D'Ana Núñez of COVL Finds Balance in Her Craft
Written by Reina Shinohara
D’ana Nunez is the creative force behind COVL; a Miami-bred and New York-based digital artist and content creator who conceptualizes and executes forward-thinking brand experiences. Women Sound Off caught up with D’Ana on the phone on International Women’s Day, which is fitting, given that the holiday’s theme this year is “Balance For Better”, and I can’t think of anyone better at the balancing act it takes to run a business while staying true to yourself.
It’s hard to explain exactly what COVL is. It’s about art and design, but it’s also a lifestyle and brand. Most importantly, it’s purely D’ana. In her own words: “COVL represents four things: Craft, Onward, Versatility, and Lifestyle.” It took her some time to hone in on what exactly she wanted COVL to be, but she believes these four factors are what represents her work as a creative.
It all started when D’ana was going through a rough time working for people who didn’t understand what she was capable of doing. She was working for an app and a fashion blog creating social media and creative content, but the routine forced upon her in these roles hindered her creativity. “I think it adds a bit of constraint to creativity. Maybe that works for others, but for me personally, I’ve never really found that my best work [comes] from structure or routine,” she tells me. Her background was in the fashion industry, but with support and advice from her friends and family, she began to pursue a freelance career in design. She had always made art, but in order to take it to the next level, she studied on her own and transformed her artistic skill into a hustle, making time to illustrate and design on the side. “I just truly believed in my art… I just wanted to share that with the world without having to worry about the big man telling me what I could and couldn’t do.” After a few years of freelance designing as a side gig, she decided to take the leap and start working freelance full-time.
With work that ranges from illustration and design to stop motion, it’s hard to believe that D’ana is a self-taught artist. It’s been roughly four years since D’ana transitioned to working for herself full-time, and though it takes a lot of self-discipline to stay on top of everything, she is thriving. She has already worked with popular and forward-thinking brands such as Nike, Puma, Redbull, Samsung, and Jetblue and has big plans for COVL in the future. She tells me this year she is focused on pushing the boundaries on what COVL currently represents. She has a product line in the works and is working on making COVL a media and household name. While she self-identifies as a workaholic, she loves the hustle and never regrets a second of work she puts into COVL.
D’ana describes her work with COVL as vibrant, witty, and unapologetic. She tells me she considers herself a sponge, so anything and everything inspires her. She is particularly inspired by her environment and the people she surrounds herself with. It’s clear that the diverse places she has lived in, from Puerto Rico to Miami to New York, are deeply reflected in her illustrations and designs. Her work is bursting with vivid colors; after one look at her Instagram, you can tell D’ana isn’t one to shy away from a bold look.
With D’ana’s siblings being artists, she grew up constantly surrounded by art. However, it wasn’t until four years ago that she started exploring how she could express her thoughts and feelings in a creative way that related back to an audience. Storytelling was important to D’ana and she found that COVL was her approach to creatively sharing her own stories. “For me, that’s always been art, but I just never really understood that until I did some soul searching and understanding of what art was going to be for me in my life,” she says. She strikes me as someone who knows herself and has a better understanding of what she wants than most, but she says it’s a constant process. “Understanding yourself and realizing your goals and what aligns with you or not, that all comes from trial and error.”
One of the biggest lessons she has learned is that she isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay. “I’m not going to always nail it. Usually when I go into a project, I have really high expectations for myself and I’m pretty sure the client does too, but I try to keep in mind that I’m not always going to come out on top, no matter how hard I try. Those are lessons that I need to learn,” she says. D’ana has dealt with difficult client relations and clients who wanted her to make work based on examples that didn’t reflect her style, but all of these experiences have helped her grow as a creative. “I can illustrate anything, but that’s where boundaries and constraints come into play. It’s always a question that I ask before the project starts: ‘Are you wanting to hire me because of my style? Or are you coming to me because of my skill set?’ At the end of the day, what you can offer skill-wise and what you can offer as far as your craft and your style, I think those are two different things,” she tells me.
Finding the tricky balance between staying true to her style and client relationships is only one of the balancing acts D’ana has learned to play. In the past year, she has also learned how to balance pushing herself versus over-committing. She has learned to recognize the importance of creating time for herself, her family, and friends in the same way she would for a client. “That’s how I’ve been able to maintain my balance, giving myself as much time as I would to anybody else or any other kind of project.”
In order to maintain this balance, D’ana has also learned when to say “no” to a project. She wrote a lengthy blog post about it on her site, and also mentioned to me that she knows she has to keep a realistic mindframe when it comes to opportunities for projects. “Before I got a manager, I would say ‘yes’ to everything and would get burnt out and feel unnecessary pressure to always produce my next best work,” she says. This created a lot of stress and unnecessary negative energy towards her art, which ultimately she didn’t want. “I have to protect my mental space, I have to protect my craft, and I have to protect my magic!” She tells me she thinks it’s about realizing if an opportunity aligns with you and makes sense in all aspects of your life. If it doesn’t, then your best bet is to say “no” and keep moving forward.
Growing up, her father always instilled in her the mentality of focusing on yourself and your own dreams and aspirations. “You have to condition your mind to cancel the outside noise and focus on yourself. This is a principle that I’ve always carried throughout whatever projects or crafts I’ve been involved in”, she tells me. When it comes to digital art, D’ana knows it can be daunting and intimidating to see what everybody else is doing. Nonetheless, instilled in her work ethic is to stay in tune with herself and ignore unnecessary noise. She tells me she that she constantly reminds herself of where she came from, who she was four years ago, who she is now, and where she wants to be in another four years.
D’ana is open and honest with me about what she struggles with and what she believes she needs to work on from day to day. “In the digital era where we are accustomed to living in someone else’s highlight reel, we don’t really see the transparent, honest side, but I think that’s very essential,” she tells me. It’s rare to meet someone like D’ana who is willing to be so vulnerable and genuine in their interactions. She is firm in her belief that success is about working hard, but also about being able to enjoy what comes after it. Success to her is “the environment that I’m in, the ability to do things and have flexibility, and have the opportunity to create this new life...without distractions.” Especially for someone who has to be as self-disciplined as she does in her everyday life, having balance and the ability to enjoy the fruits of her labor is really what it’s all about for D’ana.
We’re excited to have D’ana at Women Sound Off 2019. Come see her talk about what it takes to be a girl boss at our Boss Brunch on Sunday, April 7 at Full Out Studios.