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E027 Crayons for Conservation with Akshaya Zachariah

In this episode, we speak to Akshaya Zachariah, who is an illustrator and conservation artist.

Listen here:

 

We start with the beginnings of her interest in wildlife and nature and what led her to launch Elzac Doodles as a way to use art to raise her voice and environmental awareness.

She talks about her work as a WWF voices member and some of the work that she has done with WWF.

We discuss the purposeful handling of social media as artists and how she has found community and opportunities through it.

She talks about the ups and downs of the freelance illustration career and the ways she navigates it to keep her going.

She shares her long list of  creative inspirations from various fields like art, illustration, literature, poetry and children’s books.

References:

Akshaya’s instagram: https://www.instagram.com/elzac_doodles

Akshaya’s creative inspirations:

Andy Warhol: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andy_Warhol

Picasso: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Picasso

Vincent Vangogh: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_van_Gogh

Warli Art: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warli

Herge: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herge

Lisa Congdon: https://lisacongdon.com/

Mari Andrew: https://www.instagram.com/bymariandrew

Timothy Goodman: https://www.instagram.com/timothygoodman/

Adam J Kurtz: https://www.instagram.com/adamjk

Current Conservation Magazine: https://www.currentconservation.org/

Rohan Chakravarthy’s Green Humor:  https://www.instagram.com/green_humour

Sushi mentions instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/plantsandpipettes

 

Transcript of the interview

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Sushi: Hi Akshaya and welcome to Design Lota. Why don’t you tell us about what you’ve been up to these days.

 

Akshaya: Hey Sushi, I’m so glad to be a part of this podcast series. Thank you so much for having me. So I have been freelancing for about two years now and I’ve been busy with a few projects with clients actually from different parts of the world now. And it’s really exciting to have clients like that. So a few of them involve me creating cleverly designed pitch decks for media companies. There are a few portrait projects that I do as well and some personal projects that I keep time for. So I’ve been dabbling with all of these. Unfortunately I can’t talk about some of the work because it’s confidential. But I can assure you that great things are coming.

 

Sushi: So Akshaya, you and I became friends during design school and they’ve even been in a couple of projects together and I’ve been following your work for a while now. So how did you decide that you wanted to become an illustrator? What’s been your journey so far?

 

A: So in my family, I would say that all of us love drawing in some way or the other. My parents have drawn and they’ve done cartoons when they were younger. My mom’s designed outfits for us when we were kids, so a mix of creative things and hands-on art is what I took on and my first canvas was of course the walls of my house, much to the horror of my folks. We had the cassette with old Disney songs and that’s when I began watching and being inspired by Disney movies, Looney tunes, MGM, so many other cartoons from the nineties.

 

 I used to love Tom and Jerry, Flintstones, Captain Planet. Yeah, I did love captain planet. I think most of what I do as a conservation artist stems from these cartoons that we watched as kids and Captain Planet played a huge role in making me realize my respect towards nature and its resources.

 

S: Who was your favorite character in Captain Planet? What was your favorite power?

 

A: That is a tricky one. I liked Earth. I’m dying to get my hands on the full series so that I can watch it and show it to children of this day cause they don’t know this cartoon at all.

 

S: I think it would be a lot more popular now than it was in the nineties.

 

A: Yes! Very true.

 

S: It’s actually cool to be into conservation and sustainability now.

 

A: And imagine, if they thought about it back then in the nineties when there was damage, but not many people are talking about it. It’s very powerful that they stood up and made a cartoon on it. It’s very creative. So all of this actually translated to paper and I did love doodling, but this was not my first preference to become an illustrator. I had dreams of becoming a veterinary doctor, but somehow art just kept sneaking back in because I love drawing my biology records. I loved making cards for friends and gifting them and I knew I wanted to make this a mode of living. When I was in 10th standard, I was at a crossroad. I didn’t know what subject I wanted to take, whether it was science or whether it was arts, but I chose to take up the arts because that gave me a good platform for me to express myself better, even if it is being inspired from poetry, which I studied or history that I also studied.

