Today, we are joined by Akash Raj Halankar, He is an Illustrator. You can view his portfolio here.
Firstly, I’d like to thank you for the interview. We’d like to understand how your interest for illustration started shaping up. Tell us a bit more about what made you go this route!
I was introduced to this world of ‘art’ around the age of four. My parents both being commercial artists, encouraged me to explore art as a medium of expression. The first memory I have of drawing something is a form of the elephant god, ‘Ganpati’ (or Ganesha) on the brown cover of my school textbook (most Indian schools ask students to cover their notebooks with a specific brown paper to avoid distracting prints). I always found ‘Ganesha’s’ form very interesting and gradually I started exploring that with various mediums. My parents had collected drawings that I did till the age of five and set up an exhibition of my work called ‘Trilokya’ (which means- the one who live in the three worlds). In a couple of years, at the age of seven my work was exhibited again.
Frankly, I would spend more time drawing and less time doing anything else, even playing! For me drawing was everything. The colours, shapes, and mediums mesmerized me and I would loose myself in that world. After my twelfth grade exams, I was sure that I wanted to pursue art as a career. It was a simple choice as that was one thing I loved doing unconditionally. I applied to Sir J. J Institute of Applied Art, Mumbai, a pioneer institute for undergraduate study in the field and majored in illustration. After Graduating from J.J in 2010, I wanted to study more and give a meaning, a function to my work, and hence I completed my post graduation in Graphic design from the National Institute of Design in 2013.
Tell us a bit more about how you learned it all. What changed in the last few years in terms of ease of expanding your skills and knowledge?
My father is an art teacher and has guided me throughout my childhood while my mother has always encouraged and supported my choices and me. I remember since a very young age I would accompany my father to his classes and grew up watching his demonstrations there and I think that is what made me pick up my own brush. Like my dad, my favorite medium too was watercolor and I always wanted to be as good as him.
I took up illustration as a major in my undergraduate program so that I could explore and improve my skill. Soon I was introduced to the world of advertising when I interned at an ad agency in Mumbai. This experience brought about a realization that I was inclined towards Graphic Design. I decided to pursue studies in this field in order to give meaning to my work. So I applied for a post graduate diploma in graphic design at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India. This was the first time I left my comfort zone, in terms of leaving home and also in terms of shifting from advertising to graphic design. This had a major impact on my thinking and gradually changed my outlook towards my work. This was a big transition. I had to unlearn a lot of previous ideas about art and design in order to learn and grow more. I realised I had a very rigid understanding about design and the postgraduate program made me broaden my perspective.
The institute exposed me to many different aspects of design, which taught me that design is everywhere and this in turn made me want to grow as a designer and not just an illustrator. I knew that my weakness then was typography as I had never accepted it and it was never within my comfort zone. But I decided to go beyond the security of what I could do and started reading books and blogs on typography, started following work in the field and this opened up a whole new world for me. I believe that I am just beginning to understand this world, but I know that I love looking at type.
Eventually through my work I would like to bring together Indian scripts and illustration to create something interesting and unique.
What does your creative process look like?
A creative process is very personal and every person has a certain way of working. I enjoy looking at the work of various artists and designers and try to deconstruct it to understand and analyze the process behind it. This helps me refine my own approach towards work.
I try to keep my work simple and the message clear and direct. Understanding a project through a detailed brief, from the client or one thats created by me, and then analyzing it thoroughly is my first step in the process. Deciding on the scope of work depending on the kind of solution to be given makes the process streamlined. A deep and through research of the competition, of what exists and what could be a different way of looking at the problem. Thumbnails and mood boards are the best way for me to get my thoughts on one platform. From there I begin exploring possibilities and sketching out ideas, basically pen to paper! Slowly I move towards a focused visual language and the work moves into the production stage.
Do you have any recommendations in terms of good books, programs you use, or media choices you’re willing to share with us?
Some of the books that I have always turned to for inspiration are the Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher, it inspires you to make and break grids for publication design, Anatomy & Drawing by Victor Petard for your basic to advance anatomy study, Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton for a simple yet in depth understanding of type that would make you conscious of typography.
Do you have a special place or object that boosts your inspiration and helps your creative drive? What is it like and why does it have this effect on you?
I have this metal Dragonball Z pencil case since I was in the fourth grade and its has a hologram of the characters in the comic, which has somewhat faded away now and the colour chipped away. But even today, I use it to carry my tools regularly to work and basically it come with me everywhere. This case of immense value to me as I have lost it a couple of times but it has always managed to find its way back to me, every single time and hence it is a source of inspiration as it reminds me of how I have grown.
I am a big fan of psychedelic rock music and whenever I listen to my favorite band, Pink Floyd, I get lost in it. It really boosts me up. Their music speaks to me in a way nothing else does and it create this space in my head that helps me think. I actually do feel that there are no boundaries and the world and the possibilities within are limitless.
Nothing like me with my Wacom, light rain, a hot cup of coffee or even better a chilled beer and some Floyd.
Could you describe how a productive day would look like from your point of view? Which are the most important hours for you?
For me a productive day would be one where I discover something new, something interesting that could add to my design process.
I am in constant search of new information across various subjects, whilst studying its origin and its history. Reading random articles just to get introduced to ideas and facts and trying to apply it in my own understanding towards my art is what interests me. I like observing people acutely and paying attention to detail as it helps me to express myself in a unique manner.
There are no fixed hours of working for me, unless I am working with some one. Maybe that is because I am always working regardless of weather I am sitting on a desk!
What is your stance on today’s ever growing opportunities enabling artists to take on remote design work?
Coming from a family of commercial artists, I have seen how the Indian design/ advertising scene has evolved through the years. Earlier it was totally print based but now due to the advancement of the internet and social media things have changed. There are various opportunities that enable artists to take up design work which would seem inaccessible a few years ago. People have started ‘cross- collaboration’ and design is unifying the world. A fresh and radical perspective towards design is always welcome and design sensitivity in terms of aesthetics, functionality and need is the prime focus. People have started appreciating design and thus the need of artists from across the world. Design is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.
What would you prefer: a steady, well paying job in a local agency, or the freedom and often stressful life of a freelancer? Why?
I love the freedom that you get when you are freelancing. Being more of a visual artist, I like my space and creative freedom. But having said that when you work on your own you have to do everything, right from managing a client, to the accounts and the production. This may sometimes be a struggle because clients and others that you work with can behave erratically, so it comes in the way of your own work.
All this makes me wonder if there is growth in working alone. Being a freelance designer makes you more involved in your ideas, whereas while working with a team there is more of an exchange and reflection on your idea.
So ideally I would work with a team, maybe not a steady paying job as such but work that gives me more freedom!
How would you describe “the ideal project”? Did you have any recent opportunities to come close to this?
An ideal project would be something that you aspire to do and for me that would be to connect to people at a very personal level and leave them awestruck! Something that people would relate it to would be ideal, it could be anything from painting a street, to designing a typeface, developing an identity, designing for the next generation to designing a completely new way of connecting to people. Amplifying design thinking and sensitivity in the Indian subcultures is my biggest challenge. One such project that I had the privilege to work on was creating a typeface inspired from Indian hand painters where I worked with local painters. But I would love to work on many more such projects!