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Women Of Art

Promina Shrestha, Shraddha Shrestha and Bandana Tulachan are part of Creating Heroines, a collaborative international project initiated by the British Council. They have been showcasing their art around the world. The talented illustrators talk to Sachitra Gurung about their journey, the impact of their role as women in the art field and the challenges of artists in the country.

What stirred your interest in arts?

Shraddha: Since childhood, I had been good at arts and crafts. I won many awards for my drawings. Observing my interest my mother enrolled me in weekend art classes. I think this is where it began. However, after high school, my parents insisted that I study science but I told them that I wanted to join an art college instead. Their main concern was that I would not be able to sustain a livelihood as an artist. Initially, I too did not know how or what would happen, but joining Kathmandu University School of Art turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. It opened up a different world.

Bandana: I studied Science during my +2 and I was terrible at it. As I was really discouraged, my father suggested that I try for arts instead. It was very random for me as I never considered art as anything more than a hobby. Yet, I decided to take his advice. After I completed my +2, I enrolled in an Art and Design bachelors program at Kathmandu University. Ever since, it's been a journey full of learning, adventure and sleepless nights.

Promina: It was when I was in the eighth grade that I decided to become an artist like Dali – a surrealist – or a comic book artist like Albert Uderzo or Henk Kuipers. In 2002, I got more interested in design and illustrations for magazines and began looking for internships. It took me about a year (working on a portfolio, talking to people, getting advice and feedback, applying to places and plenty of rejections) before I got a break with a magazine. That's when I started illustrating and designing professionally. In 2008, I started working as a children's book illustrator.

 

 

Shraddha Shrestha is a designer, illustrator and mural artist. She holds a Masters Degree in Illustration from the Glasgow School of Art. Her works revolve around cartoons, comics, and fantasy dealing with her emotional and social experiences. She is also experimenting with street art and loves to play with her imaginary characters.

How would you describe your art?

Shraddha: My art is mostly illustrative. I mostly do murals and storybooks. I like juxtaposing forms like mixing western iconography with eastern motifs.

Bandana: I make illustrations, mostly for children's picture books. In a picture book, both the text and image is an active part of the storytelling, so it is much more fun if both work together to tell a complete story. I like to add a bit of whimsical imagination to my drawings and let the images do the talking. It's really fun to add little secrets and hints and hope that the children will get what I am trying to show. Apart from that, I also like making comics.

Promina: My professional work as a designer or illustrator is typically in digital format which can be very versatile with clean lines and vibrant colours. My personal artwork, on the other hand, is more doodles, sketchy, surreal in their ideas and experimental in medium, and very rarely digital.

Promina Shrestha is an illustrator, graphic designer and researcher. She holds a Master's Degree in Arts and Aesthetics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. She has published papers on current transcultural influence on Newari Poubha tradition and national identity in children's book illustration in Nepal. She is currently working on the anthropological Yatayat Comic Project with Professor Stacey Leigh Pigg (Simon Fraser University, Canada) and illustrating children's books for publisher Rato Bangala Kitab.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Shraddha: I grew up in a very traditional Newar family in the old neighbourhood of Patan surrounded by temples and ancient architectures. I also grew up watching a lot of cartoon network and comics. I think these two things influence my artwork.

Bandana: Every lesson I learn, any discovery I make, or just simple realisation fuels my creativity. I follow a lot of artists, both Nepali and international on social media, and I like to learn about their processes. Also recently, I have started to listen to various podcasts featuring different artists. This gives me insight into the art world and also makes me more aware of my own work.

Promina: I don't have one specific inspiration source, it's a bunch of randomnesses - ideas, science, some accidental spot on a ceiling or a liquid spill, a book, a performance or a video, travel, a conversation, a person I saw on the street… you name it!

 

Bandana Tulachan is a freelance illustrator. She completed her Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts in Graphic Communication from Kathmandu University Center for Art and Design. Bandana has illustrated over ten picture books for children since 2012. In 2015, she wrote and illustrated Sanu ra Adhiberi (Sanu and the Big Storm). She is working on introducing more fantasy into children's literature in Nepal.

