Shreya Sen, from the North-East of India, wants to work towards ethical and social design. Educated at the National Institute of Design, she has transitioned from a Children’s Book Illustrator to a Graphic Designer. Outside of work, Shreya enjoys watching the Big Bang Theory and daydreaming while gazing out the window.
I’m Shreya Sen, hailing from a small corner in the North-East of India. I care about ethical design and social Design . I pursued my education at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, India. Throughout my journey, I’ve explored roles, ranging from being a Children’s Book Illustrator to a Graphic Designer. I’ve also dedicated time to Design Education.
Apart from work, you’ll often find me immersed in watching the Big Bang Theory, indulging in daydreams, and gazing out of the window for hours on end.
Why are you an Illustrator?
Growing up, I immersed myself in the enchanting world of picture books, kindling a fascination with children’s literature from an early age. Discovering treasures like Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” and “How to Spot Witches” ignited my imagination. Fond memories include my mother taking me to book fairs in Assam which was a once in a year event and I would happily look forward to it. Those four to five days were spent there reading and buying heaps of books!
As I ventured into design school, mentorship from the inspiring Sekhar Mukherjee steered me toward exploring sequential narratives, drawing, and delving into World Cinema. It became clear that children’s book illustration offered the perfect fusion of the arts and my love for storytelling. Aligning with my lifelong goal of contributing to young minds, I found a fulfilling path as an illustrator where my diverse interests converged into a singular, rewarding pursuit.
Did you attend school for fine art or design?
I attended National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and studied Animation Film Design Academically. It’s not an institute for me but my second home. I was in a space which accepted me for who I am and I didnt have to change myself one bit! It was not about just learning about design but learning about life as a whole. I met amazing faculties there who were very grounded, simple people but when you spoke to them they were evangelists of design. The entire campus was buzzing with people from all over the country so you learnt so much about each other’s cultures. Sekhar, my mentor got amazing visiting faculties and even got students from leading schools like Royal College of Art, London to teach us.
You have a distinct style of illustration. How long did it take you to develop your style?
I didn’t intentionally create my style; rather, it came about as a result of observing my seniors in design school, reading books from the college’s library and seeing plenty of Miyazaki movies also proved to be quite beneficial. I was fortunate to draw the attention of publishers who were also producing whimsical stories, which allowed my artwork to be included.
Were there any particular role models for you when you grew up?
I’ve always held an admiration for Quentin Blake’s work. The idea of role models evolving resonates with me. As I grew up, my role models shifted, and currently, figures like Shah Rukh Khan, Sushmita Sen, APJ Abdul Kalam, Michelle Obama, Narayana Murthy, Oprah Winfrey, and Prateek Kuhad are among those I look up to.
Presently, my focus is on engaging with the younger generation. Their boundless enthusiasm and vitality serve as a constant inspiration for me.
Who was the most influential personality on your career in Illustrations?
Someone showed me Priya Kuriyan’s work while I was in NID and she made me believe that one could make illustration a career choice and sustain it.
What made you decide to become a freelance illustrator? When did you start freelancing? Do you illustrate for advertising?
During my second year at NID, the internship opened avenues for me. I got through an internship at Tulika Publishers in Chennai, spending two enriching months in their splendid office. Under the guidance of mentors like Radhika Menon, Deeya Nayar, and Niveditha Subramanium, I delved into contemporary illustrations and learned how illustrations could address societal issues.
The internship provided me with the opportunity to work on two books, instilling in me the confidence that creating children’s books was within my capabilities. Even as I continued my studies and later worked as a graphic designer, freelance opportunities in children’s book illustration kept finding their way to me. This realization aligned seamlessly with the Buddhist concept of beauty, benefit, and good – doing a job one enjoys, gets paid for, and contributes positively to society. With all these aspects falling into place, pursuing a career in children’s books felt like a natural and fulfilling choice.
Are many advertising agencies getting illustrations made these days? Do you work more with agencies or publishers?
While I don’t have extensive experience with advertising agencies, my primary focus has been working with publishers. The experience of collaborating with publishers has been incredibly enjoyable, mainly because they proved to be highly cooperative and easy to work with.
Was there any time when you wanted to quit Illustrations?
There were multiple instances when I considered leaving my work, glancing enviously at friends flourishing in high-end design roles in design houses or corporate environments. Yet, every time the notion of quitting crossed my mind, a new project emerged, rekindling my passion for the field. The ultimate reward for the hard work came when a printed book found its way to a child, and the sheer joy on their face was indescribable.
Operating as an introvert from my home studio was generally pleasant, but there were moments when I craved the exchange of ideas. There are times when we become too comfortable with our own style and work pace. In those instances, I’ve found myself seriously contemplating quitting.
Have you considered turning your illustrations into toys?
This is actually a great idea, maybe I should try doing that!
(Damn! I wish I knew how to stitch!)
Any other Indian Illustrators who you admire?
Of course! I have so many favorite artists. Priya Kuriyan and Rajiv Eipe are at the top of my list among them. When it comes to contemporary artists, I’m especially in love with the works of Shamika Chaves, Tanvi Bhat, and Pankaj Konwar. Marta Altes, Gemma Correl,Elise Gravel and Hannah Sun are some of my all-time favorite international artists.
Do you have any favorite fellow illustrators or resources relating to your fields?
For design-related or survival queries, I often turn to fellow illustrators Samidha Gunjal, Tanvi Bhat, and Sahitya Rani. A valuable resource for design inspiration is the podcast OneDesignPodcast. Personally, I’ve found immense help in understanding processes and gaining insights from Fran Meneses’s process videos and work, available on his YouTube Channel. Additionally, the podcast The Women Of Illustration has been a significant source of assistance for me.
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?
Absolutely, if it aligns with your calling or Ikigai, then pursuing it is a definite yes! Ikigai, a Japanese concept, encapsulates the idea of finding a “reason for being” or a “reason to wake up in the morning.” It involves a harmonious intersection of what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for.
Here’s additional advice: anticipate both low and high days. Pay less heed to external opinions, stick to your path, and discover what works best for you. Avoid blindly following trends; instead, trust your passion and instincts. This approach may unveil unexpected opportunities in uncharted territories. While starting a career in illustration can be challenging, it tends to get easier with time.
Nevertheless, one must acknowledge that the field of design or illustration comes with ever-changing rules and evolving client demands. Mental resilience is crucial, and it’s essential not to take things too personally. If you can navigate these challenges, and if it’s your true calling, go for it.
However, the overarching advice I’d offer is not to overly prioritize work. Consider other aspects of life as well; in the long run, they are what truly matter. Reflecting on my own experience, I wish I hadn’t made work the center of my life.
Whats your dream project?
I want to work on a commercial project based on social Design which integrates the 17 Sustainable Goals. My dream is also to work for brands like instagram, google and spotify in the future.
Mac or PC?
Who would you like to take out for dinner?
Hands down Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy and Michelle Obama 🙂
(I love this question!)
What’s on your iPod? Spotify?
What a fun question this is! These days I listen to Bollywood and Indie pop heavily.
I’ve been playing “Chai met Toast” , Anuv Jain and Prateek Kuhad nonstop. 😀 I also enjoy listening to laid-back music like Ditty, Jame’s Arthur, Jack Johnson and Harry’s Style.