So I had psychology, I had history, I had English to back me up in terms of thinking creatively even. So that bolstered me forward to take up a design education at Srishti Institute of art, design & technology, Bangalore. So it was a good platform for me to step forward and up my skills as a designer and illustrator. So it was an art and design diploma that I received at Srishti. It has been challenging finding my way through, but once I found a style for myself, I knew I was going in a direction that I wanted to. So each week in fact has been unfolding new learnings for me.

S: That’s great. You talked about finding a style for yourself and finding a signature style is one of those elusive things that most designers and artists struggle to establish. And your illustrations over the past couple of years have developed this very distinct crayon finish style. Was this something you discovered over the course of your journey? And can you talk about how your style has evolved?

A: Sure, so I’m sure each artist has struggled with this at some point. And for me, I struggled with finding my style ever since I was thrown a boulder by a mentor at Srishti. So I used to play around with mixed media art in college and school. Uh, I used to use photographs, watercolor, acrylic. And then in my final year at Srishti, that quest of playing around led me to these beautiful Photoshop brushes that I found. It reminded me of my first art medium as a child and that was crayons. So it did take me back in time and I chose to use this gritty, somewhat grungy texture to create illustrations and that would make people more empathetic in a way because it sort of takes them back in time to their first crayon box and makes it much more relatable that way. So I decided to move forward with that.

So do you think using digital media influential style also in some way?

A: It did. So, I used to explore mediums just on paper, but then I’d obviously have to scan it and put it up for people to see. And the only way I could do that was through digital media. So even if I wanted to enhance it a little bit using Photoshop or Illustrator, I have that tool and that’s sort of like a layer up over what I do, you know, even if it is just on paper. So it is definitely an advantage but nothing beats the sound of pencil on paper. I still do go back to it and I sketch as much as I can and keep that as my route before I explore digital. So both come hand in hand. It’s just that how you use one, uh, to enhance the other is also a good way to move forward within the field of illustration.

S: I think it’s been like the past two years that you’ve been using the brand name Elzac for your illustrations on social media and other places where we can see your artwork. So can you talk about how you arrived at this brand and what Elzac is all about?

A: So I’ll briefly explain what I hope Elzac to be. Elzac Doodles is a space I created where I can be me. It’s open, vulnerable, accepting, resilient, and always finding different ways to engage with the larger community and to empower them with a voice. So I do hope to make the best of what I do by looking at current affairs, making my followers think, act, and even share. So it’s also for me to grow as an artist. In fact, not just for people visiting my page or following my work. So a backstory to the name and brand Elzac. When I moved to college, a friend of mine got really frustrated with my really long name, which is Akshaya Elizabeth Zachariah, it’s really long. So he said he’s gonna combine it together and make it Elzac, which is Elizabeth and Zachariah. And Elzac stuck on with me through college. Everybody used to call me that. And I realized that was a more familiar way of addressing myself even on social media. So I went ahead with Elzac and here we are.

S: Glad that worked out for you. Also glad that you’re able to carry forward your passion for the environment and for animals and the childhood passions in what you do today. So how do you get into the niche of wildlife conservation through illustration.

A: So now is the exciting part that I’m really happy to talk about. So I’ve grown up watching Animal Planet, Discovery channel and I think it’s thanks to my dad because he’s super observant of the environment around, he’s always listening closely to any new birds outside, mimicking their calls and our family time was in fact spent watching Komodo dragons chasing this wildlife man that we saw on TV, which was Steve Irwin. And we began learning about various species, habitat, getting to even spot some insects, reptiles and birds outside our neighborhood. And I think a fond memory of an experience that I had with a particular species was when we were in school. There was a Cobra that had gotten into our garage and my parents had called a rescue guy named Anees to come and release the snake into the wild. I started becoming empathetic because I saw this firsthand, someone rescuing a snake, which we’re really frightened off.

