“Create images that you love seeing over and over again”

Your artwork is very impressive and distinctive. Where did your love for drawing start and how did you go on to become an illustrator?

My parents are also artists, that’s how it began for me. I’ve been brought up in a house filled with art materials, old portfolios and picture books. I studied Applied Arts in the same college as my mom did, Sophia Polytechnic in Mumbai. Then I pursued Visual Communication at SOD – IDC, IIT Bombay. Followed by a second MA Visual Arts from London. Creating images has always been something I’ve enjoyed doing before I even started academics. My work has moved from web design, to children’s book illustrations and wall paintings, more recently.

Wall Art at Freshdesk / Pic Courtesy : Ruchi Shah

How has your journey been till now? What has been your biggest learning from institutes like IDC and University of Arts, London?

The journey is spread across different places, where I’ve learnt things from some brilliant people and I’ve had different opportunities. My skills grew during my time in Sophia’s. SOD – IDC opened up new channels through which I could take my work ahead. UAL taught me how to balance my work while enjoying working with multiple mediums. And the biggest learning there was to ‘do’ more and more of what I enjoy.

Who or what motivates you to generate new ideas and concepts?

Daily life – little stories attached to it – fascinates me. If I see something I want to work with – a technique, a material, a script – it all goes into this little box in my head. And when I get an opportunity, I open this box and browse through everything stored here while ideating. At times the nature of the commissioned work also pushes me into discovering unknown concepts. Alan Fletcher, Mario Miranda, Saul Steinberg, Stefan Sagmeister are designers whose body of work I’ve enjoyed tremendously.

Pic Courtesy : Ruchi Shah

Which has been your most memorable piece of work that you have created? Can you give us a brief description about it and the tools that you used for the same?

Apart from a handful of projects, I’d have to say that ‘Our Incredible Cow’ was unforgettable simply due to the experiences it brought. It was a story written in 1982 by Mahaswetadevi – the story describes the many escapades of ‘Nyadosh’ her pet cow who lives in her village house. She butts everybody, eats fish & onions and does exactly as she pleases. The unusualness of the story was captured by creating the cow with objects that she used to eat or interact with in the story. This was an academic project which I took up 8 years ago, and was recently published in 2015 by Tulika Books, in 9 languages. As a part of the process I worked with sketches, everyday materials, I used a projector and a camera as well to capture images, and worked on softwares to tweak the images.

‘Nyadosh – The Incredible Cow’ / Pic Courtesy : Ruchi Shah

Incredible Cow/ Pic Courtesy : Ruchi Shah

What were the challenges that you faced while working on such projects?

There were many ways to interpret how the image-making for this story would happen. It could have been with sketches, or in a wood- cut style (as the story was based in Calcutta), the first challenge was to decide the approach. Once the idea of working with materials took root, the next problem was how to buy fish! Being a vegetarian it took some time to learn how to select and work with fish like pomfret, bombil and prawns etc. I had to work my way around dealing with different materials for each part of the story. Each demanded a particular technique for working with. I developed a handwritten font for the story. Arranging the materials to form the shape of a cow visually, was another achievement. Objects like bottles and books were lesser in flexibility to work with – while objects like vegetables and fish would get spoilt in a matter of a few hours. So I had to arrange things quickly and capture some of the images before the materials lost their freshness. Some visuals were as small as an A3-sized paper while some spanned beyond A1 occupying most of the studio floor. Each visual made for this story has an equally crazy story behind how the materials were procured and how it was made.

Until now it was all academic work. After this point making copies of the book and mailing copies to different publishers, organizations and not losing heart – over this entire process took 6 years while I worked on different jobs, studied in a different country. I wanted the book to go live by finding a publisher that believed in it and wanted to see it on a bookshelf, just like me.

Pic Courtesy : Ruchi Shah

What are the tools/software that you use regularly as a part of your work? Did you undergo training for the same?

Primarily I use hand drawing skills when I work. I physically assemble things or draw and paint with ink when I begin. I also use softwares like Photoshop, Illustrator and Corel Draw occasionally. I’ve received training for some of it, while some skills I’ve picked along the way. Due to the nature of my work I’ve picked up a lot of physical skills like screen printing, working with wood, scrap materials and so on. A lot of it is knowledge that comes with doing hands-on work.

Homemade Food / Pic Courtesy : Ruchi Shah

What are your future career goals?

To do more and more work and know myself better through the process.

What does the industry demand in terms of technical / soft skills from a fresher artist?

Instead, I would ask, ‘What is it that you love working with and how far are you willing to take those skills, technical or otherwise.’

What message do you have in mind for the aspiring artists?

Love yourself, and believe in your work. The only thing that matters is doing good, honest work, that has quality. Create images that you love seeing over and over again.