“The journey goes on. I am still walking, still discovering, still dreaming.”
What made you decide art was your calling? Tell us about your journey from a student of art to one of the most successful illustrators today.
All of us are born to do certain things, things that come naturally to us. For me one of them is art. I cannot remember a time when it wasn’t a constant presence in my life, in some form or the other.
So far my journey has been quite haphazard and it makes for an incoherent narration so maybe its a memoir for another day. Half the time, I feel like I stumbled upon a road that diverged in the woods and the other half, I feel like it stumbled upon me.
I would like to believe the best is yet to come because I am still not done with art and it certainly isn’t done with me. The journey goes on. I am still walking, still discovering, still dreaming.
You have done some work for Marvel Comics. We would love to hear about that.
I was getting offers to work for other publishers when I was at Virgin comics (which later became Graphic India) but I felt I hadn’t finished doing what I wanted to work on and so I passed up the offers. Unlike some of the artists working there, covers were something I wasn’t interested in at all. They were the last thing on my mind, often hoping they would get somebody else to work on them for my books.
Much later when I went solo, Marvel got in touch again, thanks to a writer friend who talked to another mutual friend. The offer came at the perfect time when I wasn’t keen on spending months laboring away on some Graphic Novel or working as a penciller on monthlies, so it was a nice change from the previous few years.
They asked if I would be interested in doing covers for Indestructible Hulk. Now Hulk wasn’t the first character I anticipated drawing for the big two but it was an interesting challenge and also an opportunity to pay homage to some of the definitive Hulk artists of my childhood and early teens – artists like Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema and Dale Keown. Plus, one of my most favorite writers, Mark Waid, was writing the story which was an added bonus. I worked on a few other titles with Marvel and I enjoyed all of them but the Hulk ones, at a personal level, were more enjoyable. I discovered that drawing jade giants is oddly satisfying. Grey ones too.
Have you undertaken any formal training to be an illustrator? How important it is to having some kind of formal training?
I graduated with a fine arts degree from J J School of Arts but I haven’t taken any formal training in illustration as a subject though. My own experience would suggest formal education is not necessary but I am sure there are some really good art schools out there. That said, in this field, nobody asks for your degree. And if they do, run.
How would you describe your personal style? Also, how is your workflow pattern or your approach towards a project?
I often tweak my technique a bit to suit the idea so my style, at least the ones out here in the public domain, isn’t what I would call personal. They just reflect the necessities of the work.
Whatever helps place the idea front and center is what I look for and that influences my work flow. Usually it is reading the story or brief, searching for that one thread that binds the whole narrative, tossing around various possibilities and choosing the one that gets the point across. More often than not I end up with something that hopefully works, given the limitations. But I do prefer open ended briefs than one set in stone. That’s where my interest lies. Ideas.
Which has been your most memorable piece of art that you have created?
All are memorable in the sense that I can recall most of them and the period they were created in. I guess when we spend time on our creations, a bit of the surrounding circumstances seep into our consciousness, forever attaching themselves to the work. It a lot like how a particular song or a smell is associated with some period of our lives.
I have no real favorite amongst my own work though. Perhaps a few, on the personal front, but I am not particularly attached to my own work. Once it is done, it is done. I would rather look at other artists’ works.
What tools do you use in your work? What do you prefer, hand sketching or digital work?
Sketching by hand on traditional paper of course though I don’t understand why this is a persistent question – digital or traditional. Artists create with whatever they have at hand. Everything is a tool.
But perhaps traditional feels more satisfying because it engages other senses besides the eye. VR might change that but there is something about the way the pencils feels in your hand as it deposits the graphite on the paper or the way the brush travels over the canvas, it’s rough grains catching the bristles, the bristles offering paint as tithe, the smell of linseed and turpentine. It’s like how us book lovers love the smell of new books and love to run our hand over leather bound covers.
For professional work my tools are Photoshop because it is a reliable workhorse and some bit of traditional work nowadays, mostly pencil on paper.
Among various artists, who have been your most important influencers?
I don’t think any artist has had any significant influence on me, but I have admired many.
Jack Kirby for his grand vision. Moebius for being so technically accomplished but so imaginative at the same time that he could create cerebral, surreal, fantasy art one year and come back the next to draw a spaghetti western. Neal Adams for his kinetic art. His hyper kinetic characters bristling with life, screaming we are not ink on paper, we are alive. Frazetta for being so monolithic, for putting the barbarian in Conan, Beksiński for being so haunting. Sargent for being so sublime, Klimt for being so wispy, Gil Kane for showing how to draw a man in flight and making it look so easy, Mignola for his minimalism, Herge for, well, for being so unique, Lauffray for building the tension, making me feel I could hear the storm and the dripping of water over rain soaked wood, all of the great American illustrators of the golden age. Closer home, two of the best comics artists India never had – R.K. Laxman and Mario Miranda. Or John Fernandes. So many. The list goes on and on…
What challenges does an artist face in the initial phases of his career?
One of the challenges is finding your own voice. Some start out very strong, fully confident of what they want. Others are a bit laid back, perhaps unsure of who they are and are trying to find their feet. But it takes years to develop that voice to its full potential and some give up a bit too soon. Or turn a wrong corner. Besides they associate so much of their self esteem with their profession. If it doesn’t turn out the way they would like, they feel underwhelmed.
The real challenge is I guess is to remember they chose it because they found themselves in it. If they pursue art (or any career for that matter) for any reason other than the fact that they genuinely belonged to it, they are bound to feel let down at some point down the road.Yes, follow your passion might be a cliché but if you feel it is difficult and want to give up, maybe what you thought was your passion isn’t your passion. As always, know thyself.
Any words of wisdom for the aspiring artists?
What works for one may not for the other. We are all built differently. So I am throwing in a few.
Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. Stop once in a while to smell the roses. The hours are long and often lonely as you huddle over your latest masterpiece, so remember to have fun every now and then. There is always something interesting in the most boring of art jobs and if you can’t find it, invent it. Step away from that problem and come back later with a fresh mind, because chances are your brain is already at work behind the scenes to solve it so give it some time. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind but maintain humility. At the end of the day it really isn’t about you, it is about your art. You are lucky to be working on something that you love so in trying times, try and remember what it felt like when you picked up that pencil or crayon and doodled away in your sister’s school notebooks, enduring her curses the next day or got whacked for ruining the freshly painted walls of your home. You will achieve all that you set out to achieve. Just keep the faith with yourself and leave the ego at the doorstep. Stop answering and start asking. And yes, contrary to popular belief, sometimes the client is right. Don’t force it. Use a larger hammer. Last one : Ignore all of the above.
To see more of Mukesh Singh’s work, click here