So after all that, I’ve helped release an owl in our apartment, which had a broken wing. We’ve rescued a garden lizard that was stuck between window pane and our stairs, even try to rescue a bat but that failed because we were really scared that it would bite us. So you see how convincing animal science was as an option for a career. It was so tempting. But I chose to be in the creative space and the hope to make a difference still tugged at my heartstrings. So in 2018 I chose to get back to it and I realized that raising awareness through art was my best way forward. You know, it’s visual, it stays longer in the viewer’s mind and we grasp things better through illustrations that educate and create awareness at the same time.

S: A lot of us, including myself, and I’m sure a lot of your audience grew up in cities and we probably visited a wildlife sanctuary once a year during our vacation. This is fascination and longing to be more one with nature, but at the same time, there’s a lack of physical attachment. Like we don’t get to see nature in our backyard every day.

A: Hmm. So I would say, yeah, nature is bountiful. It does engulf us wherever we go. It’s so hard to miss. You know, even if we’re in a concrete jungle and during this lockdown, in fact, I observed a construction site right outside my home, which was left untouched for almost a month now. And I began to see plants growing from exposed roots, and cracks in the wall and from soil. So I was so amazed at how resilient nature can be. But you know, beyond this thing of being fascinated by nature, I think we ought to take a step back and ask ourselves a few questions. Like can the children of today even name five flowers or trees in their backyard? Are we spending more leisure time in malls, looking into our screens than observing colors of the leaves or the scent from flowers or even the rainbow hues from the wings of a beetle.

This ignorance and lack of attachment or empathy is what I hope to address through my work and I’d say we look at these ecosystems as homes because they are homes to different creatures and we ought to realize that beyond this fascination, we need to snap out of our bubbles and save whatever we can of our home and we’re also sharing this planet in fact with all these species, so we are also saving for our future generations and action right now is what we need to take to move forward if we have to address certain things about conservation. Because everything is so normalized now. Okay, I see plastic outside, I see garbage outside. How do we address that and question ourselves and step forward and act? Because we can talk about it. All of us can just talk about it. But this acting upon it is what I like to address in my work. It’s almost putting people in an uncomfortable position, but you know, that makes them realize the impact that they have on our planet.

S: Yeah, I think I’m one of those weird people who is not. But I feel like a lot of city people are quite grossed out by things like lizards and spiders and tiny insects. And I think it also comes from ignorance. Right. So do you feel like the work you do is also useful in sort of educating people about the fact that this is the role of a gecko in your home?

A: Very true. The thing is, I have the same feeling towards a creepy crawlies, but I’ve realized – in fact, I’ve been educated by other conservation artists who address the role of a gecko in a house or the role of a spider around, you know, those things have also taught me as an artist. So if I am able to learn and act upon that, then how much more would my followers also be able to grasp that importance? So it’s very important for us as artists to be sure of what we’re standing for. So if you’re not sure about something, go learn and research and do your work and then come back and address it. So I’d say that’s very important.

S: And I think it also points to a larger problem of a lack of awareness about how conservation plays a larger role in sustaining the earth and our daily lives as humans. Most people are not aware about how something that happens in a jungle would impact people who live in the city.

A: June of last year, I had a good exposure or an opportunity, I would say to visit A Rocha. It is an organization that works with elephant conservation. I did this with a friend of mine from school. We were very curious to understand how people from the city associate themselves with forests or some place that is so far away from the city. So it was a good experience for me to observe where elephants gather at a watering hole in the forest itself. So it was amazing to be in that space. People would say, hey, an elephant just crossed by here. These are the elephant corridors. In fact, we traveled on a Jeep, which was quite a rough ride, into the deep parts of the forest where we got to see an elephant corridor. An elephant corridor is basically a connection between one forest to another for elephants to pass through.

