“It takes a lot of saving up, patience and determination."
Asian illustrators globally use art to showcase messages of self-expression and wider issues through remarkable pieces of work.
In doing this, many of them have developed their unique style that they incorporate into elements of their work.
Art has always been a competitive field. Whether you are new to illustration and experimenting with forms or you are an established artist with a defined style, all artists want to show individuality through their work.
DESIblitz exclusively interviewed six Asian illustrators based around the world who are establishing their trademark style.
Some utilise traditional mediums such as paint, inks and pen whilst others employ different mediums through digital means.
However, each of these contemporary artists uses their chosen methods to express their feelings in a way that resonates with their audiences.
It is authenticity, passion and hard work that transforms creative outlets into small businesses and full-time professions. Here are six illustrators who are currently doing just that.
Ellia Raja is a Bedfordshire-based illustrator from the UK and illustrates as a creative outlet on the side.
Being creative from a young age, Ellia has studied Art, Design, Graphic Communications, Creative Writing and Music as part of her formal education.
In the past, she “loved to draw fictional characters driven by my slightly crazy imagination.”
It is this imagination and creativity that has allowed Ellia to build an amazing portfolio of prints and digital designs that she sells on her website.
She specialises in using a combination of digital and traditional mediums to create beautiful illustrations.
“Pencil crayons are my absolute favourite to use – they allow me to reconnect with my inner child and just have fun!”
When using digital software, her go-to is Adobe Illustrator and the Wacom tablet with a pen. She praises the tablet which “completely takes your work to another level.”
Using the digital form is great for Ellia who finds it easier to move things around and edit. A negative point is that it loses the “authentic handmade feel” for her.
Even though there is no “undo” button, Ellia loves the raw, sketchy quality of pencil crayons that is “hard to replicate digitally.”
When asked when her love for illustration first began, Ellia fondly speaks of her mum who she describes as “very creative.”
“I was very fond of the books my mum used to buy me as they were filled with beautiful illustrations – I loved how these intricately drawn illustrations could tell a story on their own.
“As a kid, I would marvel at her old art portfolio and I always wished that I would be able to draw like that one day.”
Ellia incorporates poetry, prose and lyrics into her work; a lyric can spark an idea for her. As an illustrator, the main thing she hopes people take from her work is a sense of her personality and character.
“When people say ‘ahh that’s very Ellia’ – that’s all I want to hear”.
Inspired by everything around her, Ellia’s favourite illustrators include the famous Quentin Blake. She finds his iconic style “effortless and so full of character”.
More recently, she has been heavily influenced by Helen Downie.
“She is the illustrator for Gucci and her collection called ‘Unskilled Workers’ is simply stunning.
“Her use of bold and vibrant colours juxtaposed with her emotive portraiture makes a huge statement, and it’s very difficult not to be mesmerised by her work.
“She inspired my portraits heavily, allowing me to just let my imagination run wild with no restrictions.”
Ellia’s collection of Eid Cards is one of her most popular projects. Putting a “fresh and vibrant spin on tradition was great” and hand-making her art into “little packs of greeting cards was a very special moment for me, and one I will not forget.”
However, Ellia’s creative success has not come without difficulty. When working with clients it can sometimes be hard to navigate the commercial aspect.
She finds it challenging to get the “balance between creating something ‘outside the box’ which also has to be quite ‘commercial’ and I hate to use the word, ‘ordinary’.”
Illustrators often use their artwork to help with their own struggles. During this pandemic, Ellia was able to immerse herself with her series of illustrated fiction called ‘Autre Monde’ meaning ‘another world’.”
“This kept me busy and mentally distracted during a time of chaos.”
Her advice to other Asian illustrators looking to turn their designs into a business is to “know what makes your work stand out.”
She urges you to “not be afraid to try something new and venture into the unknown. Integrity in your work is key.”
To follow Ellia’s work, be sure to check out her Instagram or her website.
Remal Arif is a Karachi-based illustrator from Pakistan who illustrates as both a profession and a creative side outlet.
At just 19-years-old, she has a portfolio of photography, illustration and writing. She is also the founder of Brown People Arts Magazine.
Through her illustrative work, Remal highlights “everyday problems that the South Asian community face and don’t talk about.”
Having done 10 global exhibitions, she tries to “highlight the problems [in the South Asian community] so that it can be discussed and solved.”
Her artwork has a feminist tone that has been exhibited in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, the USA and London.
We asked Remal how she began illustrating. She said:
“My first illustration was based on poetry I wrote at the age of 17 that highlights how society tries to silence women.
