Akshaya Zachariah, Illustrator

“Hey, you should join Pixar or Disney, when you grow up. This looks really nice!”

A friend of mine, and her mum chimed, as they held a replicated princess drawing of Disney’s Cinderella. *CRINGE*In my defense I was only 8 years old. I was passionate about wildlife, rescuing animals, and conservation, hoping to be a wildlife veterinary doctor, someday. But this compliment I received threw me off, and I actually laughed, saying “I don’t think so.”

As a child, academia was important, yes. But my parents ensured extra-curricular activities shaped my upbringing too. From learning endurance in athletics, to team-work in basketball, to appreciating the arts through painting, singing and learning the guitar, these activities gave me purpose, a sense of freedom from being glued to the idiot box and kept my brain active.

Cut to a few years and many doodles later I was standing outside the gates of my Alma Mater, hoping to take up ISC Science, keeping an architecture degree as the end goal letting go of my veterinary dream! As I began walking to the counter, something made me grab the Humanities form as well. And as you guessed, I enjoyed 2 blissful years of the Arts!

Here’s when I began to explore literature, poetry, drama, theatre, behavioural psychology, world history, and my love for the Arts grew exponentially! And in these years, doodling seeped its way in of course. My textbooks were filled with caricatures of teachers and scribbles of rock band logos, but it didn’t stay hidden there for long. I did get a chance to illustrate and make mascots for our inter-house competitions, athletic meets and the school magazine. I’d even make personalised cards and bookmarks for my classmates’ birthdays and would put a small logo and my email address behind. It all sounds so silly in hindsight!  But, hey! Some of my friends still have those cards. I cringe when I see them now, but I’m also glad that I had the time and patience to make them.

My family was quite supportive when I decided to apply for a course in Graphic Design at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology. However back in 2010, when I had applied, very few people knew this institute even existed! Because who ever does graphic design?! What is this intriguing new course? Is it worth all that money?! I mean, all my batch mates were more worried about clearing their exams to pursue engineering, medicine, business studies and journalism. Here I was, alone in this pursuit, struggling to find my way through. It was risky business for sure, and I was petrified of what was to come.

With a brave face, and a bit of fear lurking behind me, I stepped into the gates of yet another institute, forcing the extroverted introvert in me to meet new people, make friends and grow together as creative thinkers, practitioners and believers! It was at Srishti where we were given platforms to explore and understand ideologies, different schools of thought, artists’ works, reading, critically analysing written pieces on Art History and engaging in meaningful conversations. The pedagogy here did allow for us to learn, thrive and stand out from a crowd with the numerous skill based courses, liberal art courses, and semester long projects. When my school friends found out I had NO EXAMS whatsoever, just juries and reviews, they felt they were missing something, I guess? Haha! But it was a scary journey for me nevertheless, because here, I wasn’t the ONLY artist now. Every single person I met, shone so bright in their field of expertise- ranging from Film production, animation, illustration, textile, theatre, sport, you name it. The all nighters, endless disagreements with haughty project mates, late days in college, rejected prototypes and downing cups of coffee, to submit our assignments on time were so worth it in the end! We did have the occasional Artists’ Block, and some students got away with a lot of faffing and last minute work. But I’m grateful I had mentors who always ensured to either shake me up with valid arguments of my work, or motivate me when I felt dejected. Graduating with a Professional Diploma in Art and Design, did raise some questions. I did not want a specific field in design attached to my resume, since the work I did, and the credits I accumulated was actually an amalgamation of image making, ethonographic photography, public art, narrative illustration, theatre, mural making, print design to name a few. I’m glad I had the chance to learn and evolve in art school, allowing myself to pick up skills along the way.

The big bad world of design was waiting for me. They say an artist needs to find a voice and a style? My heart ached with restlessness at the thought of not having found one yet. My first job was terrible, I quit within months, and at the time I was also nursing a fractured collarbone. However this was a cathartic experience for me, as I used those 3 months of rest to introspect and change. I’m someone who struggles with routine, and I can be quite stubborn about it. I am also quite reserved, and I constantly  doubt sharing my work for people to see. I changed that around, and began uploading my art, and doodling each day, to keep those creative juices flowing!

I absolutely enjoy illustrating for little children, and my greatest desire is to illustrate stories for underprivileged children and publish them someday. Social issues, self-acceptance, dreaming big are some of my key interests in allowing these children to access illustrated story books for them to hold on to and shine!

One step closer to this dream and I chose to quit my full time job this year, freelance for a few months, and grow as an illustrator, much to the dismay of some of my loved ones. I knew I had to prove myself, and work twice as hard, to get projects coming in. It was and still is tough, being a freelance illustrator and designer in India.

The best thing this year though, was to get back to something I love, and that is conservation! With some intense research and planning, I was able to put together a series on illustrated endangered species, for an online art challenge called ’36 Days Of Type’. Artists all over the world participate and illustrate the letters of the alphabet in a themed style, or at random. I had so much fun with this and how! I did postcard giveaways for those who guessed the next day’s animal. After shamelessly tagging WWF International’s instagram handle, I was over the moon, when they reached out to me for a project! ALAS! I knew I had found my voice.

It’s wonderful to see the support all around you, as an artist that works towards raising awareness, to create a wave of change. I get messages from strangers, saying they enjoy the work I do, and that just lifts my spirits. I’m still learning, still growing, still making mistakes, but I’m choosing this path every single day, and THAT is what makes this life worth it!

In my free time, I do make sure to keep my creative thinking open, by watching TED Talks, reading articles, traveling, trying new cuisines, playing the ukulele or guitar, spending time with children, exploring culture, learning and absorbing all that there is around me. I prefer making gifts for friends than buying. At times, I do hop on a bus, with no agenda, travel and click pictures of markets, city life, people, converse with a few, get asked by some more why I clicked their picture, or even have a few curious folk surround me while I sketch, but that’s the beauty right there no? I’m bringing people into my little world, giving them glimpses of what I do, hoping to leave some form of impression, and moving on.

Some of the creative and inspirational people that I am driven by inlcude- Adam J Kurtz, Orijit Sen, Appupen, Paul Fernandes, Roald Dahl, Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, JR, Banksy, Paul Nicklen, Dr. Jane Goodall, Steve Irwin, T.S Elliot, George Bernard Shaw, Stefan Kunz, Lin Manuel Miranda and so many more!

Art and creativity is still not fully accepted or understood in many homes. But times are changing! Let children explore what they love and let us be supportive of it even if they don’t excel in studies. Who makes those rules anyway? I’m reminded of this beautiful quote embraced by Apple Inc. in one of their best campaigns-

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

I’m glad this platform creates that bridge in a way, for someone, out there, who is doubtful, clueless and worried about being different from a sea of faces. You never know unless you go out there and try!

1 thought on “Akshaya Zachariah, Illustrator”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *