Design talks with Mira Malhotra

Mira Malhotra recalls journey into the world of design, and overcoming resistance to build a business she believes in, for the community she loves.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I am always inspired by women who never dilute their opinions to sound “likable” to the world and unapologetically put out their authentic selves out there. I have admired the visual artist Mira Malhotra (founder of Studio Kohl), for months from afar. She has some strong ideas on her work process and the way she approaches her industry. One of my favorite aspects of Mira’s work is how she embraces the word around her and how she recreates it in her own context. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Your illustrations are quirky, witty and your work seems to draws inspiration from the various aspects of Indian life. How would you describe your style? 

I like bright colors but with a slightly offbeat vibe which is what most people notice first about my work. But the other thing I put into my work which doesn’t seem so obvious is dynamism and movement. There’s a lot of stuff going on in terms of line, which is very visceral. I like having a sense of humour embedded in the work, and someone whose work I really admire in that regard is an Illustrator called Ray Fenwick. I like to observe things I find around me: Indian folk arts, the bazaar, women’s domestic life, these endlessly inspire me, and now I’ve branched out into work in the gender and sexuality space as well. I’d say my style is still very much evolving, as it can only move forward when I’m not engaged in commercial work, and I do not get that much time for personal work as I’d like.

How did your style evolve from two cultures you grew up in – one that is Indian and the western design elements we are exposed to. 

We are always exposed to western work and I think that’s great. They have a stronger contemporary visual culture and more people understand visual work there. Even before the Behances or Dribbbles of the world, I was exposed to a lot of packaging on the shelves of supermarkets in middle East, Riyadh to be exact, where I grew up. I still find packaging the easiest thing to design. However, when I search for inspiration I need to look around me and find things that exist in my own context, in the physical world, ideas in my own head- that’s where the Indianness comes from. My work I hope, has evolved from imitating the prevalent graphic arts I could see around me to now being more about personal ideas or a personal approach, and conveying emotion. 

What are the key observations about creating art for social cause/change?

Many people’s approaches are different in this regard. I know that in my collective (Kadak collective) each of them look at it in varying ways. My own I feel is a cross between graphic design, type, and illustration. An abstract way of representing ideas, as I am fond of symbolism. At the same time, I like work that emotes, has character, and makes you really feel something, and I feel that is what really affects people behaviourally when they can empathise and feel for the cause. Lastly, there’s a lot of work out there that is created for social change actors already in the know, but I feel it’s still very important for artists to address a larger audience so that the message goes out to the masses rather than stays within one group of people.

This is why I love memes because they are simple, non-threatening but still make people think. In short, I am more focused on creating accessible work. 

What do you feel when you stare at a blank page before your art take shape on the whiteness of the sheet?

That is truly terrifying. I try to not have that happen because my mind mirrors the paper, I blank out. I like the concept or idea to inform me first. Once one has a concept or idea the white paper isn’t so daunting and doesn’t have the time to question (or sometimes mock!) you too much. Either I’m randomly doodling without any purpose to create finished work, or I have a bunch of thoughts I’m trying to string together when I approach the paper but I can see the end in mind. I am not the kind of person who keeps finished drawings from life, or otherwise, in a sketchbook, carefully drawn with no immediate use for them. 

diwali15_29

diwali15_4 If someone issues a search warrant through your tools and sketchbooks, what are they likely to stumble into?

As I mentioned before, I do not keep formal sketchbooks. I know some artists have a disciplined practice of drawing every day and their sketchbooks are dated chronologically but so far I’m terrible with that. Instead, I use 3-4 different sketchbooks, loose papers (the backs of print outs) and I draw on them when I need to. Most often you can’t tell what the drawings are, and if you can they are never from life, I have no fascination with realism. I appear quite scatterbrained, and that is pretty accurate. As for tools, I am particularly drawn to 0.5 2B mechanical pencils, coloured Uniball pens, posca pens, my Wacom Intuos, Nikon DSLR (50mm lens is my fav) and a camera phone. 

Tell us more about Studio Kohl. 

Studio Kohl is my boutique design practice that started a couple of years ago. I do branding, packaging, print and a lot of self-initiated work under the studio and it’s growing with the addition of new, like-minded people. We do some work for gender and the mental health space as well. While the work is primarily graphic design there is a strong emphasis and basis in image-making practices, from illustration to photography. I try to come up with unique solutions for clients hence I choose them carefully. 

