Welcome to the Artists of Color Interview series! Every week or so, I will spotlight some incredible artists from the illustration, fine art, concept art, and animation industries, and talk to them about their experiences as artists and as people of color. I hope you find their answers as inspiring as I do, and that you will share their gorgeous art with the world!
This week, I am speaking to Los Angeles- based concept artist and illustrator, Shreya Shetty. I discovered her beautifully vibrant work through a facebook group for artists, and was thrilled to get a chance to meet her in person at Long Beach Comic Con last year, where she had a table for the first time!
1). Tell us about yourself! What is your background, and how would you describe your work?
My name is Shreya Shetty, I'm based in Los Angeles and I work as an artist in the entertainment industry. As a visual effects artist, illustrator, and concept artist, I have worked on movies, TV shows, commercials, games, theme parks etc. My personal work focuses mainly on fantasy themes, I love mythology, culture and creatures and most of my artwork revolves around these subjects. I'm also a mom to a 4-year-old girl who seems to have inherited my love for otherworldly creatures. Her enthusiasm for making art and unbridled creativity inspires me everyday and reminds me of how lucky I am to be able to do this for a living!
2). When did you first fall in love with art, and realize that you wanted to pursue it as a career? Did your parents approve or disapprove?
I've been drawing and painting ever since I could remember. I never really thought of it as a career option though. I had my heart set on being a veterinarian. However, I didn't get into the school I really wanted to go to, and I decided to take a break and re-apply the next year. It was at this time that I got into drawing and painting again. I had just discovered digital art through various online forums and websites, and I was fascinated and completely consumed by it. I begged my parents for a tablet, spent all year practicing and learning all I could about painting digitally, and realized that -this- was what I really wanted to study. I applied to art school next, got in, and continued down that path.
I have been incredibly lucky because my parents were so supportive, especially in that break year. Most Indian parents would freak out if their child decided to study art instead of medicine or engineering. My mother was actually rather pleased- she had wanted to go to art school when she was younger but her parents didn't let her, and I think she got to experience that through me.
3). Are you self-taught, or did you go to art school? How important was this training to becoming a professional artist?
A bit of both. I did go to art school, but I don't think I learned much there. Also, I studied Fine Art and there was a lot more focus on abstract art, which is not what I do now. I did learn a lot from my classmates though. Most of them were much older, had incredible work ethic and were ridiculously skilled. I think I learned more from watching them paint, than I did from my teachers.
Everything that I do now (digital art - concept design and illustration) is self-taught. There weren't that many resources available back when I first started but there are so many opportunities to learn now. I do my best to attend a class or a workshop when I can. I did a SmART School mentorship with Donato Giancola, I'm currently enrolled in the Schoolism self taught course, and I recently signed up for the Artstation Masterclass.
4). Your baby monster series is so much fun! What is it about creatures that inspires you, and are they easier or just as difficult for you to create as human characters?
Thank you! The baby monster series started right after I had my daughter. I had never really drawn anything cute before that, but my life was suddenly full of adorable stuffed toys and cartoon shows, and that cuteness started making its way into my work.
Human characters are a comfort zone for me, it's what I first started drawing and painting and it remains one of my favorite things to paint. Creatures can be tricky; it's pretty easy to make something cute- just have rounded forms, big eyes, soft lighting and so on, but it can be challenging to come up with interesting designs that are also believable. I think that's the part I really enjoy the most, coming up with designs that are unique, appealing and look like they could exist in the real world.
5). What is a major obstacle that you have faced in pursuit of your art career? How did you overcome this, or is it something that you still struggle with?
With freelance work, it's always time management. I'm easily distracted and I get caught up in random, tangential things when I'm looking for references or if I start looking at other people's art for inspiration and motivation. It could take hours before I get back on track. I've been working on this problem though and I have it largely under control now. I think planning out my day the previous night and setting short term goals for myself really works for me. Besides that, the Imposter Syndrome hits pretty hard, almost everyday. The only way to get through it is to work hard and keep producing pieces that I'm proud of.
6). Does representation matter in art?
Absolutely! Art is a reflection of the real world, and our world is so fantastically diverse, and wonderful because of its diversity. It would be incredibly boring to see the same thing over and over again. When there is more inclusivity, more representation, more diversity, the art experience is just so much richer.
7). If you could communicate one thing to artists about representing a background or experience that isn’t their own, what would it be?
I think if you're representing a background or experience that isn't your own, it is important to approach it from a place of respect, genuine interest, and extensive research. The best thing would be to get feedback on your work from someone with that background or experience. Sometimes it can be easy to slip up and be offensive or portray stereotypes without meaning to, and so getting an insider critique is absolutely essential.
8). Do you have a favorite character of color (from film, television, literature, comics, or any piece of art)?
My favorite character is Ofelia from Pan's Labyrinth. There is a major theme of rebellion in the movie and Ofelia shows so much courage and integrity when she chooses to disobey the authority figures (both in the real and fantasy world), instead of blindly accepting and following rules and orders. I come from a culture where there's a lot of pressure on girls and women to be compliant and subservient, and independence in thought or action is not encouraged. I think this is why I've always been inspired by strong-willed female protagonists. There's a level of confidence and strong sense of self that I've always been drawn to and aspired towards. Like Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
9). Who is the most underrated creator of color you wish everyone knew about?
Izzy Medrano. He's an amazing artist and well known for his art, but he's also an incredible storyteller. He recently put up some of his stories and graphic novels up on his website and I would encourage everyone to check it out!
10). What piece of advice would you give to young aspiring artists of color?
Don't be afraid to be yourself. Your background and experiences make you who you are are, and you -are- interesting! I think it is important to remember that we all have something to offer to the world and the more authentic and true we can be to ourselves, the more memorable our work will be.
11). Any current projects you can talk about? What is your ultimate dream project that you canʼt wait to work on, or be a part of someday?
I'm currently working on 2 personal projects right now. I've been writing, designing and painting some key frames whenever I can. I hope to free up some time to devote more energy to these projects. The first story is a portal fantasy, the second takes place in an alternate India with dragons! I'm very excited about both the stories and I can't wait to share my work.
Besides that, I'm a big fan of Guillermo del Toro's movies. His films have played such a large role in shaping my own artistic sensibilities and aesthetics, I would love to contribute to one of his projects someday.
Thank you so much, Shreya, for sharing your story and your gorgeous art! And thank you, readers, for joining us for this interview series. If Shreya's answers resonated with you, please comment and share her interview far and wide! <3