And I’ve realized, you know, over time people and human activity has breached into forests and cut off access for elephants to move from one forest to another. It’s very sad. I’m glad that I got to see it firsthand and understand the importance of keeping those corridors open and untouched so that elephants can live peacefully and we respect their presence and we respect the fact that they are these huge, beautiful giants on our planet. So it was nice to see that firsthand. So, you know, when I look at it, I realize we are not seeing direct impact of what we’re doing on our planet. It’s like our garbage is going to a dump. Nobody knows where this dump is. Nobody knows what is being segregated. So no one wants to show that empathy towards segregating your waste or ensuring that there is minimal waste as possible or even minimal use of plastic.

So not seeing this direct impact is what a lot of people have actually told me. In fact, older people when I talked to them, some of those who are ignorant would say, Hey, I’m not seeing a bird getting stuck in a plastic bag. So why do I have to act upon it? But I think it’s very important for us to constantly address it. Even at this time. I think the Covid-19 Pandemic has already, it’s so obvious that our human activity and the impact of human activity is what is causing our planet to just bleed. So this thing of slowing down right now is a big lesson for us to take back where we’ve just been producing massively and not being willing to take care of what is around us and what little we have. Even if it is a tiny green space outside your home, how are you caring for it? How you being back in sex and birds or bees even do that space. So that’s so important to have these conversations and constantly question ourselves as to are we doing enough?

S: Why do you think observation is an important conversation that we need to have as artists and designers specifically? And how do you think that we can help in conservation in a country where the power is held by the politicians or capitalists?

A: Yeah, so that is so much we can do, but I think it’s important for us to be conscious of all the smaller things. And I would say we start from within our homes and then we move on to a larger community. And at this point I’d say, you know, politicians and big manufacturing companies, they tend to take environmental laws like a joke. They’re more interested in monetary gain and boosting their economy and they really don’t care. You see, if you look at Earth Day – it was just a few days back, it started 50 years ago. But look at us, we’re in a pandemic stricken world now and it’s a hard lesson. We’re learning it through a loss of lives. And you know, being on lockdown is just making us stop dead in our tracks. And now I feel is when artists and designers should step up using the digital space to our advantage. Continue to make art, raise awareness, make as much noise about what is going on as much as possible.

I would also say we be conscious about the amount of paper we use because as illustrators we tend to hoard on a lot of books and journals and things like that because they look pretty, I am guilty to that and I would say take a step back and slow down with the whole vibe of journals. So why don’t we look at reusing paper. So I would also go further and say refuse disposables. Even if it is your paints that come in plastic, little plastic dabbas. I would say refuse that as much as possible. If you find natural dyes for paints that are so many options for you to test out and you will get different colors that you would never get when you use colors that have been dyed and uh, with all artificial. Another fun fact is as an artist, even the bristles of our brushes ought to get checked because some brushes manufacture using mongoose hair and plenty of artists I’ve seen buy brushes without even knowing what is used on these brushes.

They’re so good, but it is actually illegal to hunt and kill mongoose and their parts for profit. So we as artists do need to do our research on the mediums we use as well. And all this can happen only when we make an effort as individuals and then come together as families and then from their communities and then a larger impact. So an example that I can think of is if a designer is working in a big company, then look at promoting initiatives around the environmental days in the calendar. For example, world water day – on that day, probably you can check your water consumption at your workspace for that day. And you know, you’re raising awareness through world water day at your workspace. And there are so many creative ways to keep us all in check to even live a sustainable life.

S: Yeah. And like you mentioned about the whole idea of an artist not knowing that they are using a brush with Mongoose hair, I think it’s, it’s a very difficult thing to get into because it kind of opens up a can of worms when you realize that the very thing that you do is what is threatening the environment. So, uh, since I am a product designer, there was this realization and conflict that I’m putting more stuff into the world. So if I’m not a product designer, then what am I and how do I deal with that whole conflict? But then I think it’s very important questions to then enable you to pivot or like just really change the entire way you practice. And maybe that can help define a new direction for your work.

A: Yes. So the things is, don’t go all at once and you know, cut off from all sorts of mediums that you use that are harmful for the environment. It’s a slow process. You know, it takes time, even if it is two years, three years, take your time and do research. There are so many resources available for you to check what you’re using and whether that is damaging for the planet. So take your time with it because it can get overwhelming when you drop everything and stay away from it completely. So it’s a step by step process, I would say.

