Updated: Jun 22
Monthly Feature // October 2020
A concept artist, illustrator and an incredible storyteller.
The internet can be a safer, more open space if people have the courage to speak out about their struggles rather than just the highlights of their life.
Sanjana Desai is a concept artist, illustrator and storyteller. Having studied animation film direction in college, she loves showing emotion and storytelling through her art. Her favourite things to draw are animals, kids and nature. She believes that art is an extremely powerful medium, and hopes to convey messages of kindness and compassion through her work. She wishes to use her art as a tool to talk about mental health and vulnerability. She believes the internet can be a safer, more open space, if people have the courage to speak out about their struggles rather than just the highlights of their life, and she tries to emote the same through her work.
On starting a Creative Journey
“As a kid, I was always interested in drawing. I was the girl other students would flock to to draw out their science diagrams in school! But it wasn’t until I was 17 that I thought about art seriously. “ The transition from junior college into professional education is a very confusing time for many of us. “I visited many design colleges when I was trying to make my career choice. When we visited DSK International Campus (Pune), I was so enthralled by the kind of work I saw put up all over the campus, and that’s when I knew what I wanted to do. It felt like I belonged in this field, and DSK is indeed where I spent my next four years studying animation.”
After joining the college, Sanjana went on to do many internships. “These internships made me realise that No matter how much a school tries to mimic a professional work environment, it’s never going to be the same.” True! Professional environments can really help us develop important skills like task management and leadership. “After graduating from DSK as a generalist, I still felt a little lost. I did not feel confident enough in my drawing skills to pursue a career in art, and felt like I needed to learn more. I went on to study concept art at FZD School of Design in Singapore for a year. It really helped me work on the fundamentals of drawing and built my confidence in drawing and visual design.”
“I got the opportunity to work at Zynga right after graduating from FZD, and this journey has been amazing. I have an extremely supportive team that has helped me through everything. I take up freelance work that fascinates me or aligns with my concerns of animal welfare, mental health, kindness and love. I have worked on two illustrated books till now: ‘Fly Safe, Godavan ’ by Pratham books and the other one is something I would be announcing soon. It’s a project that’s extremely close to my heart and I have worked on it for Over two years by now!” Safe to say, we're sitting on the edge of our seats waiting on the release ourselves.
On starting a Creative Journey
My main source of inspiration is my daily life. It's my interactions with friends or the environment or animals. So it has been really difficult to have that around me during the pandemic. “ Being around nature has a huge impact on how we create and the pandemic has drastically changed all of that.
“I keep a little notebook with me purely for writing down little bursts of ideas and inspiration. It has different sections like ‘moments from my life’ or ‘people I see’ or even the dreams that I get that are ridiculous or thought provoking.” An idea (inspiration) book can assist you through times when you need a creative push “This little notebook serves me in times when I’m completely lost and don’t know what to create. It’s a little database of emotions and moments to fall back on when you’re running on empty.”
On the creative process and design education
Sanjana says she tries to get at least 30-45 minutes of sketching every day. “I usually start with warming up by just drawing lines and circles. That gets my hand moving on the paper and kind of wakes it up. I then look up some pictures of whatever I want to draw that day and try to fill a few pages by studying it from reference. Reference is extremely important, and it’s always better to keep your own personal reference database.”
“For my illustrations, I resort to copying and studying. For example, I have to create an illustration of a dog and a cat playing. I would study the subject in different scenarios to understand proportions and volumes. And then I move on to creating a rough scenario maybe dab some colours here and there. I have at least 10 layers of sketches to create my final version.”
One of the things that really stood out during this interview is the methods of visualisation that Sanjana talks about. “One very important thing I learnt at FZD is visualisation. If I get a brief, I would visualise the end product and act as if I were sharing it with people. What would that look like? And then I work backwards from that. And if it’s an emotional moment that I’m drawing for someone, I sit back and I imagine that moment. I put myself in the person’s shoes to understand what it feels like.”
We, at Women In Design, truly believe in the power of learning and education. Through our Monthly Feature Interviews, we love discussing topics close to our hearts, in hopes of gaining a different perspective — and we've had some interesting conversations revolving around the education system in general.
There were two things that Sanjana said that truly caught our attention, from her point of view —
01. Pricing Your work
"Since many artists tend to freelance at least quite a few times even if they don't take it up as a career, I think pricing is something that really needs to be taught well. I am still unsure of pricing my art and it is really confusing for people starting out. So yes, there should be a module dedicated to pricing as I have seen so many people, including myself undersell themselves because they do not know how much to charge. On the flip side, I have also lost projects because I asked for way too much!"
02. Branding Yourself
"I believe that your social presence is important if you want to get interesting projects from outside of your circle. Instagram, Art station, Youtube can get you a lot of clients and like-minded people you can collaborate with. But for that, you need to create an identity of your work and yourself as a person. If handled well, social media can be motivational towards your work, but it can also tip the other side where you get overwhelmed by other artists. So maybe if schools could talk about the social presence of your art, that would be helpful as I have seen most of the schools lean towards putting you in a studio, and less about your overall identity as an artist."
On challenges and Design in India.
Uncertainty, a tremendous challenge that affects many of us, and no amount of planning can help with the unpredictability of the next moment, day or year. “Sometimes I really envy people who go to work and they already have things lined up for them. As an artist, the blank canvas is the most daunting part. This translates into your life as well because there is no corporate ladder you have to climb. You’re always exploring, change is a constant. It’s not a linear path. On my good days it’s an opportunity and on some bad days it’s uncertainty.”
“To be very honest, I’m currently going through a period where I'm very uncertain. I’m living everyday as it comes but I can't see what I’m going to be doing a year later. That is difficult to deal with. My way of working on it is visualisation. And I have a journal that I use only for my visualisation with my personal and professional goal.”
India is a culturally rich country. Art is ingrained into every aspect of what it means to be Indian. Hence the question, "What is it like to a designer in this vibrant design community?". “I believe it is a beautifully budding industry. If your work is really good, it is easier to get noticed as art is still something out of the ordinary for most of the Indian population. I have grown up watching and continue to watch a lot of Indian animation focussed on our mythology, and I would love to see stories of everyday, modern people told through animation and illustration. The India that you grew up in as a kid is not the same as it is now, it's constantly evolving and that offers so much variety in the kind of stories that you can tell, and the nostalgia that you can capture.
I’m excited for the new book that would be announced soon. I wish to dive more into freelance projects soon and take up a variety of work. Working on children’s books is something I truly enjoy and hope to do more of it by next year!I also want to use my social media to engage in conversations of mental health, vulnerability and to spread messages of love and kindness through my art. I try to be as honest as possible and would love to encourage more people to talk about their struggles and weaknesses, and to help make social media a more safer, open and inclusive place.
Takeaways for creatives
"Don't lose out on inspiration. Keep track of your ideas. Maybe someday when you're in a slump, you can look back into it and be inspired. Art is always emotional. Allow yourself to feel and experience what someone else is feeling; that will speak through your work. The more feeling you put into it, the more people it impacts."
A little more about Sanjana
Name 3 other inspirational Indian creatives that you look up to? Alicia Souza, Abhishek Singh, Sailesh Gopalan (Brownpaperbag Comics), LiloRosh A city that you’ve enjoyed travelling to? Brugge in Belgium Who are you listening to right now? Ritviz, Siddharth Khosla What are you reading currently? Tuesdays with Morrie, Shape of ideas A major TV Show you recommend binging? This is Us, Modern Family
We're always open to other perspectives, opinions and a good chat over some coffee or tea. We'd love to host a conversation with you, head on over to our Discord and get in touch! With 🧡 Team WID.