How does your role as a woman impact your art?

Shraddha: I feel that the art scene is still dominated by men. Although my family has been very supportive, there are still some constraints and I cannot practice my art freely. My work could have been something different if I had the full liberty as a man living in a traditional family.

Bandana: I think being a woman impacts everything I do and the way I do it. I am sure the content I come up with, the stories I want to tell is very different from what a male artist would express. The art scene is still very male-dominated so it is important that I stay true to myself and create as much as I can so that my voice is there in society.

Promina: This is a tricky question, particularly because I tend to avoid the gender issue and make neutral works (this is in regard to children's book illustrations). But when illustrations need to be specifically in human form and the text is dated on gender roles - I do approach the author on how to bring about a more balanced and different perception to gender ideas. Personally, I am more aware of how my gender has been affecting my artwork and work experience, and I have an understanding of gender issues and theories. I have found that it is an interesting responsibility for an artist and that one has to be accountable when expressing oneself visually.

In Nepal, many people want to get away without paying the artists. Have you encountered such situations?

Shraddha: Yea, many times. I just tell them that it is against my ethics to work for free.

Bandana: I have actually worked for free for a few projects when I started. But I quickly caught on that it wasn't worth it. I believed I was helping out but in truth I got no respect for my time and effort as people easily discard the things they haven't paid for or made an effort to get. Nowadays, I make it a point not to work for free or even for unfair pay because I put a lot of time and energy into creating my illustrations. I only want to create good work and I don't think I can do if I don't get the respect I deserve. Now I am very straightforward when dealing with clients.

Promina: Yes, I have. Almost every artist I know has been in this situation. When I was a novice I would get frustrated and pursue these people relentlessly till I was paid. However, now that I have more experience, I recognise clients. I have also found that the best is to ask for 40-50% advance payment before commencing work which is non-refundable. That way if things don't work out, I still get paid for my time and effort.

What is the best part about being an artist?

Shraddha: The best part is that you get to be yourself and do what you love. Also, art is a medium through which you can express your views and ideas in many different ways. It has the power to make people think and question. It has the power to make people smile and angry at the same time. As an artist, I get to share a piece of myself with others.

Bandana: The best part is being able to create artworks. For me, the feeling of creating something is magical and powerful.

Promina: Work time is flexible and it can take you places you did not expect.

How do you deal with creative blocks?

Shraddha: Music always helps to freshen up my mind.

Bandana: Doodling helps me a lot with creative blocks. I draw without thinking too much which allows me to draw freely and without pressure. I also write in my journal whenever I feel confused or need to make sense of jumbled ideas.

Promina: I take a breather and relax which means doing something that takes my mind off the block and not obsesses over it. So I will cycle, watch/read something humorous, talk to a friend or my family and so forth.

What is the biggest challenge for an artist?

Shraddha: Art is luxury in Nepal. People would rather save their money or invest in something else rather than buy a piece of art. Also, I feel that many people take art and artist for granted. They do not realise that we have invested a lot of time and money sharpening our creativity. Therefore people still try to get away without paying. This probably does not occur in any other occupation. Therefore, to create your market in such society is the biggest challenge.

Bandana: As an illustrator, it is a challenge to have a good balance in my life. Often, I get too absorbed in meeting deadlines and I forget to take care of myself and spend time with my friends and family. As a freelancer, you are your own boss, manager, communicator and staff, all in one. So sometimes, it gets really stressful meeting multiple deadlines, attending meetings, planning projects, finances and so on. On the other hand, when I am free it's very easy to squander away time because there's no one to answer to. So you really have to be disciplined and focused to get things done.

Promina: Different artists have different things to overcome. One common challenge that all artists face would be of finding their niche, medium/style and establishing themselves within a social community of consumers. But, if an artist is like me who is introverted and shy, then I would say overcoming one's inhibition and gaining the confidence to sell oneself publicly can be extremely challenging.