S: Hmm. So would you like to run us through the process of how you create some of your more refined illustration?

A: I will talk about specifically work related around conservation. I usually plan out and environmental calendar that lists all the environmental days possible. So I take a particular day and if I want to address something around say, plastic pollution or marine pollution, I would ideate, sketch on paper and then go digital. Now that I work on a tablet, some of my rough drawing is also done digital. So I familiarized myself with both ways as approaches to start off with. Then I began to refine it and I’d probably make small comic strips or illustrate fun ways to save as a series because I don’t want this to sound like a doomsday narrative. I do want people to understand that it’s something that they can still enjoy and if you still want to enjoy it, then these are certain initiatives that you take in order to protect your planet and your environment around you. So staying away from the doomsday narrative is very important. It’s in a couple of books where they say don’t scare people with this. Instead, give them that ray of hope that there is a possible solution.

S: Yeah, so a couple of years ago I had also done a project which involved a game design and teaching children how to conserve resources and wildlife as well. Since some of the stuff was really new to me, I tried to look up resources on our favourite worldwide web and I kept coming up with conflict in resources like the same animal would look very different on two websites or the habitat mentioned would be different. And of course this being internet, it could have had a lot of inauthentic information as well. So how do you make sure that the resources that you are looking for when doing research for a particular illustration, how do you know that it’s accurate and it’s correct?

A: I’ll give you an example now in 2018 when I did the 36 days of types, it is the endangered species series. I planned it out actually two months before so that I had enough time to do my research, get the right information. That was the first major thing that I wanted to clear off from my head. Because yes, like you said, the worldwide web can be very conflicting. There are a lot of resources out there and a lot of facts because I’m talking even about facts in the work that I do. So what I decided to do was crosscheck with organizations that are involved in the conservation of certain species. So if it was the tiger or the pangolin or the red Panda, I would reach out to a, for example, WWF, because I was working very closely with them. However, this being a personal project, I had the Liberty to reach out to a few friends from WWF and they went through my list and they looked at the work that I put together and they ensured that what I was getting were from right resources.

So they led me to the IUC and page which talks about each and every species in great detail, their habitat. Um, you know, how many are left in the planet. So having a conversation and, and a way to reach out to certain organizations that are involved in it full time is your best way forward I would say instead of just depending on Google and reaching out to the first link that pops up on Google. So it’s important to build that relationship with organizations around. And in other ways, you know, they got to know what the work that I was doing and they were keen on it. So it builds that relationship and you know, they are able to share your work around. So there are both sides to it where you ask for information and then they help you and they promote your work as well.

So it was a great way for me to keep my information and facts in check. And there’s so much research that is involved. In fact, research is equal to the work that you’re doing and if not more important. And then the rest is making the art relatable and fun.

S: Yeah. So can you tell us more about your association with WWF?

A: WWF International is where I started becoming very closely associated because they saw the series and I used to just shamelessly tag them in all my posts hoping that they’d see my work. And I’m so glad that they did. They were really excited for that project when I did it in 2018 and then I stepped onto becoming a WWF voices member. And it’s been over a year and a half now with this international team. So it’s very exciting because the others in the team are passionate about wildlife as well.

Some of them are film makers, researchers, naturalists, writers, explorers, and so many, uh, fields like this. And then there’s me – an illustrator. So what I really like about working with WWF international and this WWF voices team in fact was that the creativity is left to me in certain ways. I can come up with creative ways to raise awareness or they suggest fun ideas and then we discuss, collaborate and then we take it from there. So it’s all about collaboration at this point.

S: Sounds a lot like captain planet.

A: Yeah, very much so. I think so you know a few projects that I have been closely related to WWF is the Earth Hour campaign, which was on March 28th we got to meet a few of the team members on a video call and they’re doing some amazing work. Some have even discovered new species of insects. So it’s quite interesting to work with such people.

So I’ve done their countdown assets leading to the Earth Hour Day itself. So, and I’ve also taken inspiration from the work that they do in creating my own series for Earth Hour. So the 36 days of type 2020 was themed around earth hour and ways in which we can participate before, during and after Earth Hour. This association with WWF also pushed me to pitch for a masthead illustration for The Times of India for Earth Hour. Because this event I realized wasn’t spoken of much on the front pages of the papers. So I decided, Hey, if I’m all about making noise to switch off and conserve, then I’m all in and I’m so glad that I got do it for TOI because that was just the beginning.

S: So did you manage to get a copy of the newspaper and all this lockdown madness?

A: Yeah. So the thing is our department prevented us from getting papers from outside. So my dad had to go down the road to pick it up. We managed to get one thankfully and I’m so glad that we could. So I do have a copy for myself.

S: So when we look at your Instagram feed. We see a lot of visual journaling amidst what you would also call your work work. So apart from conservation, you have these posts and illustrations talking about your own personal experiences. How has this been an essential part of what you do?

A: So I believe that as an artist it’s also good to take a break from the work related stuff. Let our mind flow and what’s on my Instagram handle is a result of that. So it’s a time when I can completely let go. There is no brief. Who knows? Maybe an idea would pop up during this time and it would probably give me a chance to add it to my portfolio or even aid me in my own client work. So there are still ways in which you can explore visual journaling and uploading it and getting feedback from people. It’s still valuable to me as an artist. So what I do ensure to carry as a practice is taking a journal with me and a stationery box with me while I travel, even if it is to a client meeting. Because an idea can hit you at any point and we’ve got to be ready to take this down on paper with these weapons that we have. So it’s just very important to practice that in your daily life.

S: Right. How do you reach out to your audience beyond Instagram and social media?

A: When I have a good connection with a lot of my audience, I’m sure word gets traveled around and I believe that friends who really support the work that I do, they do share it with other people. And another really fun way to interact with an audience outside of social media would be through flea markets. Even if I’m not putting up a stall there, going to a flea market and interacting with other artists also opens up conversation. Physical interaction is also very powerful in terms of exchanging ideas and you know, possible collaborations later. So that’s got a huge upside to moving outside of your social media circle.

S: And a lot of these free markets are focused on sustainable living. So you meet people from different disciplines, but they’re all working towards the same thing.

A: Yes, it’s true because I think artists and designers are becoming more aware of what they’re using and what impact they have on the planet and it’s a great way to push yourself forward. When you believe in a cause that is very, very precious to what is going on around us.

S: Now. It’s become a lot more popular to attend flea markets. Right. And also to do free markets and it’s become expensive as well.

A: It is. I’ve done one flea market to be very honest, put up stall and the reason why I haven’t continued on it is because I am trying to be more conscious of the paper that I’m using. You know, even if I was selling my postcards initially and started off with that for the endangered species, I used to ensure that my packaging was sustainable, but deep down for myself as an illustrator that is practicing conservation and art, I didn’t want to use paper that is not sustainable. I want to find solutions to what I’m printing and how I’m printing it as well. In fact, even how I’m posting it to people is also very important. So I tend not to courier it or if there’s air miles involved, I tend not to do that. I’d rather post it. I chose not to print my products right now instead of keeping it digital because that’s what I want to work towards. Finding a solution and ensuring that my products are still sustainable and ensuring that my audience is also aware of this fact.

S: That’s really great because we were discussing earlier, sometimes what we do itself is unsustainable in some small way. So you either get stuck or you can pivot and make use of alternative resources or ideas that are less heavy on the environment.

A: Yeah, and also people are watching you. It’s important because when people are observing your lifestyle, we ought to live the way we speak in the way we we’re talking and how we’re promoting this idea of living a sustainable life.

S: Definitely. So coming back to being an illustrator, what are some of the things that you do to get out of a creative rut and not depend only on the aha moment?

