Originally published in the Meet the Maker column in the August 2023 issue of Ocean City Magazine
For Ocean City artist Daniela Atanasova, art has always been a fact of life.
As a child, Daniela spent a lot of time drawing, and she was never satisfied with the drab clothing on her dolls, wanting to craft her own more inspired attire to adorn them. This love of creating followed her, ultimately leading the Bulgarian native to graduate from a high school in fashion art before pursuing her graduate degree with a concentration in painting.
And now, Daniela has found a way to turn her art into a living, from the intricate designs she casts onto wayward seashells she finds on Ocean City beaches to the detailed henna tattoos she paints onto Boardwalk customers.
Master of Fine Arts
Born and raised in Bulgaria, Daniela began her professional artistic career by earning a master of fine arts from the St. Cyril and St. Methodius University of Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria, graduating in 2001. A year after graduation, Daniela visited America as a foreign exchange student, spending most of her time in Ocean City. It was here that she discovered a love of walking along the shoreline, where she was amazed by the power and span of the ocean.
“In Bulgaria, I lived on the river Danube, but I never felt the power of the water,” Daniela said. “It was amazing for me to be a little more in touch with nature.”
Following her exchange program, she returned to Bulgaria until 2016 when her husband won the green card lottery and the pair moved to America. Drawn by her positive memories of Ocean City and the feeling of security and safety she felt there, they decided to settle down in the shore town.
In Ocean City, Daniela was fascinated by the seashells one can find on the beaches, which dwarfed those along the shores of the Black Sea back in Bulgaria. One by one she gathered these shells, amassing quite a collection. Originally she used them to create little sculptures, but eventually the shells became a natural canvas for her art. Using mixed-media, Daniela began decorating these shells with paintings of animals, photos of the Ocean City landscape, quotes and more. Occasionally, these seashells can be found at various shows through the Ocean City Fine Arts League in their downtown gallery, Art on Asbury, where Daniela has also exhibited some of her paintings and fine art pieces.
The American Way
Daniela and her husband have found that America’s culture around gift-giving and overall appreciation for art allows them to sell their artwork much more easily than when living in Bulgaria.
“The United States gives a lot of opportunities. You need to work hard for your goals, really hard to try to find a way to do this, but there are a lot of opportunities,” Daniela said. “I’m also seeing that Americans give a lot of gifts to their relatives and their friends for any purpose, which is good for me because they buy gifts and my seashells are good for gifting.”
Daniela is a five-star Etsy seller, having made close to 300 sales so far through her online storefront SeaShellArtByDaniela. Through this shop, she sells her own original artworks painted on the seashells she collects at the shore. In addition, she is also open to custom works and has made birthday favors, Christmas designs and more.
A favorite custom order was actually from an Ocean City couple.
“The guy ordered a gift for the lady, and then the lady ordered a secret gift for him,” Daniela said. “So they could surprise each other. They were so sweet.”
When she’s not painting her seashell masterpieces, Daniela enjoys visiting art museums in nearby Philadelphia and New York. She also works over the summer as a professional freehand henna artist at Jersey Girl on the Boardwalk.
“It’s so symbolic and I love it. I love to be in touch with the customers and I love to see how they feel,” Daniela explained. “Henna art is special. When you’re getting henna, you’re relaxed. I feel the people and they feel different when they’re just sitting and relaxing.”
For Daniela, art is more than a career – it’s passion and self-expression.
“My art is my expression. This is the way I express myself. I don’t know full English, but I do know the language of art,” she said. “And I can speak in this language much better.”
For more information on or to purchase a piece of Daniela Atanasova’s art, visit her Etsy shop, SeaShellArtByDaniela, or her Facebook Daniela Atanasova ART.