Fed up with corporate style of work and deadlines, Kanika Jain Gupta took a chance and started iktaara, which did wonders.
If the earliest influences of illustrator Kanika Jain Gupta were to be traced, they would mostly point to her mother’s love for art. An artist by profession, Nita Jain always took some time out to paint cushions and curtains for their house. Kanika recounts watching her mother hand drawing designs till she was happy with the outcome.
And then, there were stationery souvenirs from her father’s travels that created an impression on her. “My father always made it a point to gift me stationery every time he went abroad. I would find myself completely fascinated with little design patterns. These little design elements made these products pretty,” recounts Kanika.
By her teenage years, Kanika was sure that her interest lay in designing. With a degree from Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai, she went on to pursue a corporate career. But that didn’t last very long.
“I realised that a corporate job was more about deadlines and less about creativity.” Eventually, in 2007, the illustrator decided to fly solo with Iktaara, her design practice. And, the gamble worked.
In the last nine years, Kanika has gone on to design comics, murals, installations, wedding invitations and even an adult colouring book. However, one of her most talked about projects remains the ‘Oh So Mughal’ wedding invite, which was designed as a trunk box, with jali and Mughal art spread over contemporary colours like pastels and gold. “The client gave me a free hand with the design. Once the brief was decided, it was easy to go on and use motifs. The bride and groom’s names were shared in a separate card. Everyone likes a personalised trunk box. I wrote the name of the guest so that they could use it in the future.”
Another theme that she regularly seeks inspiration from is Indian mythology. “There are so many characters from mythology that can be a visual delight!” gushes Kanika. “Plus, the stories are insane; these characters easily lend themselves to an illustration. Although, one needs to be careful about illustrating these, since they can easily hurt people’s sentiments,” she explains, adding that this challenge makes it creatively satisfying for her.
For example, Raavan’s brother Kumbhakaran found himself as a main character in one of her product lines which included covers, beanbags, cushion covers, boxers, sleepwear and diaries.
Meerabai is another figure who has made a huge impact on her. So much so that, during her last year at the design institute, she travelled all the way to a temple dedicated to the mystic saint in Rajasthan. “I spent over 10 days in the temple and finished my sketches. I have been immensely satisfied with my work. I have received a lot of requests to commercialise it, but I haven’t been able to do that since the work is immensely personal to me,” she explains. In fact, she explains that the title for her design label Iktaara, comes from Meerabai’s single string folk music instrument.
A lot of Kanika’s work may come across as “strange,” according to her, but that’s exactly what she is aiming for. “I don’t want to have a perfect illustration!” she exclaims, talking about her design philosophy. “I am always looking to surprise my audience. I want them to get back to my illustration and notice something new each time they see my work. So, for instance, you may see a strawberry hanging from an apple tree,” she states.
Kanika is now itching to work on love as a theme. “I have never experimented with these themes. Now I am looking to work with the human body as a reference point.”
Experimenting with this “imperfect” approach was difficult but satisfying for Kanika. “I am so glad that my style has evolved with time. Initially, I was more of a realistic painter and replicated each object,” she rues, explaining that she got over the block by presenting her drawings to friends as feedback.
“They liked that I had weird details for my characters. Their feedback made me confident about putting out my designs that I wasn’t sure about.”
In fact, this is one advice she would like to share with aspiring designers. “When in doubt, don’t shy from asking your friends for help. Chances are you’re just being critical of your work,” smiles Kanika.