It’s been nearly impossible for me to navigate the New York City illustration community without seeing the work of D’ana Nunez a dozen times a week. Under her brand, COVL, Nunez’s playfully optimistic work has drawn a crowd of loyal fans, leading to her collaborating with the likes of Nike, Red Bull, Google, MOMA PS1, and more recently, Instagram as art director of its first ever Coachella house.
Born and raised in Miami, Florida, Nunez originally started her career in fashion show production at 21. For the next four years she would work for Oscar de la Renta, Zac Posen, and Carolina Herrera, until she realized that she wasn’t utilizing her skillset to the fullest potential. Taking inspiration from illustrators like Hattie Stewart and Steve Harrington, Nunez then realized illustration was the perfect medium to tell her story.
After paying a visit to her Brooklyn studio, I’m struck by her creativity, resilience, and dedication to creating in her own way. I spoke with Nunez about her recent projects, how procrastination is part of her creative process, and how digital artists can step up their game.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
What does COVL stand for?
COVL stands for Craft, Onward, Versatility, and Lifestyle. Which are all the things that I feel encompass whatever I bring to the table, both as a person and as an artist.
How has moving from Miami to New York impacted your creativity?
I think it’s helped me mature in a lot of ways, in creativity and in business. I find myself still grasping onto that sense of vibrancy that I’ve had so effortlessly in Miami, because it’s tropical and laid back. Here it’s the complete opposite. It’s just a concrete jungle, so you lose that vibrancy and that life aspect, but it’s matured me in a lot of ways and it’s challenged me to make sure that I stay true to COVL.
What was it like working with Instagram on their first Coachella house? How did that come about?
Obviously, any creative that really dives into the culture of Instagram wants to eventually join forces with them because of what they represent and how they encourage creatives. But even months after I was given the opportunity, it still feels surreal! It’s very gratifying to know that your potential, what you bring to the table, and the narrative that you’re speaking means something to brands like this. It brings a value to them.
How it came about was a good friend of mine, Fadia Kader, works for Instagram on music partnerships. She was handling the event for Coachella and she came to me like, “Listen, I can’t imagine anybody else doing this. Would you want to do it?” And I’m like, “You didn’t even have to ask me, you should have just handed me the contract! I’m down!”
I think it’s all based on the relationships and always being very authentic to yourself. And that’s what I’ve always been, I think that’s what Fadia has always seen in me since day one. And so the opportunity happening, it felt really organic. It felt like taking two worlds and colliding them together and it was just harmony. The project itself was very long. There was a lot of assets and deliverables, but after the experience, I wish every client was like them.
Really?! I would have imagined working with a large company like Instagram would be difficult.
You would think so! Since it’s a bigger company you have to go through this whole process of getting things approved, but with Fadia I think what helps is having somebody in your corner, especially when you work with a company like that. There’ll be times where we would have a call for feedback and then she would get off the call and she’ll call me personally and ask me “How did you feel about that? Does that make sense to you? Let me break it down this way.”
And then she gave me more of the back end of it so I’d understand what they’re needing. I think that definitely helps. But overall, the team, the production team was perfect and I just wish we can always have that, especially in the freelance world.
How many of these projects that you do are friends reaching out to you, or do you reach out to brands a lot? Are you pitching a lot for projects?
To be honest, we have not pitched so far. We have a list of people we want to pitch to, but something always comes up so we put the pitches to the side.
Talk to me about MadeByCOVL.
Yeah, MadeByCOVL has always been a dream of mine. I wanted to take what I do in the digital world and put it into people’s homes and closets. It speaks very true to COVL. It’s very vibrant, it’s very witty, it has very kitsch undertones. It’s allowing these everyday basics to become conversation starters. Things like yoga shorts and sports bras, beach towels, just things that you would see and be like, “Oh, what is that?” That’s what I’ve been wanting to do with MadeByCOVL. And also just share with my audience in a different format that isn’t just a post or just an Instagram story. This allows them to be more connected to me through the product.
What has it been like transferring your art to physical products? Are there any unforeseen difficulties that you’ve encountered?
There’s a lot of things that I’m learning and it feels like I’m going 1,000 miles per hour because I’m wearing the artist hat and also the business hat. I’ve been learning about budgeting, I’ve been learning about the quality of products. Diving into that space feels very daunting because obviously it’s a foreign language. But the demand and respect from my audience is there. They’re just like “We’re ready! When is it coming? What is it? I want it!” They don’t even know what it is yet and they want it.
Also, touching something that I designed or having something in my space that’s mine speaks back to when I was a kid and I didn’t have anything. So being a grown-up now and having things that are mine and I have control over is just a very gratifying feeling. But also it’s a lot of learning and a lot of trial and error and growing, and wearing different hats at the same time has been a challenge. But I mean, how else am I supposed to grow and inspire others to do the same if I’m not even trying?
So it’s been a very daunting, scary, and exciting “I want to vomit every five seconds” type of journey, but I wouldn’t change it at all.
What’s your creative process?
I don’t really have one. It’s a lot of procrastinating until I get into it. Because no matter how much COVL essentially is a business, I’m still an artist. And it’s not an excuse as to why I do that, but I have to give myself a lot of elbow room. Sometimes I’ll sit here in silence and I’ll just take my time, mind my business, check out [my dog] Wifi and then it will hit me and then I’ll start working. But if it becomes a thing where I’m stuck, I’ll go outside, I’ll take a walk or I’ll take him for a walk or I’ll build something. I guess there is a little process in there, but it isn’t like, “Oh, I wake up at 9AM every day, I dive into this for an hour and then...” I’m just not that kind of person. So the process is just more fluid.
What software do you use?
I use Procreate when I’m on the go or for any illustrations I need to do. When I need to work in Illustrator but still want to use my iPad, I use this app called Astropad. It lets you tether your iPad to your computer so you can use it as a drawing tablet. And of course, your standard Adobe softwares. Photoshop and Illustrator are my main two, though I dabble in Premiere and After Effects from time to time.
How has having a manager impacted your business and creativity? When do you think getting a manager makes sense for somebody?
To have a manager in your corner who sees your value and doesn’t even let you worry about the admin stuff is a huge stress reliever because you know that part of your business in your life is taken care of. Now I can just frolic and be the artist that I always wanted to be and work on opportunities and then be able to have somebody to bounce ideas with. It took three years of me understanding the workflow and understanding what I wanted a manager for before I even got to that. It’s been clutch.
For digital artists or just artists in general, they just have to be patient. If you don’t have anything going on or don’t have any clientele or any kind of traction, your manager’s not going to have any use because managers aren’t out here looking for opportunities. They’re just helping you execute the opportunity and seeing it through in the admin position. I think it’s just a lot of patience, and people nowadays don’t have that, they just want to pop off.
How can digital artists step up their game from just posting on Instagram to brand partnerships?
I think to step it up you have to show up in your own life and in your own craft. If you feel stuck or if you feel clients aren’t hiring you, it’s fine. Do things that you want to be doing and create things that you love. And that’s what I always said in the beginning. I always created and I still do every project that I had my hands in. I think where people get misconstrued is that their end goal is that they want to be hired.
What is your craft? What is your purpose? What is your voice like? What is your style? What makes you happy? If you rush to that end goal, what is going to make you any different than any other artist? So I think it’s just building your purpose and creating things to make you happy. That’s a game changer. People don’t do that anymore. People are very trend focused. Creating for yourself should always be first, before anything else.