Gumani is the personal project of Pia Meenakshi, Bangalore-based illustrator and tattoo artist. Pia runs her own studio where her imagination runs free amidst waking dreams of wolves, skulls, plants, and other such delightful haunts of wanting to escape into the wild. One can’t help but notice the manifestation of these elements in her work.
In our chat with Pia, she talked about growing up, her love for nature and the challenges of being a woman tattoo artist in India.
Hello Pia, thanks for taking the time to have a chat with us. Tell us about yourself, about growing up, school and what you do.
My name is Pia and I work as an illustrator and tattoo artist in Bangalore. I grew up here and spent a lot of holidays in my family estate in Coorg. As a kid I spent too much time drawing and scouting around in the estate. My dad and I used to bring home all sorts of animals. That’s what sunk the foundation in for my work I guess. I’m highly inspired by nature, organic forms, animals and their behavior.
I studied in Bangalore all my life. My school and pre-university days are not worth a mention. I did, however, start tattooing from the 12th grade. I learnt from a good studio in Bangalore and got a degree in Graphic Design from Raffles. I worked here and there, in a couple of places, and for the last 2 years or so, I’ve been running my own studio.
An illustrator, designer and tattoo artist. When did your right brain start to kick in and how did you nurture it?
Well, I used to draw a lot as a kid. By a lot I mean all the time. I used to be surrounded by piles of papers. My parents really encouraged me to just do what I want. I was flunking school but my art skills were doubling every year. When I was a kid I was ‘discovered’ by Raghava KK, who made sure I was pushed in the right direction! In 12th grade, I took up tattooing since I was barely attending school and wanted to learn something new. I liked the idea of mixing my skills of traditional drawing with a new kind of medium. Tattoos are beautiful personal moments captured on your body forever. Its great to be a part of some one’s experience. Its great to get to know people on that personal level.
I tattooed for a long time afterwards, stopping briefly to finish my degree which got hectic. Now I tattoo as well as illustrate but my tattoo work is becoming very filtered. I’m only trying to expand my work style (that means I’m doing only original work and not stuff off the internet)
You studied at Raffles Millenium, Bangalore. How was your time over there?
It was fun studying at Raffles. We had lecturers from all over the world who were teaching us exactly what the industry expected. It wasn’t like other schools where outdated methods were taught. My lecturer from London really pushed me to pursue my illustration even though I was studying Graphic Design. He kinda tweaked the syllabus for me so I could explore what I was good at.
Describe your work. What is it about? Do you have a recurring theme in your work?
My work is organic, with reoccurring themes of nature and women. I like adding a bit of fantasy with the natural stuff I draw. Like imagine what secret lives animals lead behind our backs. All the things that must be happening that we can only dream to understand. I like working on imagery of nature, be it animals, plants etc. I feel that its something we are all slowly forgetting about. There is such a charm and a sense of belonging with nature that we tend to get drawn to at some point. That’s where we feel at home. Animals and plants are incredible. The way they function, their forms and behavior.
I also love drawing women. I think that a woman’s form and face are the loveliest parts of the human species. A woman’s face or body in an illustration can portray so much emotion, it’s so organic. It’s the one element I use, to draw people into my work emotionally, because when you see a human figure you automatically connect to it as a viewer.
What are the tools you use?
I work with digital and traditional media. Last year I made a major investment in my equipment. I use a Wacom Cintiq 13HD tablet which is my greatest investment. I also use a Canon EOS M to document my work and take pictures for later inspiration. I use a lot of softwares, I’m constantly downloading and trying new stuff. I mainly use Photoshop/Illustrator CS6/Corel Painter X3 for all my illustrations. I use Premier Pro for editing my videos.
Traditionally, I’ve tried it all. I’m never going to get done trying art materials. There’s always a phase for what works at the time. Currently I’m using lots of gouache, watercolors, acrylic inks and markers like Touch or Copic for all my illustration work. I love a good bottle of ink. I also do a lot of oil painting, something I started late last year. Oil painting is all my personal work, stuff that’s not for any purpose. I spend weeks on a painting, I’m currently working on a entire series of secret paintings which I will showcase at some point this year.
“I LIKE ADDING A BIT OF FANTASY WITH THE NATURAL STUFF I DRAW. LIKE IMAGINE WHAT SECRET LIVES ANIMALS LEAD BEHIND OUR BACKS. ALL THE THINGS THAT MUST BE HAPPENING THAT WE CAN ONLY DREAM TO UNDERSTAND. I LIKE WORKING ON IMAGERY OF NATURE, BE IT ANIMALS, PLANTS ETC. I FEEL THAT ITS SOMETHING WE ARE ALL SLOWLY FORGETTING ABOUT.”
