Ugly Is Beautiful: Jasjyot Singh Hans

Ugly Is Beautiful: Jasjyot Singh Hans

If you find yourself at Amici Cafe in Delhi's Khan Market, look around for Jasjyot Singh Hans, sitting hunched over a Moleskine, drawing things your mom might smack you for staring slackjawed at: big girls in their underwear, skinny girls with faces made ugly with tears and rage, pretty boys vulnerable in their shyness.

It's a world of the aesthetically deficient, brought to life in the most delicate and beautiful ways. It's also really just about every other person around us, which comes as a bit of a shock as few truly celebrate the ordinary, and what makes them so. Jasjyot's work travels across one-off comics in glossies to illustrations for couture designers such as Sabyasachi to gig posters to poetic collaborations with his favourite uncle. We speak with the Delhi-based designer about what drives him and why he does what he does.

KS: We've been speaking with a lot of artists about the influence places they grew up / love to visit have had on them. You are often in Lucknow, as you have family there, but what draws you to the place apart from that obvious connection?

Jasjyot: I'm basically a Delhi boy. My father's from Delhi, and I've been here my whole life. My mother's from Lucknow. I was born there, my Nani and uncles stay there. We visit them often, and I absolutely love the city. The thing I love about Delhi and Lucknow is how they have have such a rich heritage and you can see glimpses of it everywhere. Architecture, culture, food, lifestyle; everything has a very unique character. It's just how in my work I take on a familiar idea and combine it with something new to create something special. And that's why Lucknow will always have a very special place in my heart.


A young Jasjyot (right) and an all grown-up Jasjyot hard at work at his desk.

KS: I love your sketching style and I've seen you seemingly effortlessly create what could easily be complete sketches while waiting for a meeting at a cafe at the same time I recognise it can't be as easy as that. Could you elaborate on your process?

Jasjyot: Most times, I sit on a table (my workspace at home or in a cafe or a random surface at perfect height) listening to music and open my sketchbook. I guess what I draw always springs from a memory bank, there are sometimes references from things I saw on my Tumblr dashboard, or some album art, a photoshoot, a fashion collection. But it' mostly subconscious. Most times when I sketch for myself I rarely have a vision of what it'll look like till I actually finish it. Sometimes it starts with the idea of a posture, a song lyric, and I end up simply drawing. I like the idea of drawing the human form, clothed or not.


Illustrations for (from left to right) Cosmopolitan, Manta Ray Comics' Mixtape, and couture designer Sabyasachi

For client projects, it's important to understand where they've been, what they're coming from and where they go. I take my time understanding the brief and figuring out what from my past body of work may work for them. A couple of rounds of back and forth with rough drafts, treatment and blocking out colours lead to a final artwork.

KS: The men and women you draw are so beautiful and yet defy a conventional beauty that is usually accepted in fashion and design/advertising. They're defiantly real. I remember a recent flabby-girl insta update had a couple people commenting "that could be me!" Did you set it to draw the different or did it just happen?

Jasjyot: It springs from my body image, I think. I've always felt a very strong sense of failure personally; and that feeling stays. I've changed SO MUCH over the past few years, and it's definitely changed the way I see myself, for the better. But that's been a feeling I can never shake, it stays. I draw what I associate with. I drew the big woman not because it's a character that seems interesting to me, but because it is me. I remember drawing something and someone commenting on it saying it was ugly. But to me that's ok. People are allowed to be ugly sometimes, right? To me, ugly is beautiful.


A sketch from one of Jasjyot's continuous Moleskines

KS: What inspires you? What are your references?

Jasjyot: Music inspires me a lot. Most of my personal work is a take on music I'm listening to. My Tumblr dashboard is an inspiration; a mish-mash of happiness including beautiful nature photography, hilarious GIFS, fashion details, food pictures, homoerotic manga comic snippets, purely befuddling imagery, etc. I try and keep track of illustrators (but there's always so many more!), and generally follow work of people I like. I love reading graphic novels and comics. Also, anytime I find myself stuck in what is known as an artist's block, I watch THIS. Works. EVERY SINGLE TIME.