3e6dbb41576657-57ab69b43ba28In the world where women never take that enough space with their thoughts and opinions, it is inspiring to know there are women like Mira who speak their minds candidly.

Check out her work here

 

Women writers and their cats

Today is World Cat Day. One of my favourite kitty characteristics is how they posses the subtle art of not giving a fuck. It’s their bona-fide non-conformist aura that makes them so dear to writers and artists in general.

“One of the excellent features of the cat – that when you are down, really down – the cat looks at you and is able to encrypt something. How they usually do that that’s a lesson of perseverance against all difficulties and troubles.”  November 15, 1985 –  Bukowski on Cats

Here are some lovely women writers with their cats

Edith Södergran

tumblr_luou36Ibmq1qiu5e6o1_500

Tove Jansson

tumblr_loosj24tBc1qiu5e6o1_500

Colette

French Author Sidonie Gabrielle Colette with Cat

1900s — Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954), French writer. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Rita Mae Brown

tumblr_ll49008zwK1qiu5e6o1_400

Elizabeth Bishop

tumblr_lip43iUIDn1qiu5e6o1_500

 

Patricia Highsmith
 401db3cbec3773714a12871f23f43e40
3ee0de9a1d1ce5218fae446aedf06356
Rachel Carson
287e9ae35b298f1ff3bb5df126b717e7 (1)

Creativity and frivolous ideas

I love how all the great adventures and collaborations always start with one person saying “Why don’t we <insert a ridiculous idea here> ? and the other one  going “Why Not?”

So when Howard Gossage (a nonconformist advertising genius famously known as The Socrates of San Francisco) sat with the Publisher of Scientific American in a New York Restaurant to explore some new ways to expand the magazine’s reach, he suggested having a paper plane competition for the magazine. The publishers agreed. Details aside, the 1st International Paper Airplane contest was signed off. The contest received 12,000 entries within six weeks of placing ads in local newspapers asking people to join the competition.

The results from the contest were compiled into this book – The Great International Paper Airplane Book. It also featured the winning entries with DIY instructions.

ad_sm

The book explains how paper airplanes are quite different with paper darts. Darts  do not have any personality – they fly straight and that’s it.

“The paper airplane is a very different affair. It is, more accurately, a paper glider. You do not throw it. You let it go or push it very slightly; and the weight head carries it forward, gracefully and gently, like a seagull coming to rest upon the deck of a ship. A little while ago it was a sheet of notepaper, but now it glides like the fairest of white birds. Yet a perfect flight requires very often an infinitude of patience, a folding and refolding, a shaping and reshaping with the scissors.”

1_sm

Jerry Mander, George Dippel and Howard Gossage, authors of the book write, “In our experience, we have found that the biggest thinkers we have dealt with are the ones most willing to support such “frivolous”projects”

It’s important to explore our ability to go astray and come up with some really frivolous ideas.

Vintage Pencil Boxes

Vintage Canco Beautebox TIN Pencil Box JACKIE RARE TIN

Vintage Canco Beautebox TIN Pencil Box JACKIE RARE TIN

There’s no getting around: First Day of School equals a new pencil box. You had your knee-high socks,  brand new shoes, Jansport backpack, notebooks all neatly covered but the back-to-school experience wasn’t complete without knowing that your pencils and pens were boxed in a perfect, enviable pencil box.

Vintage Mars Staedtler Hinged Tin Pencil Box

Vintage Mars Staedtler Hinged Tin Pencil Box

For me it was the most important item in my backpack. I would take my time dismissing all the different pencil boxes that were presented until I found the right one.

Retro Pen Tin Box Pencil Case Metal Container Candy Storage

Retro Pen Tin Box Pencil Case Metal Container Candy Storage

We would stow the most mundane to most interesting bits in the safe storage of our pencil box. Chewing gums, iridescent stickers, pocket-money and sometimes even movie tickets. We would underline a layer of our pencil box with our crafts paper and then store our fun stuff beneath it.

 Metal Pencil Case

Metal Pencil Case

Our pencil boxes were geared for daily life and daily rituals – sharpening pencils the night before, checking if we had the refills for our ball pens and ink cartridges for the fountain pens. Since the interiors of our pencil boxes were often marked with pencil marks, we would use the eraser to swipe them clean.

