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CHOPPING BLOCK: CELANDINE DESIGN

Our never-ending quest for world domination affords us the opportunity to cross paths with some incredibly talented people. One such person hails all the way from Southeastern Europe... Serbia to be exact.

We recently had a chance to speak with the incredibly talented (and meticulous) Lidija Paradinovic Nagulov, owner of Celandine Design. We asked about her about growing up in the Eastern Bloc, her incredibly detailed floral patterns, and the legacy of Nikola Tesla. Much to our surprise, the answers we got back from her were so deeply layered with culture and wisdom, you'd think you were reading a Vice article. ;)

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POW: My familiarity with Serbia is limited to what I hear on the news or read on the internet. Turbo-Folk and Soccer Hooligans seem to be discussed frequently in these outlets.

As a "dumb" American, what are some positive aspects of your country that you think I (and other people like myself) should know about Serbia, and do they influence you as an artist in any way?

LIDIJA: This is an extremely layered and interesting question. The truth is that Serbia has gone through an awful lot of turmoil during the last twenty years or so, with the breaking up of the old Yugoslavia (which I still think of as home), the subsequent civil war and the rest of that painful mess. This sort of hardship does damage the social structure, and it's true that we also spend a lot of time lamenting over the prevalence of turbo folk and football gangs. Part of the reason is that during the hard times many people sought refuge in other parts of the world (apparently there are entire Serbian quarters in Toronto, for instance), and those that succeeded in getting out were most often the brightest and the best educated. A lot of those who left found themselves rising to the top of their professions and gaining professional respect extremely quickly in their newly adopted homes, so I think it could be said that these lands seem to produce people with great potential, but our social and political structures for some reason seem not to know how to support and use that potential for the greater good. Being a full-time artist here is next to impossible, since economic pressure tends to strangle all non-essential trades.

When I was a kid I used to tell everyone I was so super lucky, because I lived in the best country that had a beautiful coastline, and wonderful mountains, fertile flat plains for growing food, a strong industry, many different people, and just everything you could think of, all in one. That isn't entirely true any more, we have become much smaller and more homogeneous. But there is a quality of temperament to the Balkan nations that I haven't encountered in most other countries, which I'm not sure how to describe but if pressed I might call it 'heart'. If we like you, you'll know it. If we don't like you, you'll know that too. There's a certain sincerity, a forthrightness (I hope that's a word!) and lack of pretense or decorum that resonates well with me. Also we are reaching out towards the world again, and more and more small entrepreneurs are starting to make unique and premium-quality products, with great design, healthy/organic/eco-friendly ingredients and materials, and a lot of dedication and love. Hopefully someday soon we will hit the world news for some nice reason

Also I can never go with that notion that Americans are somehow dumber than the rest of the world - I have so many American friends and they are among the smartest, nicest, and most talented people I know. The human race has its fair share of "dumb" to be sure, but it's spread out pretty evenly, I'd say.

CD1I Hate Goodbyes by Celandine Design

POW: One thing we here at Prints On Wood really admire about your work is the intricate amount of detail you put into it. When I was first observing some of your floral prints, I noticed little things like eyeballs and tentacles carefully hidden behind the petals and stems of the flowers.

When illustrating, how do you create images that are so layered and complex? Do you start off with a basic idea and fill in all the little details as you go? 

LIDIJA: My work process is very chaotic, and because I am drawn to complexity, there is no way I could actually plot out the basic outline of any piece in advance. Usually I start on paper, with a blank piece of A4, and I sketch out some starting element in pencil, then when I think I can 'see' it clearly enough I draw it out with a micron pen. Then I look at what I've got and think 'Ok, what can I put next to this?' Then the next thing gets sketched out, and drawn in ink. So I suppose in a way it's a little like quilting, adding one piece to the next. At the start I have no idea what I'm going to end up with, or more accurately, what I have in my mind is more a feeling I'm aspiring to, rather than a clear image. This is part of the fun, because as I go along I end up surprising myself, and at the end usually I look at the finished thing and go 'Huh, would ya look at that! Didn't know I could pull that off.' It's a weird feeling.

CD2Lidija inking individual elements for her fine art wood print, Garden Party.

LIDIJA (cont'd)When I started drawing I wanted to do these complex pieces, but I didn't think I could. I'd look at some elaborate and wonderful piece of art and I'd feel hopelessly overwhelmed, thinking it's only some special sort of magic art people that could make those. Then I'd force myself to look at its parts and think 'Ok, well, could you draw just this rose? No, probably not. Well how about just that one petal? It's just a line, right?' Then I'd draw the one petal, and then I'd put another one next to it. I'd suggest this method to any new artist who feels they can't break through into a higher level of complexity. At its simplest, all art can be broken down to the level of that one line, one shape, one color. When you look at it like that it's like Neo looking at the Matrix.

I often debate with myself whether I should keep doing the layered and complicated pieces or try to simplify. They take a lot of time and effort, and they aren't as versatile as some simpler or more generic designs. But I think it's my nature and my artistic signature, something that sets me apart - so I'll keep at it, and keep experimenting with different ways to make them more approachable for the average consumer.

CD7Garden Party by Celandine Design

POW: A few weeks ago we posted a photo of your Wild Side Spring Version print on our Facebook page, and it gained over 100 likes in a very short period of time. This response inspired me to seek out your other submissions to different Print-on-Demand outlets. You seem to get a lot of positive feedback on all of your submitted work.

In your opinion, what is it about your artwork that seems to resonate so well with the people on these sites?