A: I try not to overthink when I reach a point when I can’t move forward and I know when I am so it can get frustrating, but I decided to just take a break from what I’m doing. I go out for a walk, I do a completely different activity from what I was doing. Sometimes I’ll bake or make myself a snack, play the guitar, or even read a book, you know, watch cute dog videos. To get myself out of that heavy space. And lately I found solace in gardening with whatever I can get from around the apartment because of this lockdown, I can’t really go out and buy a whole bunch of pots and seeds and things. And that is actually quite soothing to the brain because it gets my mind off that problem. I might even sleep it off if it is late at night because when you call it a day, it gives you a fresh perspective when you come back after the big break. And it really helps. Also, another thing I’ve realise is to learn to accept that this creative journey is bound to have its mountain and valley experiences. So being in a creative rut every now and then it can be daunting, can be exhausting, But it is a good sign for us to keep learning and growing.

S: So what’s your favourite part about being a freelance illustrator?

A: Ah, so here’s the best part. I get to be my own boss. But jokes aside, it is great. I get to choose projects that are challenging, that are interesting, informational even to my growth and learning. As a freelance illustrator, I even get to pitch ideas to potential clients and it gives me a platform to build my contacts, broaden the kind of work I get as well. And even converse with so many folks via email or social media or even like earlier when I spoke of, at flea markets as well, and this would lead to possible collaborations. So it gives me good amount of time to attend talks and workshops and sessions to even enhance my skills as an illustrator and even in the field of conservation. So I do get time for personal projects as well. So you know all this has its perks.

S: Now that you’ve sold all our listeners on being a freelance illustrator, what are some of the challenges that you face being a freelancer last year?

A: Yeah. So, the freelance business in general we have to accept can be a lonely affair. Having no one around to share a meal with, laugh about work or even seeking critical feedback from is very tough in the early phase of your freelance journey. And I faced that too. But that’s when collaboration comes into play because when you talk and converse with people who are also freelancing and in the same field as you, even if they are a creative writer and you’re a freelance illustrator, collaboration works very nicely because you get to do your own project together and working with an artist that shares that similar view can spruce up the freelance game. So over the two years of me freelancing, the last few months have made me look beyond the challenges and use every opportunity. There is also this fear of you know, what next in terms of business because you’re depending not on a fixed income but it, it comes in waves. So you need to develop a schedule where you understand your long term projects and your short term projects. Put down your budgets and you know your expenses and your finances and when you’re able to control all of that and keep that in check. That is when you develop good relationship with your clientele also, and you will be assured that they can come back for more projects as collaboration or working with you. And I would say the good clients would always come back for more work. So it’s been great that way.

 

S: So I’m sure there were a lot of learning milestones along the way.

A: Both positives and negatives, but all for the better.

S: That’s encouraging. So I’ve noticed that you seem to have a very good relationship with your social media. I personally find social media pretty daunting and I have to put in a lot of effort to actually keep it going. But you seem to be having a sort of flourishing relationship with social media. So how do you manage that?

A: I’ll be very honest. I think, I didn’t start off in a space where I wanted to share my work as an illustrator. I always had a doubt as to whether I would be good enough. This is right after I stepped out of college because I knew that I had to push myself out there if I want to reach out to people and I want to work with different people. So it was very important for me to address this question of how much am I going to put my work out there. I tried to look back and see if I can keep my work relatable and interactive and that’s what I did with the endangered species. I created a platform where I ensured that the followers can relate to what I put out there and it’s been good to receive messages from people and receive all this support in the work that I do because when you create an interactive space, there is so much learning that’s happening.

People get excited for small giveaways and I did that. I spend time in looking at clues that I could give for my viewers to pick up on and guess the animal. So there’s a lot of things that you can do it. So social media doesn’t have to be you know, just one way of you putting yourself out there, but it can also be a way in which the viewers can come back to you and say, Hey, I remember this animal from when you did this series. So, it’s very encouraging to hear that. I am yet to promote my work financially on social media. I’ve seen a lot of these, you know, ways in which I can promote myself through ads and things. But for now I feel it’s about empowering people with this voice to make a difference before it’s too late. So I do have occasional games on the Instagram stories with some wildlife trivia. I make it a point to keep my page alive through awareness, even if it is just supporting other artists as well. So I would say, share, share and keep sharing work done for conservation. Even if it is not your own work, it’s important that people understand that it is a good conversation starter and it is a good way to raise awareness.