Click the image to check out Jasjyot's awesome Tumblr page

KS: How do you feel about collaborations? Your followers (ourselves included) are lapping up your doily collaboration with your poet-uncle...

Jasjyot: Collaborations are always great, although I haven't collaborated much in terms of my art. I think I find it unsettling to not have complete control over my work, and that the outcome wouldn't depend entirely on what I do. I'm a bit of a control freak when it comes to work. I've become more open to collaborations now than ever, and the collaboration with my uncle (businessman by day, poet by night) is just the beginning. ISN'T HE JUST INSANE though? He just decided in his life to get back to reading and writing, and it is so exciting to see how driven he is. It felt natural for us to work on something together. I've often written lyrics of music I'm listening to with my work, and I found some of his short poetry very evocative. He weaves words as effortlessly as I'm able to weave imagery, so one day I whipped out my doilies, and we had some fun.


Collaborations with poet/uncle Manu, and the resultant in the form of quaint little doilees.

KS: What would be your ultimate dream job/project?

Jasjyot: My dream project would be to combine music, fashion, art, animation & pop culture and make it all come together in an explosive neon mix. How will I ever come close to doing that? I DON'T HAVE A CLUE. I must admit I do have a client bucket list, one which includes Nike, Prada, Nobrow, Givenchy, Rolling Stone etc. When I put a tick against all of them, I'll pat myself on the back and get back to more work.


From comic anthology covers to lamps, Jasjyot's sketches fit a world of objects.

KS: Where do you see design going in India, as a young designer navigating the industry in a more aware time, where a lot of people have an opinion on art, design, the politics of the two...

Jasjyot: I think design in India is definitely on its way to finally finding more acceptance with the masses. For example, more people now know what 'animation'/ 'illustration' is than say, five years ago. More and more people are opening up to illustration in advertising, which is good. I've had more clients come to me for my fashion oriented work in the past year than ever. People are willing to try out different things, and that's great. It's definitely great to be a part of the design community now. It's growing so much, and people are doing some lovely work. I have moments of ecstasy, frustration and hope with the respect given to design; slowly but surely, we're getting there.

KS: What is it about design that really excites you? Where do you see yourself as a designer in say the next ten years?

Jasjyot: I like the ability to create different worlds the way I imagine for so many people. It's great to be able to see projects as opportunities for collaboration, rather than projects themselves. Over the years, I've enjoyed working on fashion-body image-self love/hatred-beauty spectrum more, and I keep pushing myself more and more to explore that further. I see myself sitting in a room conceptualising on what the next Prada collection will look like, and sketching like a mad man at the same time. Haha, maybe that, or having a pop-up every week all over the world and sell artprints, original art, stickers and crazy merch in a neon little bubble with Bad Romance playing full blast on loop. You'll come, right?


Jasjyot's Faulaadi, exclusively for Kulture Shop. Click the image to view the artwork.

KS: How do you find working with a platform like KS?

Jasjyot: It's AMAZING to be a part of Kulture Shop! I love the fact that the brand has a good understanding of where it stands in the market, and is at great comfort with it. I love how KS works with contemporary curated art to create high quality products. The involvement of the brand in promoting the artists more than the brand itself is something that is amazing. I also love the fact that the workings of the brand seem very clean to me, in formula as well as in practice. When I saw the Faulaadi tee with my name on the inside, total dilkhush-goosebumps-tears-in-eyes moment happened!


KS: What's next for Jasjyot?

Jasjyot: I've just started some work with Manish Arora this week, had a two pager comic out in Elle Nov 2014 and am working on a big project which shall be out very soon! Things are looking up, definitely. More comics, other client projects and a pop-up in the pipeline. I want to study more as well. It need to get into the groove of learning more while I still want to, and get more and more international exposure. Keeping fingers and toes crossed.

KS: Tell us about your collaboration with Monica Dogra for the Katalyst Music Collection.

Jasjyot: I've always loved working with music, and this project gave me a chance to do that professionally. It was great to have freedom to interpret the music, and get to know more about the person behind the music. Monica and I both have themes of heartbreak, nostalgia and strength in our work; her music inspired and helped breathe life into my final piece. I definitely look forward to many more Katalyst collaborations.


Click the image to view the Indie Pop artwork.