Sameer Kulavoor: Invest, Develop, Create

Sameer Kulavoor: Invest, Develop, Create

Sameer Kulavoor has had a fantastic 2014. He's seen some fantastic projects come to life, including our very own Katalyst project with Kalki Koechlin, his ongoing association with India's biggest music festival — NH7 Weekender, an art+design residency in New Zealand, his very own tile design for Bharat Floorings and commercial projects through his design studio, Bombay Duck Designs!

We caught up with him in the new year to ask him about his residency and recent projects.

KS: Tell us a little about the residency you just returned from. What was the experience like?

Sameer: Zoomslide is a film production company based in Grey Lynn, Auckland who recently expanded their studio space. Their motion graphics head, Hitesh Chheda and Mark Summerville, had been following my work and asked if I’d be interested in doing a little residency which could culminate with a mural on their exterior wall of the new space. I had not created such a large scale permanent mural before and I thought it could be a nice way to explore a new territory and learn new things in the process.

The idea was to spend some time observing and drawing in Auckland — conceptualise and execute the mural start to end there within 15 days. There was not much time so we decided to get started the day I landed. Thanks to the Zoomslide team, I got to see the Grey Lynn festival, Avondale market, Whatipu beach, Titirangi, Wellington Ukelele Orchestra, Waiheke island, Maori Museum, Auckland art gallery, Ponsonby area, K-road, and a bunch of other places.


What struck me first was the Aucklanders' love for flora and fauna and how eco-sensitive they were. The city has a huge variety of plants/trees and they are well maintained. Auckland was multi-ethnic and they were all really warm people. A number of people stopped by and greeted us as we worked on the mural — asking what is the mural about and how did I end up in Auckland! The weather was a bit erratic so we had to plan the execution keeping an eye on the forecast all the time. The mural design grew organically as I kept adding more drawings in my sketchbook. The Zoomslide team and my interns there were very co-operative and the energy was great! The Great North Road Mural was complete on the 17th Dec 2014. 

It was my first time in NZ and I went with absolutely no idea of how the mural will turn out. I knew I wanted to keep it intuitive and personal — draw as I go and see what comes out of it. The end result was immensely satisfying!


The mural resulting from Sam's residency with Zoomslide in Auckland, NZ

KS: You recently spent some time in Tokyo as well, right after the residency. What effect does travel have on your work/creativity?

Sameer: Travel, for me, is hugely inspiring on many levels. It can alter how you work, help you unlearn, and develop newer ways to "see". It also helps me look at my own surroundings back home differently. For e.g. it was great to see how the Japanese have a sharp eye for detail — it stems from their culture, lifestyle, behaviour and can be seen in their design aesthetics, architecture, illustration, graphic design, fashion. You cannot google that, you have to travel to Japan to experience it. You have to see Mt. Fuji yourself to understand Hokusai's numerous renditions of the same!


Tokyo sketchbooks from Sam's Japanese sojourn

KS: There's so much of you even in your commercial, client work - you can look at your work for the Skoda ads recently, or the Nike AirMax illustrations and you know they're definitely Sameer Kulavoor/BDD. How do you manage to keep so much of your own style in work you do for clients?

Sameer: I don’t know what that defining quality/style is! I think its not just about the style but also the content that I bring to the table. Its a matter of time and persistence (and some rejections early on) till your work develops a unique voice and becomes visible. When it comes to client work, I also politely refuse certain projects that don’t fit in the kind of work I do. And then there are people/clients who come to me for the kind of work I do, they know that I’ll add that little extra bit to the project.


Bombay Duck Designs for Skoda (above) and Nike Airmax (below)

KS: You've worked on NH7 Weekender for a few years now. Have you found yourself growing with the brand? Could you explain working with a brand over a few years affects your work for it?

Sameer: NH7 Weekender has evolved from being a small local festival in the early days to a full scale festival travelling to 5 cities in the country today. The workload has increased and we create art for a wide range of applications now. The visual language has evolved since we’re now talking to a massive audience that cuts across age, gender and demographics. For e.g. in 2012 the festival travelled to Bengaluru + Delhi in addition to Pune and we developed plectrum shaped illustrated icons that were inspired from local culture/language of each city. (Hauz Khas hipster badshah — Delhi, a take on the rickshaws — Bengaluru) We also create a different visual theme for each year so the art doesn’t look repetitive. (In 2014 we decided to go with "hand-drawn type as image") It's great to see people instagramming pictures of little hidden quirks on the festival periphery cloth or even the merchandise.

Working with a brand over a few years can be challenging because you have to develop new ideas each year. Moreover, the number of other brands associated with the festival has increased and you have to be sensitive to their needs as well. OML — the team behind the festival — have been very supportive in this respect and have given us the leeway that is required to pull off the task.


Branding and Identity design for NH7 Weekender through the years

KS: With all of this work under your belt, what do you feel is Kulture Shop's role in contemporary Indian design?

Sameer: I think in recent times we've seen a lot of good young art/illustration talent with a very unique voice emerging from India. (You can see these on any number of Facebook pages, Behance accounts, Tumblr blogs and so on). I feel that Kulture Shop provides a great platform and outlet for this new talent to aspire to, to reach out to an audience that appreciates good work, art or design.


People & Their Colours A6 Notebook for Kulture Shop. Click the image to shop.


Sameer's Future Is Handmade tee for Kulture Shop. Click the image to shop.


Sameer collaborates with Bollywood actress Kalki Koechlin for our Katalyst Mumbai collection. Click the image to shop.

KS: Lastly, some advice for people who want to self-initiate projects?

Sameer: If you have an idea, invest some time, develop it, create it. Make prototypes, samples. Get critique. Find supporters. Being pro-active is the only way ahead.