Following in her mother’s artistic footsteps, Kashmira Sarode found herself at Sir JJ Institute of Applied Art, Mumbai in 2010. Her real relationship with design began post her education when she started working with Locopopo design studio. She has also worked at Amar Chitra Katha, Bombay Duck Designs and Design Temple before she ventured forth as an independent designer and illustrator. She has worked with brands including Facebook, Asian Paints, Google, WeWork, Penguin, GQ India, among others.
We have a conversation with Sarode about her work experiences so far, her approach to creating murals, and her foray into self-publishing. Edited excerpts:
How did you land up in design?
It was quite accidental. I remember wanting to go to Sir JJ Institute of Applied Art ever since I was little as my mother is from Mumbai and she had done a hobby course at JJ and wanted to study there full-time. Her wish got translated through me. I, however, wanted to study painting in the fine arts department but there is a common entrance test for admission and I landed up in the applied arts course. And thus began my journey into this field.
Though my first real introduction to design was after I graduated (as I was pretty reluctant in college) when I started working at Locopopo. The projects I worked on there were dream come true for me, as they were so fresh and experimental. My perspective further broadened at Design Temple and Bombay Duck Designs where I worked on a couple of projects post Locopopo.
What are some of the things you learnt at these studios and at Amar Chitra Katha that you now apply to your independent career?
At Locopopo, we were a two-people team so everything from the ideation to creation process to making the final artwork files had to be done by the two of us. In some cases, even the production had to be done in-house. To be thorough with this end-to-end process is what I learnt from all the small studios I've worked with, and it is absolute crucial knowledge to have while working independently.
Amar Chitra Katha was a roller-coaster. This was the first time I was leading a team on my own. I was only 22 years old at the time and not as experienced, but everyday was a learning experience and I got better at the job as I went along. At Amar Chitra Katha, I handled the design and production of a children's science magazine called Brainwave. I learnt so much about science from this magazine (things I never learnt at school). We also did a lot of science and art workshops for children and it was fascinating to see how children understood really complex information using art. I became more confident personally and professionally while working at Amar Chitra Katha, which is again a valuable asset while working independently.
What inspired you to become an independent illustrator/designer?
Since I am an only child, I would always draw alone, study alone, play alone, talk to myself when I was alone, eat alone - basically do everything by myself and that’s the only way I know how to function. While there are some benefits to this such as feeling empowered when I do something difficult by myself, it's also taxing because I am responsible for every single aspect of my work and there is no one I can depend on. However, I am thankful for my freelance career as I can't imagine doing anything that might take away this freedom.
What have been some of your main projects this year?
I worked on the Google Doodle about the first woman doctor in India, Anandibai Joshi. In an era where women were not even allowed to go to school, Anandi's husband encouraged her to study abroad. Although she fell ill and passed away at a young age of 22, she inspired many women to pursue medicine after her. Her story is a true testament of success in the face of adversity, even if it were short-lived.
I also did a mural for Tamanna, a school for specially-abled children in Vidyanagar. The mural was commissioned by JSW as part of their CSR initiative and was done in partnership with XXL collective. My mural was titled Free as the air and was inspired by the uniqueness of each child there.
Then I did a project in collaboration with Kokaachi for Anganwadis in Maharashtra. The idea was to paint crucial information (info-murals) about pregnancy and growth of a child upto five years of age on the exterior walls of the Anganwadi centres across villages in Maharashtra. There were also some playful and educational images inside which created a bright environment for children as these spaces also double up as play centres.
All of these projects were incredibly satisfying to work on as they were high on social impact scale.
As an artist, how different/challenging is the experience of doing a large scale mural vis-à-vis other work? And do you follow a different creative process while creating a mural?
I remember when I was making sketches for my first mural (with St+art Bengaluru festival at Cubbon Park metro station in November 16), I used an A2 size sheet for each rough sketch. For any other illustration project, I make thumbnails which are barely a couple of inches tall to create a rough composition. For the mural, I couldn't even fathom using an A5 size, it had to be A2. I use 1:12 ratio to draw the entire illustration on paper first. Then depending upon the detail of the artwork, timeline of the project and height of the wall, I either draw freehand or use a projector.
So far, there has been more freedom in the murals I've done as compared to other work in terms of what I choose to draw. Client work is almost always very definitive while murals (even when commissioned by a client) play more with the mood of the venue so there's a larger scope of artist interpretation. The only real hurdle while doing a mural is to be able to balance the scale of images vs the scale of the space around the mural.
Painting a mural is physically and mentally exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. It takes a lot of physical strength and focus, so working out and meditating helps.
Another aspect is the amount of people who give feedback/ talk to you/ appreciate the art while you are painting is just marvellous. My most common observation is that people are always surprised to see a woman paint something large scale and are extra appreciative and encouraging which always touches my heart. And it’s great to break gender stereotypes in whichever role possible. Almost everyone is thankful as their surroundings are being made beautiful and there are also people who want to join me in painting.
You recently displayed a self-published zine at the Gaysi Zine Bazaar. How important is self-publishing to you and do you face any challenges when it comes to the technical aspects of publishing?
Self-publishing has quickly become an essential part of my work. I've only recently started doing it but the response I've received with my very limited collection of items has been extremely positive and encouraging. It is great to see that there's an alternative avenue to channel my creative energy. One grows as an artist while making personal work and to be able to monetise this work via avenues like Gaysi is a cherry on top of the cake.
It is challenging, however, as an independent artist to print things in small quantities. As a beginner in the self-publishing industry, it is expensive to test the waters. If I wish to make five to ten copies of a new zine just to see people's reaction to it, I have to think about it quite a few times. It’s easier and more economical to print larger quantities but it’s not guaranteed that the product will sell well. So it’s a tough choice to make regarding the quantities to print as offset printers don't want to print smaller quantities whereas 40-50 prints is too large an amount for digital printers. It’s very time consuming and challenging to plan the printing process and I wish there was an easier and faster solution to this. The quality of print is also not the best in India and if it is even marginally good, the prices are through the roof so there's no way one can make profits as the self-published items also need to be moderately priced.
Same goes with the experimental printing methods - there are only two or three screen printers who're working hands-on with designers in the entire country, and there are absolutely no Riso and Letterpress printing machines out there for artists to experiment with. There is a real dearth of printing techniques in India, although ironically there are screen-printers and letterpress printers in almost every corner of every city market. I wish there were more print-focused studios in India.
What are you currently working on?
There are some exciting projects lined up till the end of this year including some murals and interesting editorials.
Payal Khandelwal is an independent journalist and editor of The Floating Magazine (thefloatingmagazine.com)