Simran Sarin on how she constructs her punchy illustrations

Matter + Form

While many like to dabble in several disciplines, it’s very rare that creatives actually keep up more than one practice. Berkeley-based Simran Sarin is one who does it with ease, however.

She's a student of Precision Healthcare and AI, as well as a self-taught graphic designer. While the themes and ideas she focuses on have changed over the years, the bulk of her portfolio focuses on women, with light sketches that are dense with ideas, all in eye-catching primary colors.

We caught up with her to discuss her art:

Let’s start at the beginning: who are you, what do you do and why do you do what you do?

I was born and raised in the Midwest and art has always been an important part of my life; Iowa City puts a huge emphasis on art and culture, with an annual art festival and tons of galleries as well as museums. The dialogue surrounding South Asian culture has been pretty minimal from what I was aware of, and while representation in the media is definitely increasing slowly and steadily, there’s so much more to be done. A large part of why I create the work that I do is to simply include us in the conversation – we have such a rich and amazing culture, we’re beautiful people, incredibly diverse, and that should be seen! And at the same time, I create works with ordinary people of color in them to emphasize that while our culture and our people are amazing, we aren’t something that should be ogled at or deemed exotic – we’re people just like everyone else.

Apart from your art, you've got a lot going on! How do you manage to balance all of it?

I definitely would go crazy if I didn’t have Google Calendar and sticky notes. For the most part, I just try to take things day by day and I make sure that in the long run I’m still doing the things I love.

Do you think your research and studies, although very different from your creative work, have an influence on your art as well?

In a sense, yes; research and classes definitely keep my head sharp and are continually pushing me to broaden my perspectives, those of which I express a lot through my creative work. I do use my artwork as a way to get a break from research and studying, though.

Your illustrations have a strong, on-point aesthetic. What are your strongest visual inspirations?

I really enjoy getting up close and personal with my works; most of them are very intimate with the subject and I also enjoy contrasting concepts a lot. For example, I’ll stick to an overall clean design aesthetic, but I’ll make the jewelry incredibly detailed. I also love bold, striking colors!

Would you say you have an artistic process?

Not quite - there are times when I’m creating and I know exactly what I want to make so I do just that, but more often than not I go with the flow. I usually pick colors based on how I’m feeling on a given day and just start adding elements to the work until I feel like it’s reached a point where it’s done.

What are the tools you use - do you only paint digitally? How did you learn?

I use Adobe Draw and Adobe Illustrator for almost all my work! On occasion, I’ll do a physical painting, collage, or sketch, but most of my work is digital. In terms of traditional art, I’ve taken a few classes here and there, but for digital art, everything I know is self-taught. It just comes down to a lot of practice and repetition.

Do you feel that an important part of the creative process is to keep the motor running?

100%. I’ve had to take a few long breaks from my artwork because classes got hectic and those breaks definitely threw me off for a bit. A strike of inspiration is important but it doesn’t mean much if I’m not in the groove of things and consistently creating.

Your work tends to put focus heavily on color and women. It sometimes feels as though you are giving form to something that is real but not visible. Was that your intention?

Yes! I think South Asian women growing up in America find themselves in a predicament of sorts – at times our culture can be incredibly empowering, as are the people we surround ourselves with, but this culture can also have a tendency to put us down or stifle what we have to offer. A lot of my work has also arisen from me just trying to figure out how I fit into everything and where I stand in conjunction with my culture.

You’ve lived in the US for a while now. Do you feel like there’s a particular interest right now in creative work from women of color?

As of the last couple years, I’ve definitely noticed a spike in the representation of people of color in the media, which is amazing. As of creative work related to women of color and South Asian women specifically, I’m not seeing too much work in the US, but Toronto has a huge scene. There are some really amazing people doing great work out there.

Are there any artists, at the top of your mind, whose work really interests you?

I love Maria! She’s a huge inspiration, as are Badal Patel and Pooja Patel.

Did you ever feel like it was difficult to get noticed or get freelance work when you were “new” to the scene?

For sure! It’s hard to grow your following and get things out there, and I am definitely still working on this. The great thing is that since I usually do this as a side gig, I can be a bit picky about who I want to collaborate with and what projects I want to work on.

The internet has lowered the barrier to access for many creative fields. How do you see that affecting things for people who are considering getting into the industry?

The internet definitely makes it easier for new artists to get a foot out the door, but everything comes with its cons. A lot of artists get hurt by the algorithms that Instagram uses and when your career and visibility depends on user engagement, things can get really stressful. I also see a lot of accounts that will use artwork without permission and there are some really bad cases where people will create merchandise with your artwork and make a profit off of it. Luckily I haven’t encountered any of that and people using my work have received permission and given me credit!

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently not working on anything because of everything else that I have going on, but I hope to get back into it later this fall!

As cheesy as this is, do you have a favorite motto or saying that keeps you motivated?

I actually don’t have one particular saying that keeps me going! Whenever I do come across something that really resonates with me, though, I try to internalize it or write it down somewhere so it doesn’t get lost.

Images by Simran Sarin.

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