From drugs to art: An honest interview with illustrator Fil Dunsky


1. Tell us about the time when you were starting out. How was that like? Did you have a specific plan for your career?

I was working as a graphic designer in 2006. I was fortunate enough to work in a small company with a very good boss. He employed me as a designer but he knew I liked to draw and gave me a chance to learn more about it at work place. Even if I had something to design he was always giving me free time to experiment with drawing anything no matter if that was related to the current project or not.

At that point I was sort of searching for myself in a wrong way, and also experimenting with drugs. My drawings looked like this:


I keep this artwork that dates to the beginning of my career as a reminder and a storyteller of my artistic and personal development. I also use it to see how much I've grown as an artist. It is still available in my portfolio at Behance. What you'll see in this folder is not something we can call illustrations that you could sell for big money. So, the first piece of advice would be: if you want to become a successful illustrator, don't try to draw like this.



2. What was the thing or who was the person that helped your career the most? In what way?

Well… I think there were a few people and things combined together that made me successful.

  • Office competition. There was a guy in the office I worked in who, too, had a passion for drawing. He showed me the basic principles which I am still using. He  ignited my passion for drawing with his passion and commitment. He inspired me to learn more. Every morning we would come to work showing each other  illustrations or sketches which we had done at home the previous night before going to bed. This started resembling a silent competition between the two of us. Whenever he'd show me something I thought was great, it made me immediately want to do something cool to show off as a response. That’s how it started.
  • Favorite illustrator. He also introduced me to my favorite illustrator Oksana Grivina. I fell in love with her style right away and I wanted to learn how to do it. I started to research and collect all her work looking through each and every pixel, trying to replicate it. My own style started shaping up while I was copying her.
  • Living example of success. Another great guy and one of my best friends Andrey Gordeev worked full-time in the office on the opposite side of our hometown Khabarovsk. He used his nights to draw amazing illustrations for Moscow magazines. Gradually he started to get amazing overseas orders. By the time he had done few advertising illustrations for American Colgate, his skills and earnings motivated me to continue learning illustration. Working at the office and going to work every day was a routine for me. I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life. Andrey was my role model of a successful freelance illustrator.
  • Personal qualities. Another amazing thing that happened to me was getting introduced to yoga. I was searching for myself in drugs but when I first came to a yoga class, I felt it gave me so much more than drugs even could. I felt it gave me back a peaceful state of mind: my head cleared up from all the thoughts that were bothering me, I felt I always had high energy level and I felt good. It gave me the strength to do something. It made me focus on one thing easily. So I started to do yoga daily and it helped me overcome my addictions and bad habits. I also noticed my bad attitude to other people was transformed, I changed the way I was interacting with family members and it positively impacted all the other aspects of life.

It may sound unreal but it's actually logical. You are the center of everything in your life. What you think and feel, the way you perceive reality... it all influences the way you see the world and how you react to it. If you are at peace with yourself, you will be in harmony with the outside as well. Your attention and how to what you choose to dedicate it can transform your life.

3. We could say you’re a famous artist now. Could you tell us about your struggles to get here? What were the challenges? What were the hardships?

  • I am helpless in drawing. When I was starting, this was my first thought every time I was unable to sell illustrations or make the sketch just the way I imagined it. It is absolutely fine to make mistakes. What you should do is not waste your energy on emotions. It's better to shift your focus and use the same energy to see what you don’t like and how can you improve it.
  • Thinking about the work 24/7. There were lots of projects almost every day. Years of work. Whenever I would walk outside to get a break, I was thinking I have to work. During the lunch time, I was thinking that I am wasting my time, I should work now instead. When I was freelancing under the shadows of a palm trees - I was thinking the same thing again. Whenever and whatever I had been doing I was thinking about work. This was really stressful and it took me 6 years to make life-work balance. Yoga helped in my case.
  • Waiting for an invitation. I never ever offered my illustration services to anybody because it I don't think it works that way. When you are the one that's offering, it means you asking someone to do you a favor. It’s like begging. When your customer comes to you - you have the upper hand. You are in the winning position and you can dictate your own terms and requirements. You can raise the price higher. Because they want you personally to draw it. It’s challenging to behave this way: simply letting go and doing your best creating beautiful things, uploading them to all the social media platforms and just waiting. Once I’ve realized that I took the lead in the situation.
  • Thinking impossible. It was hard to believe that some deadlines are possible to achieve. It was even harder to imagine putting a higher price on my illustrations. But as long as you start thinking about impossible as achievable, you will not get it. Like getting an order for say Coca-Cola or Pepsi. Success is just out of your comfort zone and the line of your sight.

4. Was it worth it? What would you have done differently?

For sure it was worth it! The only thing I would have done differently would be not taking up a couple of orders that I knew from the start would be a lost cause. I am talking about the ones where the customer didn’t know what they wanted nor why they wrote to me.

5. If you could give an advice to aspiring artists trying to make it, what would that be?

  • Copy-Paste. Don’t be afraid to copy others works while starting out. It doesn’t mean you should put them in your portfolio saying they're yours but do it just as a study. Try to adopt others ideas, color palettes, compositions or way of working and you will see fast improvements. People made lots of research regarding the same thing before you and they've already made lots of mistakes so you don’t have to start from scratch.
  • Fake it until you make it. If you want more people to see your work, don’t write  comments like “Please, go through my portfolio, I’ve just posted a new project…” You'll attract more attention to your projects if you apply logos of big and famous companies. I'm not saying you should lie. You should add a tiny caption explaining how that is a made-up project and you're just dreaming about working with big clients. This really makes sense. People usually DO NOT READ. They will look and think you're already working with those brands. This worked in my case on Behance as I really started to work with famous companies.
  • Practice every day. Draw every single day. Draw everywhere. Draw everything you see and like. And just relax. Enjoy the journey.

You can find Fil on Behance,  Facebook, Instagram

What do you think about Fil's story? Can you identify with it? Does it make sense? Do you have a story you'd like to share for COLOURLOVERS blog?
Tell us about it! We're dying to hear.

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A Colorful Illustrated Map of London's Great Little Places

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This wonderful illustrated map of London's great little places was painstakingly hand drawn by Charlie Davis, an illustrator and designer based London. There's no doubt that a lot of hours and a lot of love went into every beautiful detail, just take a look for yourself.

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