Dangercat is the playground of Sonali Zohra’s creative reflections. Amidst Banglore’s clutter, her illustrations are like a mid-summer breeze, fresh and unaffected. Driven by will and passion, Sonali is also a professional photographer. Her conviction of sticking to her imaginative self is clearly reproduced in her artwork.
In a candid conversation with us, she tells her story hiding behind the illustrations. She shares with us moments from her life, from being surrounded with artists at home to things that still keep her going.
Tell us about yourself. Talk to us about growing up, school, college, and what you’re into at the moment
Hi! I’m an illustrator and photographer from Bangalore. I grew up partly in Hyderabad and mostly in Bangalore. I went to two really good schools – Vidyaranya and Poorna. They were very encouraging of the arts; they did not force me to be anything but myself. I then went to College of Fine arts(ckp),which was a bit of a shock as it was the opposite of the nurturing, mentored and engaging schooling I had. It did however give me time to experiment and solidify what my interests were. Now I run an independent studio, I call Dangercat. I named it after my cat Rafi who keeps me company, shreds paper, chews on pencils and visitors.
How old were you when you first started dabbling in the arts? What sort of encouragement did you get to pursue your interests? Trace for us the evolution of ‘Dangercat’.
I started when I was old enough to firmly grip a crayon :). I come from a family of artists and art lovers. My grandparents have a large collection of art and books on art, which I grew up looking at. They were constantly slipping me paper to draw on. My uncle is a filmmaker and photographer; he gave me my first cameras. My Mum asked me to find my passion and has backed me all the way. I had intense conversations, about art, photography, music, film, literature, architecture and food with all of them throughout my life. It’s been encouraging and enriching all along and continues to be so. Dangercat was unavoidable.
You were at the Life and Light Academy in Ooty. What did you study and how was your time there?
I studied almost all forms of photography; portraiture, landscape, architecture and fine art were some. Mr. Iqbal, our director, teacher and mentor is the most wonderful person I have had the pleasure of meeting. He honestly taught us a whole lot about light and life :). I loved living in Ooty and exploring the Nilgiris. The course was tough and challenging, but it made me a better photographer.
You’re a professional photographer but prefer to illustrate and design. How did that happen?
I wouldn’t say I prefer to illustrate or design. I feel more passion towards illustration at the moment, but photography has been constant since I was a teen, my camera is always within reach. I treat photography as an art form, just like illustration. I do small projects that allow me to be creative, rather than churning out the same thing over and over again. I plan to do a lot more this year.
What are the tools you use?
A Nikon with a 35mm and a reflector is all you need sometimes. I’m not crazy about lenses or equipment, I use what I have and hire what I need when I want to experiment. I hand draw most of my illustrations, usually with brush and ink or a rotring pen for the more detailed stuff. I then colour them digitally using a Wacom. I love charcoal, acrylics and dry pastels – I’m open to any medium.
“I FEEL MORE PASSION TOWARDS ILLUSTRATION AT THE MOMENT, BUT PHOTOGRAPHY HAS BEEN CONSTANT SINCE I WAS A TEEN, MY CAMERA IS ALWAYS WITHIN REACH.”
How would you describe your creative process?
My personal work is influenced by my personal life. If it has meaning and makes sense to me, then I can draw it. I surround myself with things I love. I listen to music, drink tea, play with my animals and potter around the garden. All this leads to an idea and then I just go for it!
The commercial work I do varies depending on the nature of the project. Art for music is usually purely based on the music. Corporate projects are more structured; I make notes and sketch and can be very methodical. I like a good brief and working towards a deadline.
We’d love to have a peek at your studio. Share a few pictures with us.
We’ve seen some album art you’ve worked on recently. Talk to us about some of the projects you’ve been working on, both professional and personal.
The album art is for a Bangalore based sludge band called Shepherd. They’re all set to release their debut album. I really like their music and they gave me the freedom to do my thing. The album cover extends into a poster, which will be revealed very soon. I’m working on a few corporate projects, illustrations for a book, murals and some more music related art. As for my personal work, I’m working on a few paintings and I hope to put out a series of photo-illustration pieces soon.
“MY PERSONAL WORK IS INFLUENCED BY MY PERSONAL LIFE. IF IT HAS MEANING AND MAKES SENSE TO ME, THEN I CAN DRAW IT.”
Where do you draw inspiration? Are there any artists’ whose work has helped you grow as an artist?
I’m inspired by nature. I feel very connected to plants and animals. I collect stones and always wonder, “This took a million years to be a stone!”. Science, space, history, evolution are fascinating.
I look at lot of art. I don’t think they influence me in terms of subject, but there are things like composition and attention to detail or the feeling their art evokes that definitely makes me think. There are a ton of artists whose work I follow; James R Eads, John Dyer, Caitlin Hackett, Erica Williams, Aaron Horkey, Ken Tailor, among the international artists. Gumani and Scribble Bandit are my local favorites.
As an artist closely involved in the local art scene (and across India), what do you think could be done to promote the arts?
Art must evolve at the same rate and be given the same importance as everything else, for us to progress as humans and as a community. One cannot work without the other. Collect art, appreciate art and support your local artist.
“I COLLECT STONES AND ALWAYS WONDER, ‘THIS TOOK A MILLION-YEARS-TO-BE A STONE!’ SCIENCE, SPACE, HISTORY, EVOLUTION ARE FASCINATING.”
If you could have any one superpower, what would it be?
Teleportation. That way I could travel without getting on a plane. Flying is for birds. Also I’d like to be in the Himalayas twice a week, heehee!
What’s on you play list at the moment:
Junip, Elder, Queens of the Stone age, Buckcherry, Ali Farka Toure Chinese man, Mouse on the keys, Damian Marley, LCD soundsystem, Dualist Enquiry, Zero 7, Alt J, Bon Iver, Lynx, ADF, Colour Haze, The Heavy, Fink, Hindi Zahra, Iron and Wine, The Cinematic Orchestra, Toast Machine, Morcheeba… Shall I go on? Music sets the tone for everything.
Tell us about your association with Cupick thus far.
Cupick is long overdue in India. Platforms like this have been around elsewhere for ages. I’m so glad you guys had the will to pull this off. I love the quality of your prints, especially the extra large posters. It’s been a pleasant and happy experience, I wish you all the luck!
Any famous last words?
Visit Dangercat on Cupick to check out more of her work.