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One of the things I love about Instagram is finding, connecting and networking with other like-minded people. I can’t remember exactly how I found Nina Oswald, the instagrammer behind @ninamarlena but as soon as I saw her array of hand crafted skulls (perfect to decorate your dorm), I knew I had to interview her. Like me, Nina has an obsession with skulls and colours but in her case she produces them from scratch! As well as running her business Nina Marlena, Nina still aspires to become a set designer and visual merchandiser. Here she explains how she became obsessed with skulls, it’s evolution to home decor and the current projects she is working on.
CollegeDormista: Where did you go to university? What was your major and what are doing now?
Nina Marlena: I studied at Curtin University and just graduated this month with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interior Architecture. I am currently using the spare time I now have to pursue other artistic ideas such as expanding on my skull work and saving up for a trip to America.
CD: Have you always wanted to get into the art and design field?
NM: I always knew I wanted to do something creative. Interior Architecture/Design has been an interest of mine from a young age. Through school, I always enjoyed creating with my hands; doing TEE art, sewing classes and personal craft projects. It is amazing how many connections can be made between all artistic disciplines which offer new perspectives within projects. I want to learn as much as I can within art and design.
CD: How did Nina Marlena come to be? Why skulls?
NM: My middle name is Marlena. My name was already “ninamarlena” on Instagram before I started making the skulls. I remember not wanting to make a name for myself that was purely about skulls. I didn’t want to be locked into a category so I just went with my name: boring! Even though I have made a name for myself as “the skull girl” I’m hoping I will eventually shake that as I move onto other things in the future. In terms of the skulls, I had a fascination with skulls prior to creating them myself and I wanted to make one for a fun personal assignment. Through Instagram and word of mouth my little craft project erupted into a business, something I had never initially intended for. The response has been incredible.
CD: How do you make these skulls? How do you paint/decorate them?
NM: The skulls are created with plaster through the technique of casting to form a base shape. Once hardened, the skull is removed from the mold and left to completely dry out. Then I give them an undercoat and apply paint, glitter, confetti pieces or patterned fabric strips.
CD: Do you have a certain interest with interiors and décor? Did the skulls have a décor purpose from the beginning or did it evolve over the years?
NM: I’m certainly interested with interiors and more so the connection between interiors and art. I have a soft spot for installation and the way elements come together to define a space. Décor has the power to transform a space entirely and it’s exciting that my skulls play a role in that transformation in such a variety of spaces from homes to offices. I feel there was always a décor purpose from the beginning of the skull project and that has now evolved into something more. My solo exhibition last year was also a part of my thesis and explored manipulations to the skull object in terms of destruction and extension, resulting in contextual transformation. The skull as a décor item was challenged and used in bizarre installations branching from surrealism ideology. My work is not only about creating a home wares product but also exploring art, techniques, meaning and redefining the possibility of the object.
CD: Do you decorate your own space with the skulls you make?
NM: I’m not sure if “decorate” is the right term but there are skulls everywhere in my house! However, there is one skull I have kept for myself and it lives on my bedside table away from the others. It is a unique splatter paint skull that was involved in an interactive installation from my exhibition.
CD: Why do you think skulls are becoming such a popular décor trend?
NM: I think there will always been a certain fascination with the skull as it is applicable to all of humanity and presents an everlasting conversation about life and death. There is something beautiful yet haunting about the object and it encases a multitude of meaning and varied interpretation, hence its popularity.
CD: Where do you get your inspiration?
NM: I find inspiration browsing through art and design blogs and creative Instagram feeds. If an image inspires me, even in a distantly related field, I enjoy trying to apply an element of the concept or aesthetic to my own work. Often working on one project will inspire ideas for further exploration. Using fabric as a finish has opened many doors for me and I am currently working on a couple of collaborative skull series incorporating the work of Jarrad Seng and Justin Davies. We are creating custom fabric from photographic images to apply to the skulls. I find collaborating with other creative people incredibly rewarding and inspiring. The ideology behind the Surrealism art period also serves as inspiration to me.
CD: Your Instagram features so many inspirational and creative images and the current projects you’re working on. Why do you like Instagram?
NM: I use Instagram to bookmark other artists/projects I discover as well documenting my own artistic adventures in my processes, products and other pretty stuff along the way. I like Instagram because it is a visual representation of my brain and my experiences. I have made some incredible connections with other creative like-minded people all over the world. It is a great platform for exchange of inspiration as well as the promotion of my art.
CD: Your Instagram is also very colourful! Why do you like playing with colours?
NM: I love visual vibrancy and intensity, whether it’s represented in colour, pattern or texture. Colourful things are striking and energetic. I feel that colour provides a jolt of revitalisation to the senses. It is a powerful communication tool and prevalent throughout my work.
CD: Does your personal style ever mirror the skulls you create? Or vice versa?
NM: There are days where I will wear colourful or heavily patterned items, which is reflective of my work to an extent for sure. I enjoy matching garments but also clashing prints and then there are days I’ll colour block or wear all black. My outfits depend on my mood, just as my ideas for new skulls are evoked from particular emotions. I did a really cool collaboration with a local fashion label, Kawaii Girls, where matching garments (crops and skirts) were created in conjunction with skulls using the same print. The shoots were always really exciting. I think an overdose of pattern or camouflage within art, fashion and interiors expresses a “wow” factor element.
CD: Lastly, will Nina Marlena expand to other products in the future?
NM: I want to do a few more decor pieces with the skulls involving semi three-dimensional wall hanging art. I am also attempting to create a plaster pineapple as another home wares product. However, my heart is in set/scenic design, styling, event design and visual merchandising rather than product design. I hope to combine my knowledge of space and my crafting abilities to work on installations that blend interiors and art. In the future I would love to work on elaborate shop window displays, extravagant scenes for fashion photography and incredible event environments.