"Everything That Inspires or Moves Me, Is Expressed Through My Art" - Sushmita Mukherjee Agarwal

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1. Tell us about your background and journey.

My journey, much like the various wallflowers around the world has been one with many plot twists. I started out as a Film student at the age of 17 when I decided to do a Diploma in Film Direction. 

Soon after, I decided to get a Bachelors's Degree in Mass Communication. After my 3 years of graduation, I started working as a Content writer. I worked with a couple of Advertising agencies and websites before I felt like something was amiss. 

I still love to write and my romance with films is something that will probably last me a couple of lifetimes, however during that time I constantly felt like none of this was my purpose.

Through childhood to adolescence, one thing remained consistent though, it was- Doodling. I was popular for having large (mostly incomplete) doodles on the walls of my room, I would be the first one in school to volunteer in anything artsy, even in Film School my storyboard almost always looked better than my final film. 

Throughout my life, I drew! I drew through happiness and pain. If I was unhappy with my boss I’d make a doodle and cheer myself, and doodling professors in college became the best way for me to pretend like I was taking down notes. I drew every day, it brought (and continues to bring) me immense joy.

It wasn’t until 2018, that I decided to share my work on my personal Instagram handle. Honestly, I didn’t think I was any good and I decided to upload a couple of my sketches occasionally. But much to my surprise people started to like what I did. 

Mostly, friends and acquaintances, but hey, people took notice. Overnight, I changed that same account into my business account and decided to work on TheDoodleMonster. It was transitional, that moment. Something about it just- clicked!

2. When did you decide you wanted to be a painter/illustrator?

It was back in January 2018, around the time I was to get married. I was hell-bent on getting a doodle of my Husband and I, for our wedding invites. The only problem being, I couldn’t find a single illustrator offering what I wanted. 

I remember creating a detailed sketch on paper but didn’t know how to digitalize it. It broke my heart. But I accepted my faith and moved on. But guess who hadn’t moved on, My husband. 

He did a little research and a couple of months later he handed me over my precious iPad and iPencil. I still remember having a fight with him for making such an expensive purchase for something, I at the time, believed, I’d never use. 

But he knew what he had to say to me. He said, “Well, I’m not forcing you to use it but you can finally draw that doodle of us you always wanted”. Boy, he had me at that. The first time I began to draw digitally, I stayed put at my seat for 6 hours straight.

I decided to work on my skills alongside managing university, as I was pursuing my Masters by now. I practiced on paper, I diligently followed other doodle artists online, I watched tutorials on Youtube and kept practicing. 

I followed numerous art pages on Instagram and dribble and was consumed by the world of illustrations and art in general. I saw how I expressed myself through the doodles I made. 

My doodles began to showcase a part of my personality that even I didn’t know existed. By mid-August 2018, I started to put up my work on my Instagram page. 

I wasn’t particularly regular when I started off, but I liked how I could express my goofy self through my work. Eventually, a couple of my friends started to approach me with personal doodle projects. That was when I realized that this is what I want to do for a living. Draw and doodle my way through life.

3. Is it a financially stable career?

Well, absolutely. Am I saying you’re going to be minting green by the minute? Not immediately. But if you’re patient and invest time in honing your craft, it’s a viable career choice. 

I currently work as a freelancer and am actively seeking work, but there are various illustrators who work as designers full-time too. It’s a choice one has to make.

As far as being a freelance illustrator is concerned, there are various platforms through which you can bag projects, most clients organically reach out if they like your work, then there are brand associations and even commissioned projects one can take up. 

Additionally, creating your own line of merchandise is something that helps to boost your creative juices and also helps with some extra income. The only thing is to consistently be seen. Let people know you’re open for business and are soon work (and money) flow in.

4. Who is your favorite illustrator & why?

Honestly, there are tons that I love like Siberianlizard, Miss.pad Thai, Catanacomics, and Planetprudence to name a few. But one of my absolute favorites would be Mounica Tata - Doodleodrama. 

I love how she more often than not, has a message she tries to pass on. She entertains her followers with her quirks and humor and educates them in the most unique ways imaginable. With her work, it's always more than what meets the eye and that’s something that I aspire to do too.

5. Where do I get inspired to create art?

My inspirations come from various sources. Sometimes it strikes mid-conversation at a party, sometimes its an opinion on a current trending topic, sometimes it's a funny incident between my husband and I, sometimes its life lessons passed down generations, sometimes its everyday observations. 

It’s just that, its a whole lot of me in the forms of cartoons and doodles. Everything that inspires or moves me in life, is expressed through my art.

6. What is your typical day like? 

I don’t have a typical day, to be honest. For a person as obsessed with the organization as me, I, strangely enough, don’t have a fixed schedule that I follow to the T. 

Yet there are certain things (now habits) that are permanently marked. I usually start my day with breakfast and reading my emails and DMs, and by the time I’m done with my breakfast the emails are replied to and work/agenda for the day is assigned. 

As I work as a freelancer, time management as well as self- discipline are very challenging virtues. Usually, my agendas are a little impractical due to the sheer magnitude of tasks I assign to myself, but it pushes me to work harder so I’ve adopted that habit.

Then my favorite part of the day is the afternoons, that is when I watch some Netflix, stuff my face with food and plan my day ahead. I resume work post-lunch and work till I check off a good number of the tasks. 

Nights are usually for reading, catching up on news, spending time with the family, helping out with chores, and brainstorming for the next day. I usually listen to a podcast the last thing in the night, it helps me stay motivated and on track with my journey.

7. What is your piece of advice for future aspiring illustrators?

I’m not the best at giving advice, but from what I’ve learned from experience is-

1. If you enjoy doing something, continue doing it. Don’t overthink or over complicate things. Just own yourself and put everything into it. You don’t have to be the best, it just has to make you happy.

2. Practice and continue learning. The learning curve is limitless and there’s just so much knowledge out there at our disposal. Take advantage of that and never stop learning.

3. Consistency is key and persistence will take you places.

4. Remember that Validation is an empty word. The only validation you need is of yourself.

5. Express yourself through your art.

8. What is your favorite book & why?

So many, so so many. I have quite a few favorites, but if I was to name one, it would probably be -The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. I love this book mostly because of the manner in which Chitra Banerjee writes women. 

But also, because of how the tale talks about one of the greatest Epics of our country, dominated by men, from the perspective of a woman and how nuances of our lives and plights overlap even to date. 

This book was influential in shaping my thoughts as a young teenager and created a permanent place in my heart.

- Interviewed by Shilpy Sharan

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