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Connecting With the Natural World: An Interview With David Natale

David Natale’s work brings all of the beauty of nature and allows us to gaze upon it through our digital screens. Exotic flora blooms all around framing delicately painted women who melt into their surroundings. Fantastical creatures of all shapes and sizes perch themselves on tree branches, their large colourful eyes gazing with curiosity and innocence, enticing us to reconnect with Mother Nature. Each painting urges us to look up from our phone screens, close our laptops and shift our attention to the outside world in order to see and appreciate the natural wonders that surround us. While this vibrant and magical world is rooted in reality, David Natale has created a more idealistic world where animals and humans live in harmony. His artistic realm is where all life flourishes in the most spectacular way.

David Natale is an internationally exhibited, self-taught painter who has showcased his work in countries including Australia, Japan, Germany as well as various states across North America. Genres including fantasy, horror, and science fiction are all things that Natale finds himself drawn to and he creates his own fantastical paintings through a mixture of oils, acrylic and graphite. He finds himself surrounded by inspiration from creative minds including painters such as Auther Rackham, Willaim-Adolphe Bouguereau, Albert Bierstadt, Alphonse Mucha alongside modern-day creatives including Hayao Miyazaki and Jim Hensen. Natale’s particular passion for nature and botany is a core theme throughout his work as he shares and promotes the concept of connecting with nature in hopes of leading a more caring and kind-hearted life. Currently, Natale works out of his home studio in California.

My work really started to feel like a cohesive body on its own when I gave myself permission to only paint and draw things that brought me joy. It sounds like a simple thing to only do what you want, but it is easy to get mired down in projects that aren’t the best fit for yourself. Your time is limited. Fill it with things you have a passion for.

Exclusive Interview with David Natale

To start this interview off, I would love to hear a bit more about your background as an artist. How did your artistic journey first begin?

As far as I can remember I have kept sketchbooks. They are such an important bedrock for flushing out ideas and inspiring creativity. Drawing a lot is what led me to eventually using paint. From there it was just a matter of practice. I haven’t had a traditional art education. I’ve really just learned things by fumbling around for years. That’s a lot of bad art. I do a fair bit of exhibiting with various galleries. I have also done quite a bit of work commercially as a sign and mural painter. More recently, I attended Smarter Art School and Illustration Master Class. I would love to work on some exciting illustration projects and this was a great intro to that world. Having a chance to get hands-on feedback from the instructors was a wonderful experience. I also met a lot of fantastic people in those classes. Honestly, I’ve been focused on creating art for decades and it still feels like I just started this journey.

What is your earliest memory of making art?

I distinctly remember the smell of a new box of Crayola crayons and the excitement of using the built-in sharpener. To me, at the time, that sharpener on the back of the box was the pinnacle of technological advancement. I would colour for hours with those crayons. Strangely enough, my early memories of making art are less about what I was making and more centered around how the materials made me feel. This focus really helped to shape many of the aspects of making art that I enjoy today.

Nature and botany are key themes in your work, what is it about these subjects that inspire you to use them so prominently within your art?

Feeling connected to nature in some way has always been important to my well-being. Everything from hiking through forests to the cultivation of plants around my home. One of my hobbies is growing carnivorous plants, of which I have amassed quite a collection. They can be incredibly rewarding to care for and provide plenty of inspiration. The scope of possibility with flora and fauna is a major part of its draw for me. There is so much room for elaboration and imagination with forms in nature. Just when you think you’ve seen the most amazing creature another one proves even more otherworldly. The sheer amount of beauty found in nature is staggering. Everything from the frightening to the adorable. I really just want to paint it all. A common theme in my work is the combination of botany with human or animal figures. Besides being enjoyable for me to bring these hybrid lifeforms into existence it is a wonderful way to show the interconnectedness we have with the natural world.

Your work takes a lot of inspiration from our own world while also putting your own magical twist on animals, flora and humans. Do you sometimes find it challenging to put a new spin on subjects that have been explored many times?

When I am in the early stages of creating a piece, I really try to think about how my subject is part of their environment. Things like how their colouring makes them stand out or blend into their surroundings. Would this creature live in the trees or prefer a riverbank? What types of flora would be nearby? Is it day or night? These decisions greatly help the believability of a subject that is more fantasy than reality. The challenging part of the process, for me, is more narrowing down my idea from endless possibilities to one finished image. Flushing out the answers to these questions can really help simplify my decisions at this point in the process. I keep a stockpile of flora and fauna images that I want to incorporate into my work or use aspects of. Whenever I can I take photos of interesting plants or animals. I also keep a folder on my desktop full of images I find interesting from the internet. Having lots of reference to draw from is another great way to reduce any challenges I might be facing with a piece. Lately, I’ve been focusing on using well-thought-out colour palettes to put a spin on things. A good image can become a great one with the right use of colour and light.

Your paintings have the feeling of a larger, interconnected world where stories can overlap and intertwine. Do you have one encompassing narrative throughout your work or is it divided into smaller narratives?

