Spanish artist Manuel Donada on drawing, travel and survival

Spanish illustrator Manuel Donada takes inspiration from his experiences, people he meets and his current mood.

Manuel is currently spending time in Helsinki after a three year period of almost constant travel. He Hates tea, eggplant, ketchup and mint, suffers from Thalassophobia and strongly believes in Aliens.


Tell us about your background – how did you get into art?

I was born in Barcelona but we moved to Madrid when I was less than one year old. When people ask me where Im from I usually say from Madrid. I don’t really care. Both cities are nice even though people consider me a Madridian. I just don’t feel anything being from here or there. I’m from Earth I guess or maybe not.

When I was a kid a big fire destroyed our home, our belongings, everything but a bunch of books and clothes.

 Manuel Donada

I remember sitting on the burned stairs with my sisters cleaning all the dust from the stuff we had left.Mostly books. I still remember the smell of the ashes and us being quiet, cleaning in silence. I wondered how my sisters were feeling about it but I just didn’t ask. I wasn’t much of a talker. I wasn’t really sad or scared, just confused. After that we had to move somewhere else because we couldn’t live there any longer. We moved to a big house with another family (parents friends). The house was in a little town far from Madrid so there wasn’t much to do there. I would spend hours and hours in the garden playing by myself. I spent a lot of time alone since all the members of the family and my sisters were way older than me or just were into other things. I had to make my own stories, imaginary friends, build houses around the bushes, trees and so. I remember I used to search for things in the garden to build weapons and non sense tools.


I also used to draw non stop at the same time whenever I could. That was my only way of having fun and making it through the day. Nothing disturbing, it was pretty cool and I loved it. As i grew up, adventures in the garden were over and they started happening on paper. School was a waste. I hated it. I only wanted to draw and learn about things by myself.

My parents liked it and have supported me in every way (that has been very important and I will be forever thankful for that).

Drawing was and has always been a therapy for me besides being kind of a recreational/professional/whatever activity. For good and bad. I haven’t stopped since then. I took a few breaks but never stopped having it on my mind.

 Manuel Donada


Are you from Finland? Where do you live and work?

No, Im from Spain but I’m spending time in Helsinki after traveling and being homeless for almost 3 years now. I don’t really like to say I live here or there. I don’t have a house. Im in constant movement. Its something wonderful that I need to do while I can. I like it in Helsinki, though. The “Extreme” has always attracted my in some way. The weather, the darkness the light plus the language… It sounds beautiful. Every time they talk Im hypnotized by the sound of it. The idea that learning it and understanding everything could destroy the magic in it makes me feel nervous.

I can work wherever I want. I just need my hands and a nice table, pens and good environment. I guess i’m lucky.

 Manuel Donada

That is also a reason why I want to travel all the time. I can do it anywhere.

I understand you worked at Cartoon Network for a period– can you tell us about your time there?

People think its an amazing job to do cartoons, that you are going through kind of a Roger Rabbit experience in a fantasy world. Well ,cartoons are amazing and I love to watch them (specially the classic ones) but actually working in Cartoon Network was like working for any other big company: just another job. Trapped in the office from “9 to 5” having people telling you what to do all the time, judging, rules, frustration, boredom, angry people… I hate that. I cant stand it. I had no freedom, my creativity was dry and my passion for drawing was deserted.

All I wanted to do after work was to sit on a chair and stare at the wall in silence. Doing nothing. Wasting my time. I was alienated, dead. I was another fish in the pond, a slave even though Bugs Bunny was paying me regularly for that. It wasn’t worth it. You make money but they make sure its not enough so you come back the next day. I don’t like working for other people like that. You don’t share anything. They take everything they can from you to put gold medals on their chests. What they don’t know is that the medal they worship are poisoned. Slavery is not over, it just spread its ratio to include more colors. Not my thing. Not interested.


Things I go through, people I meet, things I see when I travel and my current mood really inspires me (or influences me, I would say). Easy as that. I sometimes draw situations or scenarios that happen in my sketchbooks so I don’t forget.

 Manuel Donada

Do you have your own stories behind the images you create? Who or what inspires the characters that populate your work?

