STORY BY OLIVIA HEWANG AND DANA HUCH, PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN
Dasha Korepanova used to sell her character designs in exchange for virtual currency in a video game. Now, the Los Altos junior is inundated with so many requests for commissions — paid in real money, not in-game “spuds” — that it’s become difficult for her to manage during school.
“I would sell my stuff for 10 cents and hope and pray that it sold,” Korepanova said. “Now, it’s surprising to me how many people want to support my stuff.”
Korepanova primarily uses Instagram to share her work, posting what she described as a mix of animal character design and fan art. Recently, her following on Instagram has grown, rising from 300 followers to 400 in just one month.
But she said numbers have never been her focus — it’s interacting with her fellow artists and followers that brings her the most joy.
“It’s really nice seeing how the same people come back to your posts,” Korepanova said. “The same people say, ‘Wow, I love this,’ ‘This made my day,’ and I think just building that tiny community of people who really like my art is what means a lot to me.”
Community has always been an essential part of Korepanova’s art. Before middle school, Korepanova said that her perception and involvement in the art scene was limited to doodling for fun and copying images off the Internet, but her friends changed that completely. She credits these friends for giving her the initial push that helped her get where she is now.
“When I met my friends, they showed me a different side to this whole art culture and how you can push yourself to make your own characters and your own designs,” Korepanova said.
The originality and quality of Korepanova’s art has mushroomed since those formative middle school years. Since then, her signature style has emerged; if you scroll down Korepanova’s Instagram page, you’ll see a variety of whimsical creatures done in a style that she describes as “muted and painterly.”
But sticking to a consistent style has always been less important than evolution to Korepanova, who said she’s constantly tinkering with her visual approach and embracing experimentation.
“I feel like [art style] always evolves no matter how good your art gets, because you always are influenced by the things around you,” Korepanova said.
When Korepanova invents a mythical creature, she considers human qualities as well, incorporating distinct personalities that influence the creature’s pose, coloring and visual quirks.
For commissions, clients often give Korepanova a personality profile to work with, but she said she also likes to add her own touch of “snarkiness” and mischief to her creatures.
“It’s a selling factor because people really like to connect with them on an emotional level,” she said. “That’s usually what gets someone to buy it.”
Despite her early success, Korepanova’s parents have reservations about her desire to pursue art as a career, but Korepanova attributes that uncertainty to misconceptions about the scope of artists’ work.
“A lot of people think art as a job can only be where you sell your paintings to an art exhibit … but that’s not what modern artists do,” Korepanova said. “I don’t think [they] understand that art and design can be found pretty much anywhere.”
Korepanova said her dream career is creating concept art for video games, movies and television shows. She isn’t under any illusions about the less-glamorous side of the job — expecting she’d be assigned to “draw 40 different rocks” — but she’s fascinated by the possibility of showing her character designs to a broader audience through the mainstream entertainment industry.
“Having the freedom to draw a bunch of different characters and concepts and trying to represent a certain idea would be the closest to what I do now,” Korepanova said.
But until then, Korepanova is focused on experimenting with new techniques and improving as an artist.
“My goal right now is just to find [a style] that I’m happy with and to grow and explore more and just get better,” Korepanova said.