“I wanted to portray how the pain feels like so that people who are the reason behind pain might change their mind and people can stand against the survivors.”
She likens her design style to an “activist for people.”
Growing up in Karachi, Remal was inspired by the city of light. She often observed the beautiful happenings and the joy in the landscape to inspire her work. As she proclaims, “my inspiration is my city, my country and my people.
“The warmness struggles, jubilation, gloom and the surrounding stories inspire me to produce something for my people.”
This connection with humanity is an important part of Remal’s work. She wants people “to understand the reality and instead of daydreaming, find solutions to our major problems.”
She wants her work and the people “to stand against injustice whether it is happening at national level or international level.”
“We should try to change ourselves as every person builds a strong impact on society. Our stand can change the world,” says Remal.
As a professional digital artist, Remal uses Sketch App by Sony. She strongly advocates for the software which she finds to be more efficient.
Nothing is permanent and exploration with style is more accessible through this method.
However, there are some notable downsides to digital art. Remal knows that the art she makes can be duplicated and violated easily without copyright laws.
She notes that providing recognition for illustrators and creators is integral.
When asked about the difficulties she has experienced as an artist, Remal exclusively told DESIblitz that her work is being sold illegally by people who do not own copyrights.
“I have contacted my lawyer to send them legal notice for stealing and selling my artwork without my permission.”
Being Asian herself has influenced much of her illustrations. Some of her commission work for clients has included a wedding project where she illustrated for a Desi bride and groom according to old Bollywood styles.
“During that project, I saw various Pakistani movies from the 1960s. The final outcome was suggested by my mother on a famous folk story of Punjab i.e ‘Heer Ranjha’.
“I illustrated the village side of South Asia and loved the details and colours of that artwork.”
Feedback from her clientele has played a “major role in improving [her] digital artwork.” It has motivated her to continue with her passion.
Her advice to others beginning a career in the creative sector is to build your portfolio online. Using Behance has helped Remal reach her clients.
Using specific hashtags has enabled her to “connect with more people in the art industry.”
This has led her to do commission work for albums and sell prints as well.
“My art is a poem without words,” she states. “It takes courage to make illustrations on such deep topics.”
The level of research Remal undertakes before even putting pen to paper – or pen to app – is high. She does this to mirror the society in which we live.
“My art enabled me in finding self and losing self at the same time and has enabled others to find their way too.”
Check out more of Remal’s work on Instagram.
“Feminine, modern and minimalist” – these are the three words Halley Patel uses to describe her illustrative work.
Born in Gujarat, India, Halley is a digital illustrator based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada whose love for art has developed since she was a child.
“I would explore different mediums from painting and sketching to 3D modelling – I love being able to utilise my hands to create new things”, she says to DESIblitz.
Having graduated with a degree in City Planning with a specialisation in Urban Design, her love for digital illustration stemmed from there.
When working on her final portfolio submission, Halley recalls how as a “perfectionist” she loved how “clean and crisp my designs looked on the computer – I never looked back!”
Currently, Halley is mainly a self-taught illustrator with a creative outlet on the side.
“I gained most of my experience while being a part of many student associations at my university.
“During my time with the student associations, I had the opportunity to express my creativity by designing posters for events, managing social media pages and designing a clothing line.
Once I completed my undergraduate studies, I started my own side business called Petal Prints Design Studio to continue to pursue my passion for graphic design.”
Through her design studio, she currently works almost exclusively digitally using an iPad and a Macbook Pro. The main applications she uses include Adobe Illustrator, InDesign and Procreate.
She loves that her studio is essentially “in her pocket” which allows her to work anywhere she goes!
When she is inspired by the people around her and the city she is in, Halley is able to put thought to iPad instantly.
Despite it being easy to make changes to her digital illustrations, there are multiple negative aspects.
One crucial thing is expensive software and tools.
“Since technology is always changing, I have to keep up with the latest application updates.”
When discussing her favourite project, Halley fondly remembers a logo she designed for a construction company.
“My favourite project is a logo I designed for a construction company. It was my very first commission, so it will always hold a special place in my heart.”
“It’s so fulfilling to know my designs are out there for people to see, especially on such a large platform like Spotify.”
“Another favourite project of mine is an illustration I designed for a podcast cover.”
The reception from clients such as these is very important to Halley’s process. Her very first clients were close friends who were very supportive.
Their constructive feedback has encouraged her to do “anything and everything I can to make the client happy and 100% satisfied”.
It is this level of professionalism that has given Halley the positive reputation she holds today.
Art has always been a relaxing and inspiring activity for Halley.
She describes it as her “outlet to channel inner creativity” which has drastically improved her mental health by “relieving stress and giving a sense of accomplishment.”