Taki Steve / Via Flickr: 13519089@N03 / Creative Commons

Taki Steve / Via Flickr: 13519089@N03 / Creative Commons

Pencil boxes came in all different shapes and types – as simple as a box with a humble lid (my favorite kind) or as elaborate and fancy as electronic toolbox or swiss army knife. Some of these fancy ones would come with a built-in sharpener, pencil erasers, rulers, scissors along with other secret compartments.

Inklinks ~Pencil Box

Inklinks ~Pencil Box

Cavallini & Co. Vintage Bicycles Pencil

Cavallini & Co. Vintage Bicycles Pencil

750262_default

French Vintage wooden pencil box,where is inscribed 'Plumier',with a sliding lid,from the 1940s.

French Vintage wooden pencil box,where is inscribed ‘Plumier’,with a sliding lid,from the 1940s.

Bright, airy and playful sketchbooks

bppI am reaching out to more and more artists whose work makes me believe in truth, beauty and aesthetics. The way they juggle between their design projects and day jobs while adapting their introvert nature to grow and become business owners is so inspiring.

Last week I picked up a beautiful sketch book made of handmade papers. The keen sense of playful patterns got me curious about its creator. There was something bright, airy and child-like about it. What I loved about this cutely threaded bounded book was that, unlike the kitsch ones you find in market, these sketchbooks were not trying hard to make a point.

Later during the day I emptied my shopping bag and quickly leafed through the pages of the sketchbook. On the back-end of the cover I found the website address http://www.salonelfi.de.

Here is an interesting sneak peek into her design project and inspiration I found at http://blog.grassi-museum.com.

Verena Schätzlein initially studied textile and surface pattern design at the Kunstakademie Stuttgart, before moving to Berlin where she established her own studio. In 2000 Verena was commissioned for a fair trade carpet project in India; a project which was to be the start of a long-term relationship with the land, its people, and for all its craftsmen.

In the intervening decade+ Verena has undertaken regular projects and commissions in India and makes at least one trip per year to the land. For all the variety of crafts techniques still being practiced in the country is a constant source of wonder and inspiration for Verena.

When you are there and spend all day working with the locals, she enthuse, you get completely different view of both life and your work.

And so it was perhaps not surprising that four years ago Verena decided to start developing and producing her own products in co-operation with a workers collective in India. All the wooden elements in the Salon Elfi range are turned and constructed in India and then hand-painted in Verena’s Berlin atelier.

In addition to the wooden objects, Verena also creates delightful screen printed paper and textile products. For us the Salon Elfi products have a certain child-like innocence, a certain timelessness. Is this deliberate?

“I suppose I tend to think about what impressed me as a child, and about what I used to like playing with. And I have never been someone who has paid much attention to fashions or trends, which has allowed me to develop my style. “

Immersive examination on blank pages

Blank pages nudge you to create visual chronicles of your mind.   

Letternote_IndianWomen.jpgWe meet  so many people every day. But we just float past each other without really trying to know that other person – what they love, what they aspire for, what makes them the person they become.

I am blessed with friends who understand my insatiable appetite for notebooks and sketchbooks and know that there is no better gift you can give a writer than the gift of blank pages.

This notebook is a gift from flirtingkaapi . It is a soft covered, shrink-wrapped notebook with 144 plain pages and measures 5 in x 8 in. You can document your creative chronicles, thoughts, feelings, hesitations, doodles and brain droppings on its plain white blanks.

This festival season, if you are at loss on the right gift to give your friends get them a fancy/minimalist notebook, diary or sketch book or make one yourself (nothing like going a little DIY instead of heading to a mall). You can buy the Letternote notebook here: http://www.letternote.com/indiawoman.html

LetternoteGift.jpg

Scaffolding thoughts before they hit a blank page

Scaffolding thoughts before they hit a blank page

Today’s Writers on a Blank Paper post comes from Khushnum Mistry. Khushnum is a writer and the greatest food connoisseur I have ever met. Her home is a beautiful abode of warmth and sweetness and you are privy to some enviable finds and treasures in every corner.
Khushnum’s many interests include photography, trashy reality tv shows, painting, travelling, singing and painting her pet turtle’s nails. You can follow her writing at http://dreamingangel86.blogspot.com/

Do share your thoughts on a blank paper here: https://blankpaperproject.com/what-is-blank-paper-project/