Sajid Wajid Shaikh: Self-publishing can be very liberating

PWI speaks to the Mumbai-based multidisciplinary artist about art, design, and self-publishing initiatives

22 May 2019 | By PrintWeek India

A self-taught, multidisciplinary artist based in Mumbai, Sajid Wajid Shaikh works across illustration, pattern design, portraiture, typography, and street art. Having started off with a career in advertising, Shaikh slowly paved his own path to become an independent artist, taking inspiration from Music and Fine Art along the way. An interesting amalgamation of traditional drawing techniques with digital technology is also something that makes his work unique. His clientele boasts of brands like Google, Facebook, PayPal, Yahoo, Adidas, Red Bull, and Condé Nast. We speak to Shaikh about his journey so far. Edited excerpts:

Since you are a self-taught artist, what were some of the specific challenges you faced while you were starting out? And what has been the greatest advantage of being self-taught?
When I started, it was quite difficult for me to push out the kind of work I really wanted to do. I am from an advertising background, and normally when you work with agencies, you are always made to imitate someone else’s style. And that’s what happened with me too. Even when I moved to freelancing, the initial experience was the same. And I just didn’t want to be someone who imitates. So my main initial problem was the lack of original content in my portfolio. Of course, it started changing gradually over a period of time.

The advantage of being self-taught was that looking at other people’s works gave me an understanding of how to think like a designer. I would look at different styles, forms, works, and try to understand people’s creative process. That proved to be good learning initially. 

Music forms an important part of your work. When did your interest in music start? And when did you start aligning visual art and music?
I initially started off by listening to heavy metal and death metal genre. The kind of imagery this entire genre has is very different. I also started exploring the music scene around me which included hanging out with people who had their own bands or were a part of the scene. My role came in when I started making album covers for some of these people. My initial portfolio consisted of all these album covers in fact. Music gave me the opportunity to express myself and I figured album covers is something I was very keen on doing under my practice. Slowly and steadily, the bands started progressing to world/new age music and started demanding different kind of graphics, and my work evolved with that. 

Album covers are such a crucial cross-section between fine art and music. You can make a painting, crop it up anyhow, and call it an album cover. There is that liberty you can take. It was really challenging and fun to initially start with that.

Could you tell us a bit about the Forty Six & Two studio? Is it a collaborative studio? 
Basically, for my commercial projects, I wanted to have a separate studio name. I was thinking of naming it ‘Sajid Wajid Shaikh’ initially, but it didn’t sound right to me. I believe that if the studio is named after a person, the person becomes the studio and then the studio has to always reflect what the person is, and that can get convoluted at some point. So I wanted it to be about an idea instead.

Forty Six & Two started from my bedroom. For every project, we collaborate with other creatives like other artists or musicians, as and when required. The studio helps me to bifurcate my personal works and commercial projects. 

We wanted to know more about your self-publishing initiatives? Also, how important is self-publishing to you and do you face any challenges when it comes to the technical aspects of publishing? 
A lot of people don’t really understand the painstaking process that printing is, especially when it comes to printing four colours and five colours. You have to thoroughly invest yourself in the entire process. I share my office with a friend who is a printer, so we have an understanding of how it all works and we end up experimenting with different processes of printing. 

Self-publishing is really liberating. It takes the power away from curators and puts it right back into the hands of artists. In this day and age, you can go out there, get your prints and zines printed and show them to the world directly. It just opens you to different kind of challenges which you won’t experience while sitting in front of a computer, so self-publication is a huge learning process also. 

In one of your older interviews you had said, “I’m always looking at ways to make digital technology work for the analog version." Can you elaborate on that?
Initially when I was trying to work with found objects, I wanted to figure out what’s the new element that can be added to it. For me, it’s a very gradual process of making something, and trying to push the boundaries of the next thing that can be done. So for some of my artworks made from found objects, I started putting my mobile phone as another object. I would put close-up of some video on YouTube, so say for example, if I was making a portrait out of found objects, the mouth could be made with the YouTube video. It just made the entire thing come alive. I was very fascinated by this – to introduce technology into something analog, and it turned out to be a great merger. Sometimes, I even used the mobile phones where the eyes are supposed to be as that could look like someone was watching from underneath. 

Another way to see this is that being an illustrator, my work is sort of analog. At the end of the day, you usually draw something with your hand, but now with tools like the Wacom tablet, I can take more risks and do things differently. It’s the right balance.   

As an artist, how different/challenging is the experience of doing street art vis-à-vis other work? 
While creating artwork digitally, you can zoom in and out with a click of a button. However, while painting a life-size mural, you are making an artwork that’s like 5000 times bigger than what you would make digitally, so yes, it does come with its own set of challenges. In a mural, there is much less liberty to make mistakes, and if there’s something wrong you have to take the crane guy back to where it is. It’s a process on its own to be able to fix it.

When it comes to a mural, a lot of things have to be done impromptu. Sometimes, it’s hard to get the exact measurements of a building. And while you have created the structure of the artwork on your computer, things can be very different on the site. The building’s size, corners, etc. could prove to be difficult. Addressing challenges like these becomes interesting - it’s all about how creatively can you solve the problem while making a mural.

Could you tell us what are you currently working on? 
I am currently collaborating with this conscious clothing brand called Indigene ( I am trying to produce some drawings for them, and planning to put a show together soon. 

Apart from that, I am experimenting with mark making techniques in my drawing. I was always drawing lines and curves in my work, and I am now trying out various permutations and combinations of different techniques of mark making. For example, if my hand is shaking while I am drawing a straight line, it would give me a completely different expression and result. It makes you aware of how your hand movements can trigger vibrations. So that’s what I am doing currently.

Said Wajid Shaikh’s Portfolio:

Payal Khandelwal is an independent journalist and editor of The Floating Magazine (