I first encountered Natalia Ionescu’s work through her immersive murals and art installations.
For such a young graphic artist, she’s already developed an impressive portfolio designing for CCMA Fanfest, CrossIron Mills, Calgary Transit and Telus Spark on multiple occasions.
While these opportunities may have resulted from strong partnerships between AUArts and the greater Calgary community, there is no question there is something special about Natalia’s work.
With an emphasis on childhood, play and creativity she manages to bring bright, whimsical worlds full of hope and imagination to life while also highlighting the often educational focus of her client projects.
It’s also clear Natalia is passionate about inspiring young artists.
She’s led workshops, classroom visits, virtual events and even spent time as the Calgary Library’s 2022 Children’s Illustrator in Residence.
So, I reached out to find out more about her work, her aspirations and what’s next for her. And, I am cautiously optimistic that the future for young artists in Calgary is bright.
Especially when we have graphic artists like Natalia Ionescu helping to inspire young Calgarians with her unique brand of visual storytelling.
Tell Me About Yourself
How Did You Get Into Illustration? Was It Something You Always Knew You Were Going to Do Or Was There a Plan B?
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, but I’d say that in my adolescence I started exploring cartoon/manga illustration based on characters from video games and shows I was consuming at the time.
From there, it continued as a hobby of mine until I reached high school, and I decided I wanted to study illustration in university!
While I did briefly consider other career paths, I distinctly remember being really inspired by a few artists who visited my school during a career fair.
I saw how they achieved success through a creative path, so that gave me further confidence to pursue my own passions.
Is There Any Particular Memory Or Influence That Has Helped Push You Towards Projects Surrounding Early Education and Working With Children?
My mother, aunt, and grandmother are fine artists who have taught children’s art classes alongside their artistic practice, so I was always surrounded by the idea that I could be both an independent artist and educator.
During my artist residency at the Calgary Library, I found a lot of joy teaching kids through art workshops and classroom visits.
This gave me the motivation to start developing my own illustration courses for kids so that they can also learn about the basics of design and visual storytelling!
Tell Me About The First Time You Got To Stand Inside One of Your Own Installation Projects. What Was That Experience Like?
My first installation work was displayed at Studio Bell as part of promo for the Canadian Country Music Awards.
It was really cool to see my design taking up in such a large space, fully immersing viewers in the illustration.
Seeing how illustration can transform an empty space and create a playful environment accessible to anyone was super memorable, and it definitely made me want to continue pursuing similar work.
As you've worked on these projects, is there anything you hope people take away from them after experiencing your work?
Being physically present around and within the artwork is an experience that I’ve found to be a unique way to encourage audiences to learn and interact with new ideas.
The themes of my designs often change from project to project depending on the client, but generally, I want the public to experience how art can be fun, informative, and accessible to anyone!
Has Anything You've learned About Adapting Designs for Public Art Installations Changed Or Shifted the Way You Approach Your Creative Process Since Graduation?
Most of my university work was made to be viewed on a screen or printed as a small poster.
So, I’d say the biggest shift I’ve seen in my creative process for installation work is deeply considering how the subject will communicate on a large scale. This affects everything from composition, shape, and contrast to colour.
I still rely on my design fundamentals when ideating, but I have to consistently check in to make sure that the work will make sense from up close and afar as people naturally experience and interact with it.
Maintaining Your Creativity
Is There Anything You Do Now As An Adult to Help Maintain That Sense of Playfulness In Your Work?
When I get the chance, I like to do live drawings in cafes or public parks in my sketchbook. While I’m sketching, I try to test out different materials and techniques, mostly using cheap drawing tools, washi tape, and stickers.
My goal is to take that sketching time to relax and have fun drawing stuff outside of work!
Do You Have Any Plans On Expanding In New Or Different Directions Or Are You Happy Where You're At Right Now?
As I mentioned, I’ve started developing my own art classes for kids which I’m thrilled to be launching in October!
I’m starting with one 3-week character illustration course which is already starting to fill up. I’m excited to get into teaching again, and am looking forward to where this journey takes me!
And, Last Question
What Children's Books or Video Games Most Inspired You Now Or As A Child?
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker is a game I really connected with growing up and continues to be one of my favourites.
I adore the cute and whimsical art style of the game, and it’s undoubtedly influenced my personal illustration style as well.
It may look like a simple game at first glance, but the story, artwork, and music combine wonderfully to create a truly emotional and memorable adventure.