Well, the characters just come out. I sit in front of a white paper and they just pop up. I vomit them through my pencil. Sometimes is exhausting because they are too many and I cant go that fast. That is why I don’t like doing comics that much. Drawing the same character all the time makes me feel anxious and its boring. I want more! all the time. That is the reason why I always have a sketchbook with me and can sit hours and hours at a cafe just doodling. Its wonderful. Times flies. It caresses you softly.

My memory is really bad. REALLY bad. I also draw about people I like. Hidden messages they only understand. Its a way of telling them how much I love them. Even when I tell them bad things.


Music is a clearly a big influence on your artwork and life – can you tell us about the kind of music you’re into and how it inspires you?

When I was a teenager I only listened to punk and hardcore, went to shows, got into the “scene”, started bands, zines…etc. Now I listen to a lot of different music and that is good. I should have done it earlier. I have an issue with classical music though. For some reason, when I was a kid, it scared the shit out of me, really badly. I would get terrified when someone played it. Now I feel weird when I listen to it but its kind of calling my name because Im a total ignorant about it and I want to know more.

Black metal is an important genre in my life too but right now Im kind of disappointed about it. Its like Cirque du Soleil. A big carnival. Not interested. I mean, I have to be in a certain mood to play a record. When I arrived to Finland, I got into it very hard again for a while.


I also draw about people I like. Hidden messages they only understand. Its a way of telling them how much I love them. Even when I tell them bad things..

What kind of commercial work do you undertake?

I like to choose who I work with. I have had very bad experiences with big and small clients so I don’t really care about how important they are. If the projects suits me and I think is something worth it and true I´ll take it. But I would never spend my time working with Donald Trump or something I consider wrong, if you know what I mean. Work or anything else.

In your bio you mention your fear of the sea (Thalassophobia) – does this phobia inspire or drive your work?

When I was a kid I almost drowned. I couldn’t swim to the surface. I was trapped by the tide and, after putting all my energy, effort, will and cosmic radiation into saving my life, I reached a point when I decided to give up. I couldn’t do anything else. I was about to open my mouth and breathe when the daughter of my parents friend saw me and took me out of the water just in time. I think that memory feeds the “phobia”. I remember a hand coming towards me in this green and blue halo. I also have TOTAL respect for the open water, the mysteries of the depths and whatever is down there.

I don’t think any of my phobias are represented in my work in a conscious way. Closer feelings like frustration, anger, joy..etc are the ones that you can see more often around it. Of course there must be hidden information like in everything around us. My sister always says that when she looks at my drawings she know what I’m going through. I’m not so sure.

My problem with water is not just that. It affects many other activities in my daily life. I have a weird connection with it and that is sad. Water its not just a crucial element you need to survive, it has also very powerful magic powers.


Tell us about the Surviving Pangea project – you’ve been working on it for the last 12 months haven’t you? Where did the inspiration for the project come from? What do you hope to achieve when it’s done?

The idea was to travel to a different place every month, stay there doing a 150 pages sketchbook, put it out and move to the next location. Kind of like an art world tour or something and a fantastic direct experience in life. By the end of the year I would have 1,800 pages and 12 books per month released. All different cities, all kinds of adventures. Very romantic and very naive. Also pretentious and a little bit egocentric, I know. It also could seem like Im trying to trick people or something, that all I do is travel and have fun. The thing is that I’m not traveling on a limousine or and eating sea-food every night. Believe me. It can get REALLY rough and intense.

It all started good but it took an unexpected turn so I had to re-adjust the project to make it work. I decided to stay in Helsinki for a while so that made me fix the original route and think about something that made sense. Now Im still doing the books and drawing but months come separately. Not in a row. I’m still doing 12 books about different places but its going to take me more than a year. Also because money, unfortunately, is always a BIG problem. Now that I have “signed” with an AMAZING publishing house they will come out more regularly I guess. Those guys are amazing.

The first 3 books are out and that was all OK but something bad happened during the last one and made me almost quit the whole thing.


In fact, it almost made me quit everything I do to find something else that made me feel I had a reason to live on this planet. The idea of leaving became really strong.


