Shruthi Venkataraman, modernizer of the Hindu goddesses Laxmi, Saraswati and Kali is out with a new series called Bombaywale. With a Kulture Shop bestseller – Dipped in Colour under her belt, we caught up with her about her move to Mumbai and her design philosophy that helps her create her vibrant, eye-catching work.
KS: Your work has this amazing positive quality to it, which is also reflected on your behance page. Tell us a little bit about growing up and the influences you grew up with.
SV: My parents are from Bombay but they moved to Hyderabad after I was born, so I grew up there. We are a close family of four. And I think I can say on all our behalf that Dad’s been the greatest influence on all of us. My sister and I grew up listening to the gramophone, watching movies in a lot of different languages, travelling and trying out every cuisine that we could. Rest of the time was divided between studies and other activities like sports, learning music, learning traditional dance and painting. And of course, friends. Even today some of my closest friends are from school. Most evenings were spent in coffee shops chatting about anything and everything. Winter nights meant barbeques. The haleem trails during Ramzan. The Biryani parties. Farmhouse parties. Sunny Sunday brunches.
KS: Your behance page says you believe everything ordinary is extraordinary. Could you expand on that thought?
SV: We are bombarded with a lot of stuff in this world. Everything and everyone is fighting for attention. In that process, we slowly start seeing only the things that we want to and ignore the rest. There are details in the small things and the big. There is a pattern in which the dust settles on the table. Or even the way a spider spins its web. Look closely and everything will come to life.
KS: What was it like designing your own wedding card? We imagine that would be a very stressful situation for a graphic designer to be in, but at the same time exciting and creatively stimulating.
SV: Being a senior art director and getting married to a copywriter & photographer, we just had to design our own card. Our friends and family expected us to design it too. There were a lot of iterations and we had to keep in mind our parents’ aesthetics as well as our own. We made two wedding cards – one in Tamil and one in English. We adapted the English one with elements from the the Tamil one.
KS: Being married to a photographer, do your visual interest ever overlap? Do you draw inspiration from each other or work on collaborations?
SV: While there hasn’t been any outright collaborations, we do influence each other a lot. We have worked together in the past as a part of the same team. I have often been a muse for him, and for me it is quite convenient to have a go to person, whose style I like. Before either of us take on any project, we discuss a lot and take inputs from each other.
KS: You have a very definite style. Did you consciously go about developing your own visual language?
SV: My illustration style has evolved from whatever I have learnt in advertising. Most of my initial clients worked with a lot of illustrations. Vibrant, flat, minimal and very very graphic. I would finish office and stay up all night to work on my own personal projects. Every project took a lot of research on the subject before developing the style itself. The goddesses series was one such project.
KS: Tell us a little bit about your work at O&M. Is it hectic working at such a huge agency? Is it rewarding?
SV: Like anyone from advertising would tell you, it is quite hectic, but sometimes between projects there will be a period of calm which allows me to design. I enjoy the fact that my day job is advertising and am able to design alongside at Kulture Shop. I often find influences or inspiration from the advertising world. At Ogilvy there is a comfort level that is amazing, they have been very encouraging about my being on the Kulture Shop platform, which I don’t think is common in other companies.
KS: We noticed a series you started working on – religious statues across cities – how’d that come about?
SV: The series you’re talking about is called Snow Globes. I love Snow Globes. And actually collect them. All my friends buy me one when they travel. And its always bugged me a little that India does not have snow globes. I think they are absolutely magical. I think that’s where it all started. I want to stick to the statues I have personally seen rather than just go by a picture of it. It’s still work in progress. Hopefully this year I’ll add more to the series.
KS: And it clearly worked! Along with Dipped in Colour, your work has received a fantastic response. How do you feel about your designs creating a fan-following of sorts?
SV: Ha! 🙂 I have to give credit to Kulture Shop; Jas & Arjun Charanjiva in particular. They have really pushed me to put my work out there for everyone to see. If not for them, I think my work would have still been sitting on my laptop somewhere. The response has been truly overwhelming for me. Everyone who has bought my prints/t-shirts have said some wonderful things and passed on so much love. Its only encouraged me to do more work.
KS: Tell us about the work you’ve done for the KS Wit theme…
SV: My piece for the theme Wit is called Life in a Fish Bowl. It’s is my take on Global Warming and the melting of ice caps. Growing up, Tom & Jerry was one of my favourites. This artwork has been inspired by scenes I remember from the show, where Tom troubles the little fishy that’s stuck in the glass bowl. Soon the roles will reverse.
KS: What’s was in store for you, having moved to Mumbai?
SV: Firstly a lot more work. The year before last I was very busy with personal stuff and work got ignored in that process. Now that I was back in the bay, I joined my previous agency again. So there was a lot more of advertising. While, on the design front I was hoping to finish all my pending projects, while starting new ones too. So my hands are full and am totally loving it. Bombay that way has usually meant work for me. There is so much inspiration here. All around you. The talent here is unlike any other. There is something to learn from everyone.
KS: What inspired you to do the Bombaywale Artist Series – why these 4 characters? Also, was there any conscious decision to connect Dipped in Colour with this series, like the Sun-glass motif and pop culture reference?
SV: Ever since I came back to live in Bombay, I’d been looking to do a series about this city. My love for portraiture led me to explore the personality of its colourful citizens. These four are just the start and I plan to add many more.
I love dark glasses and I own quite a large collection. If I spot a new shape or colour I make sure to own it right away! And when I make portraits I often wonder what manner of shades that character might wear. For this series, as with Dipped In Colour, I had them wear sunglasses because the resulting reflection gave me a way to tell the viewer more about the person. Maybe I should make this my thing?!