I tend to go through phases with my work. For a while I was really captivated by sea life. Lately, I can’t seem to get enough of painting trees. I will always have a soft spot for fantastical lemurs. Regardless of what I am painting I feel there is a definite continuity to the narrative. It is not one that I have made a conscious effort to plan, but rather more of my overall aesthetic shining through. My work really started to feel like a cohesive body on its own when I gave myself permission to only paint and draw things that brought me joy. It sounds like a simple thing to only do what you want, but it is easy to get mired down in projects that aren’t the best fit for yourself. Your time is limited. Fill it with things you have a passion for. For me discovering this was the point my interconnected world started to form on its own. In the future I would love to plan a series of pieces that tell a specific story. I just have to make some time. That’s the problem with infinite inspiration and finite time.

A sense of calm and serenity washes over me upon viewing your work, are these the kind of feelings that you like to channel within your paintings?

I’m glad you have those feelings when you view my work. I really try to create things that are beautiful in some way to people. My subjects are often portrayed in very candid poses. I try to pay attention to how I would like the viewer’s eyes to travel through the piece to create movement or a sense of emotion. Colour and value are also wonderful tools to help structure the feelings a painting can channel. Lately, I have been using less saturated colours throughout and choosing specific areas to turn it up to enhance that feeling of calm or softness or add drama. Because I am able to experience feelings of calm and great appreciation from nature it is reflected in the art I produce. I sincerely believe the world needs more beauty to be appreciated. My hope is that I can add a little more that I take.

Do you find yourself looking at your local Californian fauna for inspiration and potential ideas or does inspiration come from a range of areas?

I really pull ideas from all over the place. There is way too much amazing life out there to stick to one geographical region. I will say that California has a multitude of amazing places to experience nature. Going hiking in Muir Woods is nothing short of magical. Some of the largest and oldest trees on the planet live here. I can’t help but be inspired by the wildlife in California.

The scope of possibility with flora and fauna is a major part of its draw for me. There is so much room for elaboration and imagination with forms in nature.

You use a combination of oils, acrylic and graphite for your work, what is it about this combination of mediums that appeals to you?  

The more I create the more I find methods that streamline my creative process. Really nailing down my idea with a detailed graphite drawing before I even start to add any paint has been instrumental to improving my work. I find it extremely important to the outcome of a piece to enjoy the process. Graphite is one of the most enjoyable mediums I work in. My love of graphite really goes back to that box of crayons I spoke of earlier. The tools delight me. I love the feedback of a quality wood pencil on my favorite paper. It makes a joyous sound. Using a sharpener made of brass that has patinaed specific to the way I hold it. A metal drafting pencil that has the perfect weight. I use a brush soap that reminds me of lemon bars that I occasionally catch myself smelling like some weirdo. I could really go on for days about my love of the tools in this trade. Acrylic paint is a fantastic way to get multiple coats on quickly or establish value. Always oils for the finish as nothing compares to their buttery smoothness. Sometimes I skip the acrylics. It really just depends on the time I have. I have been known to do the occasional digital painting and have experimented with some hybrid traditional/digital pieces. Graphite and oil really are my favourites though.

Are there any painting techniques, mediums, or specific subjects that you would like to explore but maybe haven’t had the chance to yet?

For years I’ve been telling myself I want to do some more watercolour and gouache paintings. I never seem to get around to it. I also really want to have access to a pottery studio so I can make pots for some of my plants. I guess why not some sculpture while I’m in there. I really just need some more time.

Do you ever find yourself dealing with art block, if so how do you manage to overcome it?

There have definitely been times when I’ve had trouble starting or finishing a piece. Art block can mean different things to people, so I’ll talk about how I experience it. I wouldn’t say I ever have trouble generating the ideas. I have enough concepts sitting around for a couple of lifetimes. For me, the early stages of a piece can be difficult in deciding how to execute a concept. I may spend quite a bit of time doing thumbnails or sketches of an idea only to scrap the whole lot. It can feel like that time was wasted and begin to become frustrating. Other times I may lose confidence in a piece once it is well along. Whether it is at the start of a piece or towards the end I have found the remedy to be the same. If the piece is not on a tight deadline, a break from it always brings perspective. Spending some time in a natural setting is a great way to clear my mind. Finally, a break from social media can also help improve my confidence and focus.

When I am in the early stages of creating a piece, I really try to think about how my subject is part of their environment. Things like how their colouring makes them stand out or blend into their surroundings. Would this creature live in the trees or prefer a riverbank? What types of flora would be nearby? Is it day or night? These decisions greatly help the believability of a subject that is more fantasy than reality.

When you’re not busy working on your paintings, what do you get up to in your free time?

I love getting out for a good nature hike. It has been a while since I did that though. I spend time fiddling with my plants. There are always some to water or repot or feed. My wife and I have been slowly rewatching all of the Star Trek episodes. We are nearing the end of Deep Space Nine at the moment. Video games can be a big time sink if I’m not careful but are a great way for me to destress.

To wrap things up, are there any exciting projects in the works that you can tell our readers a bit about?

There are always some group shows at various galleries I’m working on. I’m most excited to be exhibiting at Illuxcon again this year. I’ll be preparing for that over the coming months. It will have been two years since I’ve gotten out and seen some art friends.

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