Nonetheless, it is difficult to try and be inspired all of the time. Halley stresses that:
“It’s important to remind myself that I am not a creative machine that constantly has to produce work.”
“To overcome this creative block, I like to give myself a couple days to recharge as working on too many things at once stifles my creativity and leaves me burned out.
“Spending time with my friends and family and going on nature walks also help with this.”
Turning our passion into a viable business is something that Halley has been successful at with her design studio. Her advice is simply “to just start.”
“As a new artist, it can be scary to find a unique style and put out your best work. Art is not linear, there is always room for improvement and growth – whether it is finding a new style or learning new techniques.
“I suggest doing a lot of experimenting and taking part in design challenges such as the 36 Days of Type or a 30 Day Logo Challenge to train your design skills and build a portfolio in the meantime.”
To see more of Halley’s craft, check out her website.
As a nature and wildlife enthusiast, illustrator Rohan Dahotre takes inspiration from the wilderness around him.
Based in Pune, India, Rohan is a keen observer who loves illustrating animals, birds and all things wild.
Since his childhood, he has loved forming special bonds with animals which he would draw.
“I guess with age, I became more conscious about all this and started drawing for spreading wildlife awareness, conservation and welfare.
Since graduating in Animation from Symbiosis Institute of Design, Rohan currently works as a full-time freelancer.
“My personal favourite project was working with WWF India on the Calendar 2020. It was based on drawing big cats which I love a lot.”
The “fantastic feline” illustrations showcase the various shapes, sizes and textures on the animals. This is something that Rohan is inspired by – the different characteristics and individuality in each animal.
“There is so much to observe and learn,” he says.
Subsequently, he converts his observations into art in different ways, ensuring his designs remain “versatile, wild and colourful.”
“I get bored of working in the same style. So, I like experimenting with different styles, different drawing apps or software.
“I like switching between digital art and hand drawing. Each style or medium has its own charm.”
But what does Rohan want his audience to take from his illustrative work?
“I would like people to see the beauty that lies in our planet. There is so much around us. Take some time out and observe.
“Maybe my work can inspire everyone in preserving our wildlife and ecology … a greener planet.”
The strive towards a greener planet and more sustainable living has been at the forefront of the media in recent times.
As an illustrator whose passion and focus lies in this field, his work has become even more recognisable and relevant.
However, Rohan does find it difficult separating work from passion.
“As an artist, for me personally it’s difficult managing both personal work as well as commissions. I am still trying to find the right balance.”
Nevertheless, he still likens art to medicine: “Once you start drawing, you just go in your own zone and not think of past, present or future. You are just in that drawing.
“It has always helped me in my tough times so I am very grateful that I can draw.”
The idea of art as a form of escapism, a form of therapy is universal with many Asian illustrators seeking solace through their craft.
Rohan’s work is one to watch given the resurgence of the conversation surrounding sustainability and green living.
Follow him on Instagram to keep up-to-date with his work.
Founder and illustrator of “Colors of Roshni”, Roshni Patel is based in Boston, MA.
Her parents moved to the USA from Gujarat, India and from her childhood she has always carried a sketchbook and created art for others.
Her upbringing has clearly influenced the subject matter of her work. Many pieces focus on colourism, diversity and equality.
Roshni is a full-time Social Media and Digital Marketer therefore manages her creative business during her personal hours.
She is a self-taught illustrator. “Cultural, vibrant and modern” are the three words she uses to describe her work when asked.
She strives to infuse these characteristics in each design project and custom illustration.
“Custom illustrations are my favourite – making something unique for someone, whether it is a logo or a portrait illustration, is special and fills me with joy.”
As an illustrator, colour and vibrancy is key to Roshni. Inspired by her culture and travels, Roshni loves to incorporate the world’s colour palette into her designs.
“I focus on digital painting and what I love most about illustration is that I have the ability to create various styles of art.”
This sense of experimentation is something that Roshni is currently spending more time with. She is currently rebranding by exploring more “focused art.”
“With this rebrand, I will introduce all new products and will be authentic to me and my business.”
As an artist, her work is constantly evolving.
“I create pieces that have a purpose with the hope that it speaks to someone by exploring the intricacies of a mixed culture with bold messages and vibrant colours.”
Currently, she uses Adobe Fresco for her illustrations which she praises tremendously.
“I love that it syncs with the Adobe Creative Cloud and it also has vector brushes, so it allows me to create vector illustrations – I mostly create the base of my illustrations in vector brushes.”
One major difficulty that Roshni has experienced through her work as an Asian illustrator is being asked to create art for free or for exposure.