I thought that the books turned into some kind of a job, that I had to do them, I was forcing myself to draw everyday even though nothing was coming out. The innocence and intention of all the project was losing its essence, the spontaneity, the impulse, the pure use of imagination… I had the constant feeling that people were going to read it and it totally change my perspective of doing it. It wasn’t me or what I was trying to achieve with it. I was just sending lame messages to the world. Random sentences and characters just to fill up the pages. All empty, boring and useless.

That drove me to think that everything that I do isn’t made for anyone to see but me. No one should care about it or look at it. Everybody should mind their own business. There was no reason to show it to anyone. I didn’t care. I wanted to keep it to myself. Thats it. There was no use on being judged, misunderstood, no need to feed my ego or being accepted by people you don’t know or don’t give a damn. I wasn’t doing things I liked. I was trying to make people happy by reading these books or taking a look at what I do and I felt really bad for that. Nothing nice was coming out of it. Information was rotten and already dead when projected.

Today I radically changed that point of view and defeated that cosmic pessimism. I still don’t care about what people think about me or what I do. I have decided that I want to bring joy to the world, make the cords of the universe quiver and enlighten my soul and spirit. I dealt with the book release thing for a while and decided to put it out anyway as an experiment. Mixing real feelings and situations with fake ones to confuse some people and provoke others. See how they react. Sometimes, people come up to me and think they know me or they know about my life because they read the book. Jesus, my life would be pretty lame and boring if it was just what happens in-between those pages. Because, actually, topics are almost the same all the time and most of it is fake.


Its funny and interesting because sometimes I see myself as a totally different person. The one who draws and the one who lives a real life. I just take care with whom I share the second one.


Its kind of a game, nothing else than that. Me producing and observing. The rest is silence. Its like giving a plastic ball to a chimpanzee and see what happens. What it does with the the artifact you just delivered. No offense. Its science. Book number 4 is being cooked. Lets see what happens.

How has your work grown and progressed in the past year?

A lot of things have happened to me in this past year. I have the feeling that I have lived 4 in 1 or something. I have gone through a very dark period that now its over. I became a very irritating person, obscure and negative. I contaminated everything around me and the universe answered back. Im totally the opposite so that made me feel even more frustrated. Something that I can see is that my drawing skills have become a little bit better, if that makes any sense, and its because, in the past months, I have been drawing like a maniac, fully charged. Learning and trying new things. Walking in a spiral instead of circles. Its a real waste of time walking around the same thing all the time. It doesn’t get you anywhere.


Best mistake you’ve ever made (art or otherwise)?

Oh! That is a very difficult question. There are no things such as mistakes. They are regular facts that happen so beautiful things are born. People complain when things seem to be falling apart but what they don’t know is that they are falling int the right place. Its in your hands to create and turn it into something positive. This doesn’t mean that I don’t get pretty angry and aggressive sometimes. I have the right not be on my mood when things don’t apparently work out.


Where do you hope to take your work in the next few years? Any secret passion projects you’d love to develop?

I don’t really have high hopes or what people understand by that. I don’t pretend to be successful, famous or over recognized. That is pretty sad if you look for it or have it as your main goal in life. I don’t consider myself an artist, I just draw. Drawing is something I enjoy to the infinite and makes me feel very good, in peace with my soul and spirit. Its something that I need, like breathing. If you take it away from me, I would probably end up killing myself.

I have mixed feelings with it when I think about it as a living. But I have two choices: work handcuffed and become a plastic bag pushed by the wind, an empty can that moves as people kick it or use the tools that I have been giving or I can find to just do what I want, built my life as I wish and enjoy whats around me. I’m aware that sacrifices must be done sometimes but I can handle that. We share this world so you cant go around kicking people in the shins and get away with it. As long as there is a good connection and understanding I’m happy with it. I will share with you.



Posted on Aug 29th, 16 by | Twitter: @lisahassell

Founder and director of Inkygoodness, Lisa currently heads up sister agency WE ARE GOODNESS, a Birmingham based artist management and creative consultancy, representing a diverse roster of artists globally.

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