S: So speaking about other conservation artists or other people you follow, whose work you share, who are some of the creative people you look up to?

A: So, this is quite a long list, but I’m going to try my best to get the good ones out there. Uh, I think inspiration actually from people in the arts overall. So I don’t focus just on illustration or just on photography. I would look at the classics, Andy Warhol, Picasso, Vangogh. Even Herge, the cartoonist that did Tintin. There are Warli artists that I take inspiration from in terms of, you know, these little stick figures and telling a story through art and some current favorite artists that Adam J Kurtz, there’s Timothy Goodman, Lisa Congdon does some brilliant work. And even Mari Andrew for visual journaling wherein she creates this vulnerable space of opening up herself and using words and illustrations to sort of tell a story. So it’s really nice to take inspiration from people in that. And in the field of conservation art, I would say artists from the Current Conservation magazine are really brilliant.

That entire magazine in fact it’s so illustrated and it tells a lot of stories of conservation and people in that field. Rohan Chakravarty’s Green Humor page is also very hilarious and informational.

S: I love that.

A: I look forward to his posts in fact, that is in the field of illustration and conservation art. And in literature also, particularly the Bildungsroman genre. I would say Harper Lee and Khalid Hosseini have shaped my initial years when I was growing up. Reading their books have been so inspiring. Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, the Ladybird books for all these, illustrated and beautiful book covers that I’ve seen. It’s opened up a whole world of imagination for me and that’s where I enjoy children’s literature. There are a lot of 19th and 20th century poets also that I take inspiration from and who I studied in in school. So all these play a huge role in my creative thinking.

And there are even photographers that I haven’t mentioned, few filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Tim Burton that are also in there. So I do have a plethora of creative people that I take inspiration from. But it is amazing to have these people and movements that inspire and sort of tickle this creative thinking, not just in illustration but in various ways and from all angles.

S: Yeah. So speaking of not just in illustration, what are some types of assignments that you haven’t done but hope to do in the future?

A: Okay, so one major thing that I want to get ticked off my bucket list is to create picture books for children to learn more about nature and not just picture books. It can be even flashcards or a pack of bingo cards. And I do want to create a space that allows for children to learn and interact.

:And this happening simultaneously opens up a whole new world to learn from nature. And what is around you. So I do hope to pitch an idea for an illustrated book that involves this learning and growing. I also do want to explore and engage with more organizations involved in conservation because you know, right now it’s been limited, but I do hope to pitch for projects that I can work with. Many organizations that are involved in Marine conservation or forest research, many things. So the possibilities are endless. But I do hope to get involved in this some way or the other.

S: Alright. So do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators or wildlife conservationists?

A: For aspiring illustrators I would say, you know, don’t give up on what you love. Don’t allow anyone to dictate what path you should take, even if it means making a switch in careers.

I believe in investing in your passion and you will know if it is your calling. That fire in your heart is just constantly growing each and every day and yearning to be in a space that you are most happy in. So don’t ever give up on that quest or that journey. And I think the one thing that we need to remember is not every day is going to be, you know, all sunny days and blue skies, you are bound to hit roadblocks and challenges. So seeking help and finding mentors is so important. Talking to people in this field is also very important and we need to be our biggest motivators always. It’s important that we keep encouraging ourselves and believing in ourselves all the more. And this belief, when you translate that to conservation, I feel we need to support the work that conservationists are doing. In fact, they’re doing way more work than we are. We are just sitting behind our screens or our papers, But they’re doing so much more work and it’s inspiring to be a part of that journey. So continuously learn from nature and strive to protect it. So I would say keep raising your voice for the planet, just like what WWF believes in, in whatever way we can. Just keep raising your voice and you can go forward from there.

 

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