Whilst exposure shows her that she is valued as an artist, she says that “after multiple requests for free art, you receive more practice in building confidence that your work deserves to be respected.”
Her illustrations have not only helped highlight important subject matters that often go undiscussed in the Desi community, but they have also helped her own mental health.
“When I chose to dabble into digital art, I was in a transition period in my life.”
“Digital painting really helped soothe my anxiety. It was calming and peaceful. It allowed me to clear my mind to focus on the digital canvas. It has been a great outlet for me for my mental health.”
Turning her passion into a business has evidently helped Roshni ease her anxiety. Her advice to others seeking to do the same but are uncertain where to begin is to just create for yourself!
“I started creating art for me. I wanted to create pieces that reflected my every day and thus the vibrant world of Colors of Roshni was born.
“I taught myself how to create a paper goods business and create all my inventory in house in my studio. I hand-cut each item and print on demand.
“Colors of Roshni is an adventure that explores the fusion of my South Asian heritage and Western upbringing.”
This fusion of East meets West is a story that resonates with many people in the world. If you also are considering illustrating, Roshni urges you to “just take a leap and try it.
“Reach out to others in the same field and asking questions is a great way to further improve – most illustrators are willing to speak with you!”
Jessica “Jess” Kalirai is a 21-year-old illustrator from the West Midlands, UK. Her unique designs revolve around mental health.
Having experienced mental health issues for 10 years, she noticed a severe lack of support for young people struggling.
Through her work, she aims to help people take “little leaps” to better themselves.
“In my culture, mental health isn’t really even considered to be a real thing.
“I got shut down multiple times by people telling me it was ‘just hormones’ or that I was being silly and should just ‘snap out of it’.
“I think it’s about time we acknowledged that mental health is very real and deserves the same attention that our physical health receives.”
Having received a degree in Psychology to better understand mental health and the taboo surrounding it, Jess believes combining this with her love of art is the “perfect mix.”
New to the business side of her passion, Jess has begun by selling prints of her designs for people to hang up as “reminders of their strength and ability to overcome their mental health struggles.”
Her personal favourite piece is the Evolution Mental Health Print.
“It captures the transition between struggling and healing and how recovery can actually be quite scary because it’s unknown and the worry of those dark clouds returning can take over and hinder recovery.”
She further states that this piece “serves to remind people that it’s okay to let the sunshine in and fully embrace progress and recovery, and that if the clouds do return, the sun won’t be far behind.”
It is a poetic message that inherently embodies the emotive and authentic experiences that she and many other young Asian people feel.
Her work is “moving, motivational and grounding”.
Having recently got into digital creations, Jess says she has “become best friends with Autodesk Sketchbook” and will soon be exploring the world of Procreate to enhance her designs even more.
“I thought I’d always prefer doing art with physical mediums and the thought of making digital art didn’t seem as intimate and creative, to begin with.
“I must say I now much prefer digitally creating pieces because of the ease of editing! I don’t have to spend hours on a piece just to make one crucial mistake and have to start over, I can simply hit undo and carry on!
“I do still believe that getting out the paintbrushes and watercolours is unmatched because of the sensory side of things, but when I’m making prints, digital definitely wins.”
Whether using traditional or digital materials, one thing is clear: she wants people to know they are not alone through her artwork.
“I want to normalise speaking out about issues we may face and working together to overcome them. Struggling mentally is nothing to be ashamed of.
“I come across as someone who knows what they’re doing and is put together and in the right frame of mind to help others. In reality, I’m just human.
“I have had people message me saying that my work has helped them to reach out for help and feel less alone – it’s the best feeling.”
“Little Leaps Designs is just starting out, I’m not popular, I don’t get lots of likes, but knowing I’ve helped even one person makes it all worth it.”
Using digital methods is not without difficulty.
“It takes a lot of saving up, patience and determination. But there’s no better time than now to start!”
Jess appears to find solace in her art. Spending hours creating a beautiful piece of moving work is therapeutic and relaxing for her and is reflected poignantly in her motivating prints.
Take a closer look at Jess’s work on Instagram or website.
In speaking to each of these South Asian illustrators, it is clear to understand the pivotal role that art plays in their storytelling.
Each illustrator has a strong message they wish to convey to their audience.
Even though some artists here are more established than others, each of them has a unique trademark quality to their work that makes them stand out.
Keep your eyes peeled for more of their work to come. Be sure to follow their artistic journey through their social media channels and websites.
Their work provides an insight into the subject matters that the Desi community arguably do not speak about as much. Bringing these to the forefront is just the start of important conversations.