughly plan out some meals, buy a bunch of healthy ingredients, do a lot of washing and chopping, pack things into meal-size amounts in Ziplock bags, you can prepare great meals super-quick, and give yourself fuel for more great work without breaking your stride. There are so many meal prep ideas online, you can definitely find something to suit your taste. Also if you are cooking a freezable dish just cook up two or three times the amount and freeze a bunch of single-portion bags, then on those days when you just don’t feel like thinking about food you can go rummage through your freezer and come up with something yummy to defrost. 

Another amazing tip for saving time is just not caring about small things 🙂 Doing big/ important things first and small/ less important things later is the key to success. And most of all, knowing which things will resolve themselves on their own if you just leave them alone forever. 

What is your routine start and end of the day? 

My days vary wildly, I have no set routine and in fact being forced into a routine really makes me uncomfortable. One fixed element on weekdays is that I have to get my son to school every morning, but everything else is custom-tailored to that particular day. Some days I feel driven to work in the morning hours, and other days it feels better to spend the morning on various errands, or working out, or catching an early movie or even napping, and then to work in the afternoon or at night after everyone is asleep. I definitely spend part of every day working, though. No weekends for me 🙂 But from another perspective, every day is a little bit like a weekend. End of the day is usually drawing, sometimes falling down the rabbit hole of social media and scrolling down too many feeds for a little too long. I like to draw when the world sleeps, it feels like there’s more room for your imagination to unfurl around you.

Aside from your computer and your phone, what gadget can you not go without? 

I thought I couldn’t live without my electric kettle, but apparently, it’s possible. I don’t know if the Wacom Cintiq drawing tablet counts as part of my computer, but it would definitely make my work a lot harder to lose it. Outside of that, I’m actually not much of a gadget person and I’m trying to declutter my life if anything. For instance, the scanner is an integral part of each piece I make, as I draw the initial linework with ink on paper and then scan it at high res to color and assemble the actual piece in Photoshop, but rather than committing a chunk of precious desk space to a bulky scanner I actually use the free one at my local library. It’s very good. I get excited about ideas like tool libraries, and the initiatives to rent and share things instead of buying them. I think we’d all be a little better off if we had fewer things.