Lidija: Haha, I get great feedback on PoD sites - completely disproportionate to my financial success so far. A part of it is that I haven't been at it for long yet and I'm still learning about consumer preferences. Another part is that perhaps the sort of art I make - with overly strong personal traits - is loved more by other artists than by the general public. I have a lot of artist friends and artists as a community are very supportive of each other, because we can feel that passion that other people put into their pieces. I've often noticed that complex, elaborate and distinctive pieces will get a lot of 'buzz' online, but it's the really simple and iconic designs - think cute animals and chevrons and florals - that hit the highest sales. Even within my own work, it's actually the simplest designs that are selling the best. I understand this somehow on an intuitive level - there is a sort of art that I look at with great admiration and I will like, comment on, and share on my wall, but I wouldn't wear it or put it on my duvet cover. It's the distance between art as an ideal and art as a commodity. Then there are the absolute masters, like the wonderful Fan Brothers for instance, who marry those two worlds with a sort of modest charm that makes it look easy.

I guess that was a very long-winded way of saying I don't really know. From what I see of the online art world so far, it's a lot like alchemy, and success is the Philosopher's Stone. Because art is liked or disliked on a very primal gut level, no amount of intellectual analysis can actually tell us what will 'work' for wide audiences, and what won't. So we all just pour everything we've got into it and hope for the best. One thing is definitely true - people feel the love and effort you put into your work. It's something that always gets a response.

CD4Wild Side Spring Version by Celandine Design

POW:  Although not entirely “Art” related, I’ve been dying to ask this question.

One of the most influential & creative minds in the past 100 years has been Nikola Tesla, an eccentric Serbian electrical engineer well known for his showmanship and achievements in science. He happens to be incredibly popular in certain corners of the Internet (Reddit, Cracked) and there’s even a very successful electric car company named after the man.

As a Serbian native, is Nikola Tesla a celebrated folk hero in your country? (If not, he should be :P)

LIDIJA: Yes, we are extremely proud of Tesla and often argue with Croatians over whose citizen he really was. When I was a kid he used to be on the 500 dinar banknote and my grandfather would give one to me every so often as pocket money, particularly choosing the one with Tesla to inspire me to strive for academic greatness in the field of natural science. It didn't work out exactly as he planned, but I have fond memories of those exchanges. He's still on our money today, and there is a lovely Tesla museum downtown which, although small, is run by a wonderful group of enthusiastic young curators who really breathe life into the experience, telling you all sorts of anecdotes from his life and letting you touch, hold and test out some of his experiments. If you're ever visiting Belgrade it's definitely worth a look. I think we probably haven't grasped all of his legacy yet, and I wouldn't be surprised if a few hundred years down the line we come to some amazing new discoveries and finally go 'Aaaah, so this is what Tesla was talking about that one time!' Also for anyone not familiar with Tesla's exploits, here is my favorite online resource on him, the Oatmeal article, of course.

CD5Les Fleurs Du Mal by Celandine Design

POW: As an up and coming artist, what are some of your more lofty/long term goals you’d like to accomplish, and how would you plan to achieve these goals?

LIDIJA: I could probably write a book on this!! I'm very new to the art world, so all of my conquests still lie ahead of me. I originally started in illustration, but since discovering pattern I have fallen in love, and found myself in an odd place between two worlds - most of my pieces now seem to look like some strange hybrid, like illustrations that seamlessly repeat. I feel there must be a market for this somewhere out there. I'm reading a lot of material these days on the business side of art and pattern design, and my first goal is to figure out how to climb into that sweet spot that is right in the center of the Holy Trinity of art success - being Original, On Brand, and On Trend. These three are forces that each pull in their own direction, and balancing them is still a bit of a mystery to me. In terms of concrete achievements, my list of dreams is long. I want to make art my career. My university major was Japanese language and literature, and at the moment I work full time in administration/ finance (it all flows very naturally from one another, I know), so my drawing time comes late at night, once the work day is done and the kid has been put to bed.

If art would be the job, then the night could be reclaimed for sleeping! I want to have a studio, with lots of art on the walls, all printed on wood. Seriously, it just looks so much more impressive than paper. I would love to be represented by a good agent. I'd love to break into a number of different surface design fields, like fashion, kids' fashion, and home decor. I'd love to do collaborative projects with some of my favorite artists. I have a pretty wide 'dream client' list. I'd love to see one of my super-elaborate patterns used as a wallpaper on the walls of some fancy boutique hotel somewhere in the world. At the moment a lot of these are still daydreams, but I'm slowly weaving my web, so we'll see!

CD6Singing Forest In Yellow by Celandine Design

LIDIJA (cont'd): It's hard to plot out a precise course with such a diverse list of goals, but my first steps consist of just reading everything I can get my hands on about the business of selling and licensing art. Making beautiful things is really only the start - so many people make amazing work they will never sell at any larger scale. The rest of it is understanding the market forces, the competition, the consumer, the rules and customs of retail - and finally that little bit of magic pixie dust that pulls it all together in the end. Perseverance is definitely the key. If I come across anyone I can imagine myself working with, I send them an e-mail. The other day I wrote to the Alternative Limb Project, asking if they'd consider using one of my patterns on a prosthetic limb, for free. That would be such an amazing initiative to be a part of. They haven't written back yet, but I never give up!

It often feels like there is a taboo between artists on the subject of art as a business and a way of making money, but the truth is that if we want to be able to devote our lives to doing this, something needs to pay the bills. And with so much talent out there, the competition is fierce. One day when I've got things figured out, I'd love to work with young artists and help them out somehow. My first tentative step in that direction is this seamless pattern tutorial, which was a whole lot of fun to make, and I plan to make more as soon as time allows. One thing I can't forget is how much selfless help and support I have received at every step from many wonderful and talented artists I've met along the way. I definitely want to find a way to pay that forward.

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Thank you so much Lidija for your honest & intelligent answers to our silly questions. I think we all feel a little bit smarter for having talked to you.

To learn more about Lidija, visit her website at: http://probablypretty.wix.com/celandine

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