Expat Entrepreneurs: Lviv’s Young Painter Nadia Danylova Brings Watercolor To Life in Brno

Melis Karabulut’s series profiles some of Brno’s foreign entrepreneurs to explore the challenges of running a business in a foreign country. This week she spoke to Nadia Danylova, a gifted young painter from Lviv, Ukraine. Photo credit: Nadia Danylova.

The Expat Entrepreneurs series has been highlighting the success stories of some of Brno’s brilliant go-getting expats for the last five months. The series has so-far featured entrepreneurs from Egypt, Brazil, South Africa, Syria, Greece, Italy, India and Slovakia, who built their life goals day by day in Brno, with the aim to give something back to the people of Moravia’s biggest village. Moving away from the now somewhat familiar expat stories of the gastronomy sector, this Sunday, we bring you the story of one of the youngest and most talented expat entrepreneurs of Brno, Nadia Danylova, a watercolor artist from Lviv, Ukraine. Nadia describes her relationship with her work in one sentence: “When your work is your passion, it feels like playing a one-player game, and you have no option but trying every day to be a better player.”

Credit: Nadia Danylova

I met Nadia in Autumn 2020, around nine months after she launched her business in Brno. As one of her early clients, through the years I watched her business grow, her paintings become more and more dazzling, and her as an artist receiving increasing attention internationally. Today, as a 23-year-old student of art history at Masaryk University, she is painting watercolor canvases from her home in Brno and selling them to local buyers in the Czech Republic, as well as shipping to the United States, Canada, Mexico, Germany, and other countries around the world. Her art is specialized in portraits with vibrant colors. Her technique, watercolor, falls under modern art, while she enjoys the works of Italian painters such as Michelangelo and the renaissance and baroque times.

“I have been painting since my early childhood years, and no one else in my family is into art. When I get an idea of something great to paint, even if it comes in my sleep at 3am, I have to wake up and get it onto my canvas. Only after that can I go back to bed. And when I can’t paint for some days because of school or other responsibilities, I immediately feel the thirst for it. This is a feeling that has always been with me, that is why I paint three to four hours every day,” says Nadia. Turning to her technique, she says: “I love the watercolor technique because it teaches you how to be disciplined and focused as you paint. The water keeps on flowing while you paint, so you need to keep your brush moving as well. To me, it is the most productive way to paint.”

She studied fine arts and stained glass back in Lviv, and wanted to study abroad to gain more life experience, a high-quality arts education, and also more inspiration for her work as an artist. After a lot of research on where to study, she chose Czech Republic as her destination and came here in 2018. “If you are willing to learn the Czech language first, studying any degree is free. The country is in the heart of Europe, and Brno has great universities. As it is not too far from my home country as well, it felt like the right decision to come to Czech Republic for my studies,” she explains.

“I find Prague to be artistically more inspiring than Brno, as you can just sit on the sidewalk and paint the beautiful buildings, the river, and the people there. But Brno came closer to my heart, and I chose to stay here for my studies. After coming back from my visits to Ukraine, being in Brno makes me not miss home too much,” says Nadia about her first experiences in the city. “And definitely, spending a sunny day at the Brno Dam, climbing to Spilberk and watching the city view, and hanging around the Veveri neighborhood are some of the things that give beauty to living in Brno, especially after another dark, gray winter in the city.”

The young artist tells me that to get pocket money in her first six months in Brno, she worked as a waitress at several different places. Then, just at the time when she wanted to get down to painting more professionally and earn money from it, the pandemic started. In the end, the pandemic turned out to be the push factor for her to take her painting business more seriously, as she wouldn’t be able to continue waitressing anyway. She started by putting a few of her paintings on sale online through some freelancing platforms. In a short time, people started noticing her work and she made her first sales in March 2020.

Credit: Nadia Danylova.

“Until 2020 I kept my work only to myself. I see art as something so pure, like a virgin, something that is not to be overshared and criticized. Accordingly, it was difficult to be open to sharing it. As I received more and more positive feedback from my followers and clients over time, my willingness to share my art also increased. In time and from scratch, I learned how to promote my work online, communicate with clients, ship orders worldwide, take visually attractive photos of my work for social media, set the prices, create a good website, use online tools to make payments easier, and the list goes on. Learning all of these definitely took some time and effort, but it all paid off,” says Nadia. She adds, however, that there is a long way to go for her watercolor work to bring stable income. “Sometimes I receive one big order, and sometimes I receive 10 small orders. At the moment, I am happy with how it is going, but for sure I would be glad to have more clients. Luckily, the shipping system works perfectly and even clients across the ocean receive their paintings undamaged. This adds value to my reputation, and the continuity of my work.”

Nadia is full of ideas about her future career, including picking up new skills in graphic design and carrying her work to digital platforms, and also organizing art-related tours for painters. “I have this idea of organizing artistic tours to places that spark inspiration. I got this idea during my travels, as I get the most inspiration for my work when I travel to new places. New places bring new colors and ideas to my canvas. You pick something new from the people you talk with, from the language, architecture, way of living; and traveling brings up artistic ideas that you normally wouldn’t come up with when you stay at home. These tours would be something that painters would take part in. They would paint as they get moved by the places they see and also learn about the history of the art that belongs to those places. And seeing the artwork of great artists in person definitely leaves a mark, as you feel the power and spirit of the painting and the painter. The tours would also offer art therapies, meditation, and practice in finding a unique direction in art. The ideal stops for such a tour would surely include Southern Europe and France, as the region has tons of colors to offer; and the history of art is extremely rich there. Such tours would help us meet fellow artists, equip artists with the knowledge of the art history that we should all learn, so we find our own ways of doing art in modern times; and also the inspiration and mental space to have the two important tools to walk that way. This is not something so popular in the world, and I would be more than thrilled to organize it.”

When I ask Nadia how she is dealing with the current situation in Ukraine, and how her hometown is doing these days, she tells me: “Of course it was difficult to do anything other than trying to understand that a war suddenly broke out in our country. I didn’t paint for days, and I only kept reading the news, checking in with my family. They want to stay in Ukraine and be there to defend Lviv, if one day it gets attacked. As my family saw that Ukrainians were ready to stand firm against the Russian pressures, they decided not to leave. I cannot imagine how I would handle even one brick falling down in Lviv. It is such a beautiful, multicultural, colorful city, full of musicians and painters in the streets. It is always alive, weekdays and weekends, day and night. With great people, great food. I hope to live there again in the future, after I gain more experience in Europe. I would like to give something valuable and meaningful to my country and my city.”

Credit: Nadia Danylova.

In her final words, Nadia adds: “What I find different between Europeans and Ukrainians is that young people in Europe seem to be more laid-back, generally peaceful and positive, as things are more stable in many ways here. Ukrainian young people are always in a rush to achieve things, they are competitive, and ambitious.” All I can say is that I hope that all young people around the world get to enjoy that peace of the European mind someday soon.

Visit Nadia’s web page to check out more of her work, and purchase her artwork.

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