"I try to let inspiration find me and it happens when I least expect it,” says Donna Adi, the LA-based multimedia artist taking the creative industry by a digital storm and spearheading illustrative contemporary art style. Globally known for her vibrant pop aesthetic, Adi has collaborated and lent her creative direction to a remarkable client base including Nike, Ralph Lauren, Balmain, Michael Kors, the Met Gala and Google.
“My first experience with art came from my mom – we would play this game where she would scribble on paper and ask me to turn it into a character,” recalls Adi. “This was ultimately my introduction to illustration and art as a whole. I would get really creative and intricate with my characters and was able to master the fundamentals of illustration early on.”
Donna Adi. Original illustration of Zoe Saldana’s red carpet look in partnership with Michael Kors for Met Gala. 2019. 10.16x12.7cm
Adi’s artworks deviate from traditional techniques of making art and the mediums of art viewing. The artist employs digital technology to create and deliver her works online for thousands of international followers to take delight in her artworks outside gallery walls and without borders. With an illustrative software, a lively imagination and artistic talent at her disposal, Adi incorporates her animated touch on existing and often popular images to recreate stories with minuscule detail.
She likens the similarity of her technique to that of painting on a canvas. “I find a photo or a concept that inspires me and I layer some ideas in a sketch format on the image,” she says. “Once I decide on what kind of concept I want to go for, I start with colours and just layer on texture until it looks perfect.”
From creating characters in the animation to forming a frame-by-frame style of work to make the characters move, the time-consuming and complex animation process could take more than 20 hours to complete. The completed artwork is shared on her Instagram account to her increasing number of 195K followers who have showered Adi with overwhelmingly positive responses.
Donna Adi. Original photo and illustration for the release campaign of Hello Kitty x Puma collection. 2019. 10.16x12.7cm
“It started from the very beginning of posting my work online. I didn’t expect this response, but it definitely gave me the motivation to continue developing my work and investing in my art,” she shares. “Seeing the positive reactions, high engagement and love for what I’m creating definitely impacted my work and helped me develop as an artist. Eventually, some of my popular pieces led to clients, and my career evolved slowly from project to project.”
Having worked with celebrities and social media influencers such as Sofia Vergara, Selena Gomez and Chiara Ferragni, Adi’s artworks, mainly focused on women, have caught the eyes and praises of Gigi Hadid, Olivia Culpo and Heart Evangelista. “It’s been a humbling experience to work with such an incredible roster of brands and talent and to receive such a positive response and outpouring of admiration from celebrity supporters,” Adi expresses.
Donna Adi. Original illustration of Gigi Hadid’s red carpet look in partnership with Michael Kors for Met Gala. 2019. 10.16x12.7cm
Considering her affiliation with art as a hobby and with little thought of making it a career path, Adi never received a formal education in art, although she continually takes classes to learn and evolve as an artist. However, after having spent about ten years pursuing a successful career in fashion, Adi eventually pivoted and decided to commit to her art in 2017. Her impressive background in the fashion industry and photography-led projects combined with her innovative talent has birthed a unique approach to art, fitting the digitised world today.
“Fashion, art and photography have always been central in my life and my career,” she explains. “Fashion, particularly the production process of fashion is a huge source of inspiration for me. I started my career in fashion, later developed into a photographer and then director of brand development, so when I made the decision to pursue art and illustration professionally, there was a natural progression in bringing together my love of each.”
Having used her artworks as a platform for self-expression and instilling life into popular imagery, Adi is quite aware of the role art plays in uncertain times such as now. As the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc globally, people have taken to art and craft for expressing their solidarity and gratitude in these challenging times.
Donna Adi. Photographed and illustratated for Nike Airmax 270 React release campaign. 2019. 10.16x12.7cm
In response to the ongoing global crisis, Adi has partnered with Adobe for its #honorheroes series, calling artists to celebrate the heroes of today. Adi used the opportunity to highlight Andrew Zurica, founder of a New York hamburger food truck business, and honoured him as a hero for devoting his time and resources to provide thousands of burgers to local New York City hospitals and feeding the doctors, hospital staff and first responders on the frontlines through his initiative of ‘Hamburgers for Heroes’.
To empower through art, Adi has further offered a free series comprising colouring templates to fuel creativity and inspire global connection. “l think that the need for healing is a driving force behind pop art or art in general,” Adi expresses. “It is a means for people to express their circumstances, to revive themselves, to heal or even to find comedic relief, to remind us not to take ourselves too seriously, to have fun and be joyous. I think the art produced during this time will be part of our history, a global record of our experiences and thoughts and feelings.”
Donna Adi. Illustration adopting an image of model and influencer, Sonia Ben Ammar. 2018. 10.16x12.7cm
With her striking glittering illustrations, the widely acknowledged artist has held her own working alongside giant names in the fashion and entertainment industries. Having realised her dream from a hobby to a successful career, Adi reiterates the importance of letting oneself evolve.
“As a woman, as an artist, a female business owner and creative, it’s important to me that I use my platform and my work to empower and inspire as many people, and particularly women, as possible,” she says. “As I got further along in my career I’ve learned the importance of ownership and investing in myself — as an entrepreneur, as a brand functioning in the social ecosystem, one of the biggest challenges is staying ahead of everyone in a very saturated industry. It takes constant reinvention, innovation and evolution while still staying true to myself and my vision. Especially now, the ability to pivot is paramount.” donnadi.com
Images courtesy of the artist
From the summer 2020 issue of Harper's Bazaar Art