Mira Malhotra is a Mumbai-based graphic designer, visual artist and founder of design house Studio Kohl. Her personal work tends more to image-making and illustration. Having been exposed to a variety of cultures as a child her work is oftentimes an amalgamation of what it is like to be Indian with what it is to look upon Indianness as an outsider. Colourful, humorous, charming and witty, it stems from her fascination with the decorative items at local bazaars, Indian history or from indigenous arts and crafts.
Why are you an Illustrator?
I love image, and I love ‘drawn’ images. I think it’s mainly because drawing can be unhinged from reality, so what cannot be represented in a photograph or even be conveyed via photorealism can be conveyed via drawing, which can be simplified and broken down, or made complex, at the artist’s/illustrator’s will. This ability that only illustration has, makes me fascinated with it and prompted me to dabble in illustration.
Did you attend school for fine art or design?
I’ve been to three different colleges for my visual communication training. Two were in commerical or applied art and lastly I attended National Institute of Design for Graphic Design (at the Post Graduate level).
You have a distinct style of illustration. How long did it take you to develop your style?
I still think I don’t have it distinct enough as I’d like. Or enough work within that style. But it’s taken me a long time to develop it and really be this comfortable doing the style I do. It’s been around 8-10 years.
Were there any particular role models for you when you grew up?
Up until I started studying art and design, there was no one in particular. I did learn from a Filipino teacher from the Gulf where I was raised, who was amazing with watercolour. At that time, he was my biggest role model. A couple of relatives were creative though and I learned creative things from them (my aunt). My dad taught me art, calligraphy, (and only recently photography) and my mother taught me embroidery, even though she would have probably preferred me doing something in music, I think. Even though I drew a lot, in school I was taught more craft based stuff like needlework, knitting and crochet etc. Later a lot of people who had their work online played that part. Mostly it was my peer group on deviantART, of which I was a very active member during my initial art training. Seeing their work and their careers was a big boost to my morale. It also was my first time interacting with international artists.
Who was the most influential personality on your career in Illustrations?
Can’t say there was any one person.
What made you decide to become a freelance illustrator? When did you start freelancing? Do you illustrate for advertising?
I don’t illustrate most of the time, as much as I’d like, though I do try to get work that’s as much in that vein as possible. By and large, I do graphic design, again, as much as I can afford to, in my particular style. I feel my work is more where illustration and graphic meet. But I mainly went freelance because I feel I work better on my own, I get bored easily and need to give myself new challenges, and also I have the luxury to choose my projects. As for when, as soon as I could afford to! Which was post my degree at NID, at the end of 2012. I don’t illustrate for advertising. Yet. Though I’d like to.
Are many advertising agencies getting illustrations made these days? Do you work more with agencies or publishers?
I’ve worked with neither. Most of my illustration work is either for personal stuff, or for event companies as I had a fondness for doing gig posters because I love the idea of art representing music, and I loved those kinds of music.
Was there any time when you wanted to quit Illustrations?
Funny you ask, my answer would be never and always. It isn’t very paying yet, for me at least, so I see it as a fun way to spend my time for now and that’s it. But I’ve never really felt like quitting because I love to do it and I still don’t get enough opportunity to, for money. I’m sure as time progressed the two ends will meet but for now I can’t feel like quitting when I feel I haven’t even indulged myself yet.
Have you considered turning your illustrations into toys?
Already have, somewhere around 2009, on the weekends while I was working at Yes Yes, Why Not? I made these.: Also this.
I would love to do more, though not in paper.
Any other Indian Illustrators who you admire?
I admire Sameer Kulavoor and Lokesh Karekar, for their work and unique Indian aesthetic and also the way they’ve made this kind of work relevant in the industry. Recently I have been enjoying the work of Vishnu Nair a lot. I also really like the older work of Aindri Chakroborty.
You have such a wide experience as a top working professional. What advice do you have for aspiring creative professionals? Would you advise them to take on Illustration as a career option? Is it paying well enough?
So many younger designers and illustrators ask me this, but I don’t know if I’m equipped enough to answer. The industry has changed since I started, when getting a job meant me doing ‘layouts’, which forcibly put me off illustration in the first place. Recently the industry has become more favourable toward illustration in many ways, like comics are now published, I see more advertising illustration now, etc. As there are more diversification of products and people have more choice, more avenues for different kinds of illustrators and visual artists will follow. But if you want to survive and live well, always be street-smart. Learn a money-making skill you won’t mind doing, in the visual world itself hopefully, and become really good at it, so you can always rely on that. Then do illustration to fill the gaps of time you have. One day, I hope most of us can do the old switcheroo, where illustration pays us more, though I really don’t see that happening very soon. But by all means don’t give up on Illustration. Just be smart about it and sustain your passion.
Do you wish for an annual Illustration Festival in India?
I would love that. I would especially love it if it engaged clients to pay for this ever-burgeoning industry.
Whats your dream project?
I’d love to do illustration for an entire publication, and especially one on alternative music.
Mac or PC?
I’m a PC girl.
Who would you like to take out for dinner?
I’d love to take the musician Kathleen Hanna out for dinner, because she’s a major in photography and I learned a lot about Art from her lyrics. Plus I love her political standpoint, her music and the decor of her home. She’s just applied her understanding of art and her ideology to so many facets of her life and that is what makes her a wildly creative person.
What’s on your iPod?
I don’t have an iPod, but I listen to a tonne of stuff on my laptop. Right now it’s Peace / Mew / Sleater Kinney / Cayucas / Palma Violets / Toro Y Moi.
Whats your Twitter Handle?