Indian illustrators use Instagram to boost their careers

Artists find innovative ways to make it big in a cutthroat industry

Culture

June 4, 2021

/ By Susanti Sarkar / Gurugram

Indian illustrators use Instagram to boost their careers

A piece by @MetroDoodle titled "Game of Phones" (Photo: Samar Khan)

In this digital age, Indian creators turn to Instagram to spread messages of happiness, love and positivity through their art, reaching a far wider audience than was ever possible before.

Building a career as an artist is often demanding and unpredictable, with long hours and even years of hard work culminating in the success of only a chosen few. However, with the rise of social media and sites such as Etsy, Pinterest, and especially Instagram, artists have a new, and much more effective medium to shine with.

Gaurvi Sharma, a collage artist, completed her post-graduation in 2002. After initially working with an art gallery, she switched to her own studio when she realised her heart was not truly in it. Although she promoted her work on Facebook for a while, she really started gaining attention in 2015, when she started sharing her work on Instagram.

“I realised I was not very comfortable approaching the galleries because I usually felt it was a very formal kind of setting, and I am in fact a very introverted person,” Sharma tells Media India Group, adding “eventually I realised I need to put my work somewhere, because once I am done with my art it doesn’t really belong to me anymore, and I think all artists feel like this.”

For some of India’s “Insta-famous” artists, their newfound success was a happy surprise in a career path they had never anticipated. Samar Khan, the illustrator behind the Instagram account “MetroDoodle,” has 38,000 followers, and is one of the most well-known Indian artists on the platform. Khan started his career as a software developer and had never envisioned creating art as a full-time occupation, despite always harbouring a passion for it.

“Since school, I have always been intro creating art and visuals and whenever some new fancy software like Photoshop and After Effects came out, I knew I had to try it out so I would ask my friends to download it for me because I didn’t have Internet connection at home. I had to see what I could make out of it,” Khan tells Media India Group.

Khan felt bored on the long, early morning metro rides to work, so he would often take random pictures of things around him or sketch to pass time.

“One day I decided to actually click a picture of the person in front of me and make something on it. I drew a monster right next to the guy, posted it on my personal Instagram page and to my surprise it got featured on a few big art pages. So many people commented saying they loved it and wanted to see more. I created another one the next day and the same thing happened, and it took off from there,” Khan explains.

Influencing audiences through their art

A monster joins in on the "monday blues" gloom of metro passengers (Photo: Samar Khan)

A monster joins in on the “monday blues” gloom of metro passengers (Photo: Samar Khan)

Khan’s drawings feature hilarious renditions of monsters creeping up on unsuspecting travellers, and put an amusing spin on the otherwise monotonous routine that most of us go through. His aim has always been to uplift people in this way, he says.

“Because creating these artworks was therapeutic and enjoyable for me, I wanted them to have a similar effect on the people seeing them, to put a smile on someone’s face just for a second,” Khan says.

One of the charms of Khan’s art is that it allows people to take a break from life, especially at times when they may be going through something personal or just feeling weighed down by serious news on the TV or all around them, so he usually tries to keep his content away from political or religious topics.

“I wanted it to be just something I could entertain people with. So I try to avoid all these controversial issues and keep my views to myself, unless it’s a very common problem to address like Covid-19 – that’s when I try to really put something on my handle that can help people and raise awareness,” he says.

Besides providing comic relief, there are also some Indian artists on the platform who try to expose relatable concerns in Indian society through their art. Ayush Kalra, a 22-year old illustrator from Delhi with more than 57,000 followers, focuses on “aesthetically modernising Desi art”. Some of his most popular drawings feature mosaic-style depictions of Indian women normalising periods or sexual preferences, with important captions about consent and empowerment. Art with messages like these help pave a path towards getting rid of common and unfair stigmas that damage the lives of many Indians.

A burgeoning career

A collage piece depicting family life (Photo: Gaurvi Sharma)

A collage piece depicting family life (Photo: Gaurvi Sharma)

As these artists start gaining more followers and recognition on Instagram, companies often approach them with commissioned projects that they might never have gotten otherwise. Sharma’s collages usually portray personal “slice-of-life” scenarios in beautiful, whimsical styles. This is what she says attracted Katrina Kaif, one of Bollywood’s most popular actresses, to her page. The actress was fascinated when she found Sharma’s drawings and asked for similar designs to use on the newly launched eyeshadow palettes for her makeup brand, Kay Beauty. The brand’s slogan, “it’s Kay to be you” emphasises the importance of self-love and beauty of being unique.

“Initially, Katrina calling and messaging me was a big surprise, it was hard to believe that she had discovered my artwork online. She said that she really connected with my work, and when she explained the concept of her brand, I decided I would do it. The message she was putting out was very close to my work and we could both connect to it,” says Sharma.

Sharma's flowy, colourful designs on Kay Beauty eyeshadow palettes – 'Wild & Free' and 'Self-Love'

Sharma’s flowy, colourful designs on Kay Beauty eyeshadow palettes – ‘Wild & Free’ and ‘Self-Love’

The idea that a big Bollywood star would reach out to a small creator on Instagram, rather than approaching already well-established traditional artists or designers, shows the impact that Instagram can have on an artist’s career. Khan also acknowledges the huge role social media has played in the success of his work, and how it allowed him to skip the frustrating steps that many emerging artists have to climb to make it in such a competitive industry.

“Surprisingly my first commissioned project came from Adidas. That isn’t a common story, people usually start with small projects and then eventually build them up. Also, initially I was charging very low fees for my content because I didn’t have experience being around other artists and in the field for a long, and I didn’t know what people in the art industry would be willing to pay. In the end, the agency paid me three times the amount that was agreed on. They were nice enough to do that on their own and even advised me on how much I deserved for projects like this. They actually told me ‘remember you’re not just an artist anymore, you’re like a celebrity now’”, Khan recalls, laughing.

As with all aspects of life, society must adapt to survive in this new digital era, and artists on Instagram feel that it has been a huge boon for their careers and dreams.

“I think Instagram and social media is a great tool for creators because now they are not dependent upon any gallery or curators. They can start on their own. It’s a platform that anyone from anywhere in the world can find and appreciate your work, and connect to it,” says Sharma.

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