Riya Chandiramani | Soph.Curates

Describe yourself like an Instagram/Twitter bio:

A visual storyteller of nature, culture and identity. East meets West, intricate patterns, and deep-rooted messages. 

What do you do?

I do a lot! Honestly, it freaks me out if I am not working on something (or things, I should say) at any given time. I work across a range of media, styles and themes, but I guess when I’m doing my pattern stuff, which I’m best known for, I like to use permanent pens because they are fine and smooth and work on every surface. (They also smell good...) But I also really like to paint, and I actually often enhance my drawn pieces with acrylic paint, and use it to paint on walls as well.

I’ve worked on some murals too – I really love public art and its potential to impact and build communities as well as brighten and breathe personality and life into plain or even derelict walls that have been scenes of crime and breaking communities apart. I studied murals in Philadelphia this past year and I was part of a team painting a large-scale mural in San Francisco's Mission District in 2015, which was an absolutely incredible experience and I hope a similar chance arises in Hong Kong. I also do graphic design, but most often it is a mix of drawing by hand and then putting the work onto Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator – like when I designed a set of plates for sale at Faux Home in Hong Kong, or logos and invitations for weddings and birthdays…that kind of thing. I wrote and illustrated a children’s book, which I hope to get published someday. But that’s a good example of something I illustrated on paper and painted with watercolours and then put onto Photoshop to add the text and then used InDesign to lay out the book. Hmmm what else do I do?

People recently started commissioning me to paint their handbags, which is fun (and a little scary). With commissions, I always make sure to take into account the personality and identity of the client and I ask them what is important to them in terms of theme and colour, as well as if there are messages and/or words they would like me to hide within the patterns. My most recent commission was a set of Hendricks Gin bottles for a woman who loves the gin and is a fan of my work and had the brilliant idea of combining the two!

How and why did you start?

So I grew up in a home with a LOT of Indian art, and my mom is a graphic designer, so I think from an age I cannot even remember, I have loved expressing myself visually and I was encouraged (thankfully) to do so. Things really solidified with taking art at A-level at German Swiss International School in Hong Kong, because my amazing teacher basically had a sky-is-the-limit approach to what we could create and expanded my horizons beyond what I ever imagined I’d be capable of. Plus, the program itself required a thorough, well-researched thought process behind the planning of a series of pieces pertaining to a common theme or subject matter,so it wasn’t just the final pieces we created but also all the work put into our sketchbooks and thinking about the concepts and history and other artists who could inspire us… and I love research and looking back at art that has come before us, particularly Indian styles like Mughal art and folk art. It is just awe-inspiring.

Another thing though is that specifically with my pattern work, I was really inspired by mehndi (henna) after attending my cousin’s wedding in India in 2009. I was blown away by the apparent ease with which these intricate patterns steadily flowed from the hands of the mehndiwallis (women painting henna on our hands). I also had no idea about this really interesting custom, where the groom’s name or initials are hidden within the bride’s henna designs. I then started drawing my own patterns and hid text, like my name, and shapes, which together convey a story or a message. I used my bedroom door as my first large-scale canvas… my dad initially wasn’t too happy about the idea but I think he got over it! 

What are you currently working on/what should we be looking forward to?

This is good timing, because I just graduated from Penn and moved back to Hong Kong, with a very long to-do list! I have some canvas and handbag commissions, I also want to get started on another children’s book and maybe even a colouring book. I would also love to design more tableware to go with my plates, and...oh! I am really excited because my mom has given me a wall to paint in our home.

What’s your advice for people who want to get started?

Don’t worry about where it’s taking you long-term, pleasing everyone, and sticking to one path. Go with where life takes you and the inspirations you find along the way. I never would have dreamt that this many people would see and like my artwork, and I just feel very blessed. It was actually my cousin’s idea for me to start an Instagram account for my artwork… I was embarrassed and skeptical and told him to just post and thought I would never look at it. But then of course after the fourth or fifth post I got involved and took over and I feel like it was a really good idea because it has helped me create a brand of sorts for myself, and a presence beyond the few people I know. But when I’m posting on my @illustriya account, I’m just posting and writing the way I would on a personal account.

Every step of the way, I want to be honest and be myself, because I want people to know me for who I am, not what is most marketable, which usually comes across as sounding distant, elusive and exclusive. At the end of the day, my love and passion for creating art comes first. It’s not about the money, how much I can produce and how many likes or follows I can get. It’s just me, my pens, paint and canvases, and it’s about how I feel and what I want to express. If people like it, that’s awesome and I’m very very grateful, but if they don’t… I mean, it’s totally fine, I didn’t really do it for them, you know? I believe that everything happens and comes into your life for a reason, and also, that you can do many things for a living and you don’t need a label or to be known for just one thing. I haven’t had much experience being an artist for a living though, so I can’t comment on that right now.

Lastly, shamelessly plug yourself!

I have a website! It’s www.riyachandiramani.com. But for more up to date news (my post-grad resolution is to post at least once a day) follow me on instagram: @illustriya. You can DM me there or email me at riya.chandiramani@gmail.com – I’m pretty responsive!!!