I started my career as a freelance writer in 2009. I had dreams of becoming a journalist and novelist–but I was inexperienced. At the time, I was a Media and Communications student at university and still in the very early stages of an aspiring career that was yet to materialise. To gain experience in the field, I completed two internships–one in academic research and the other at a broadsheet newspaper.
I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. Sure, I wrote in my diary and completed numerous screenplays and novels, but I still had a lot to learn about the process of writing and how publishing works as an industry and a business. It took me ten years to acquire a working knowledge of the craft of writing as well as the publication process.
It was a haphazard journey.
Whilst my peers were settling into conventional lives, I often felt like I was going nowhere. I had no map and no idea how to reach my destination. The fact that pretty much everyone thought I was crazy to leave behind a career in accounting for writing didn’t help.
There is an unglamorous stereotype that persists of artists as penniless and homeless. Another popular stereotype is that of an artist that has sold their soul in the name of commerce. In the midst of all these hackneyed ideas, I found it hard to find my bearings or make sense of my own journey.
I have a chat with artist Sikha Prasad on this sensitive topic.
Dipa: Over the years, I’ve heard many stories of artists who claimed to have ‘sold their soul‘ to make money. Why do you think this happens to some artists and not others?
Sikha: When I was 12 years old, I took a class on crafting during the summer holidays. Our teacher often said that we should never use this talent solely for making money. At that time, I wasn’t sure what it meant. Over the years, I’ve heard this mentioned by others. Even now I’m not sure what it means.
But I think they said so to make us realise that we should never stop learning. There is so much to learn. It takes years of experimentation and practice to have mastery in a field. Through that process, our priorities may change.
Giving importance to money over art may cause problems. Artists may start feeling insecure and disheartened to see their work not being appreciated after putting so much effort into it. Losing patience makes them act differently. For fame and money they may sell their souls.
But those artists who know the power of patience will keep exploring and experimenting till they leave a mark of their own.
Dipa: What are your thoughts on using art as a storytelling medium?
Sikha: Everyone loves stories. Through the stories we hear and read, we develop an interest in storytelling. While some of us use words to tell stories, others uses images like photographs, and some use drawings and sketches as a storytelling medium.
Throughout history, we see examples of using art as a storytelling method. Cavemen used leaves and rocks to draw on walls and this led us to understand their way of living.
Likewise different art forms are used for storytelling.
Dance forms like Kathakali and Bharatanatyam are some examples. These art forms shows us that a story can be told without using words as well. I love it when people see a picture and interpret it in their own ways. Different people seeing same thing in a different light.
Dipa: During my teens and early twenties, I was a big fan of graphic novels. Are there any graphic novels or comics you read growing up? What were your favourites and why?
Sikha: When I was young, I used to read ‘Balarama‘ a Malayalam weekly comic magazine. My brother and I would eagerly wait for the paperboy to deliver the book on Fridays. We even had quarrels on who would read the book first. This is one of my fondest childhood memories.
Other than Balarama, I enjoyed reading Archies Comics. What I love about reading comics is the lighthearted feeling and the happiness of going through all the colourful illustrations.
There’s always a message we learn from the stories.
Dipa: We’ve collaborated together on three sketches now. I’ve had the privilege of watching you bring my work to life – and it has been an incredible journey. What’s been the most rewarding part of this journey for you?
Sikha: When I took up the project, I was unaware of a lot of things. I didn’t knew anything about character designing. To do the work, I started collecting details on how a character sketch is done. I watched tutorials and posts by other artists. These helped me a lot.
Also, watercolour was a medium I was not comfortable with. While making the sketch of the Surya, I tried using watercolour. Through continuous experiments, I started to understand more about colouring. I slowly developed a fondness for colours. I realised I was wrong in thinking colouring is not meant for me.
One other thing is my imaginative skills. I lacked the confidence and knowledge to bring out an imaginary idea on the paper. After doing three sketches, I actually feel comfortable drawing without using references. This is something I thought would never happen. Patience is another thing I’ve developed working on the sketches.
For me the most rewarding part of this journey is self evaluation and development.
Dipa: Do artists need to feel connected to the author’s work to create? Or is it possible to invest yourself in a lucrative commission even if you don’t believe in the project?
Sikha: I believe that artists need to feel connected to the work. Only if we believe in the work, we’ll be able to give our best. The mental state of the artist will be reflected in his work. Doing a commissioned work without having any interest will not do any good.
I don’t feel good about taking up a project solely for monetary benefits. It would lead to dissatisfaction on both ends.