How would you describe your creative process?
My creative process is different for personal and client work but follow a system. For personal work I have a book where I make notes of words, phrases and ideas, so when I want to work on something new I just look through that book for an idea to start with. For client work I insist on a solid brief. Then they both kinda progress the same way – starts with thumbnail sketches, then I go through about 3-4 sketches, fine-tuning each one. Then I start the final piece with my latest sketch where I actually start working with the media best suited for the project. Even digitally it works the same way. For my oil painting there is a larger theme I’m working within, and then I come up with sketches for each piece so it creates a good collection.
We’d love to have a peek at your studio. Share a few pictures with us.
I’ve recently moved out of my commercial studio and am temporarily working from home. So all you get is house- studio pictures!
“I’VE HAD TO DEAL WITH ALL SORTS OF NEGATIVITY. APART FROM ME BEING A WOMAN TATTOOER WHICH PEOPLE FIND UNUSUAL (WHICH YOU CAN SLOWLY IGNORE AFTER A POINT) – I HAVE A BIGGER PROBLEM WITH HOW TATTOOING IS GENERALLY SEEN IN INDIA. EITHER ITS SHUNNED UPON, OR THE OTHER EXTREME WHICH IS MORE PREVALENT, IS THAT NO ONE TAKES THEIR OWN TATTOOS SERIOUSLY.“
You’re a female tattoo artist. In a country like India, it does not go down well with people. Have you had to surmount any pressures or difficulties in doing what you do?
Oh yes. I’ve had to deal with all sorts of negativity. Apart from my being a woman tattooer – which people find unusual (which you can slowly ignore after a point) – I have a bigger problem with how tattooing is generally seen in India. Either its shunned upon, or the other extreme which is more prevalent, is that no one takes their own tattoos seriously. Everyone is dying to get tattooed but have the shittiest reasons and come up with even shittier ideas. People have absolutely no clue what the quality of a tattoo should be. They just pull stuff off the Internet and are stubborn about wanting only that. I have turned down more clients than I can remember just because they are so stubborn when it comes to making a decision. I come across so many people who stubbornly get a tattoo and regret it years later. Then they want a cover up, which is the biggest headache for an artist. You want to help the person, but a cover up is the worst kind of tattoo. I think I know more unhappy clients , than content clients, only because they don’t make the right choice, they dive into getting a tattoo without any research or without any idea about how to plan a good tattoo.
What are your interests apart from the arts?
Haha, I don’t know, I’ll have to think about that for a minute. I only do creative stuff most of the time. I spend a lot of time learning new things. I know how to sew, embroider, do pottery, work with wood etc. I want to learn archery this year. My husband and I have an exhaustive collection of natural curiosities. I collect insects, bones, skulls, seeds etc. We also have a pretty good collection of vinyl records.
Your playlist at the moment.
My playlist is the most stagnant thing on the planet. I’m a little stubborn about what I listen to. I can’t keep listening to new stuff anymore. I’m becoming old like that. I like old music and new indie music. I’m currently listening to Bay City Rollers, Eagles of Death Metal, Junip, Dinosaur Pile-Up (I recently watched them live and I’m hooked all over again). My all time favorite band is Queens of the Stone Age.
Any artists you draw inspiration from?
Lots! Instagram and Tumblr are only for following my favourite artists. I love the works of Allison Woodward, Nomi Chi, Eric Fortune, Greggletron, Pari Corbett to name a few.
Tell us about your association with Cupick thus far.
I love Cupick! Its amazing that my work can be made available to everyone. Selling prints is too much of a headache for an individual artist to handle. The payments, logistics and other things can be overwhelming. I like it that now I have time to just create and that there are so many new artists to discover on Cupick. Everything is so neatly organized and its clean and straight-forward even for buyers.
Any words of advice for the community?
Support the arts! I think in India especially, illustration is still in its infant stages. As a community, people should encourage artists since some of us still don’t know what we are doing and whether we should pursue our passions. Its amazing when the public engages with an artist. When people ask questions, when they are curious and when you know your efforts are not wasted. If you know someone who likes doing creative work, please encourage them and be interactive because it is hard finding a foothold as an artist in India. Even a little encouragement can bring up a hidden talent.
Visit Gumani on Cupick to check out more of her work.