Manuja Waldia

India-born, Indianapolis-based illustrator and designer Manuja Waldia's vibrant work spans subjects from Shakespeare to sisterhood...

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Matriarchal Memories

Describe your work in three words...
Creepy, feminine, symbolic.

What first made you realise you wanted to pursue design and illustration as a career?
The moment when I realised illustration is drawing while eating snacks and watching TV, while getting paid for it.

What are your influences, and where do you look for inspiration?
Indian and Persian miniature paintings, surrealism, fine art and fashion. I also watch a lot of diverse and weird cinema to get inspired.

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Matriarchal Memories

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Matriarchal Memories

Your series 'Matriarchal Memories' won a Society of Illustrators award last year—what inspired you to create those images?
I wanted to draw nurturing environments for the girls in each drawing, free from the patriarchal gaze and patriarchy in general. The clothes are styled in line with recent fashion seasons, so they also act as fashion illustrations.

Your work spans a wide variety of media and visual styles. What brought about this way of working?
I work in the two styles as they are perfect foils of each other. When I get burned out with one, I work in the other, which makes for the most constructive productive change. Even though they are aesthetically different, there are parallels between the narrative and composition in both approaches.

It's easier to have one unique style for your 'brand recall' (ew), as art directors mostly hire illustrators for a particular style they are seeking.  However, I feel I can achieve that 'brand recall' by keeping my 'voice' consistent across my diverse-in-mediums work.

This might be difficult to achieve if I only did commercial work, as then I wouldn't have much control over the narrative. That's where personal projects come into play. They let me create content, and say what I want to say, how I want to say it. And I don't worry too much about the medium. Having a unique illustration style doesn't necessarily only mean aesthetic execution.

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Tell us about the book covers you created for Pelican's Shakespeare series...
The story starts when I scheduled a student portfolio review with Jessica Hische—she gave me honest feedback on my portfolio, and also gave me the contact details of some of the best art directors. I emailed Paul Buckley, VP Executive Creative Director of Penguin US, a link to my (terribly amateur) student portfolio after the review. He kindly took the time to look at it, and replied that he'd like to explore the idea of doing Shakespeare covers in the style of my Daily Icon project. Not just any Shakespeare editions, but the Penguin Classics range! I cannot be more thankful or thrilled, and try to do my very best with each title.

In conclusion, doing personal projects always pays off and leads to the most interesting commercial work. Does a stand-up comedian only perform exclusively at SNL? No, they work on their material constantly, practice their delivery, and relentlessly train. We have to create work, for people to know we can do it.

The other important thing is having positive, empowering people around you, who will cheer you on and, more importantly, push you when needed.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream, cover illustration for The Pelican Shakespeare. Art direction by Paul Buckley.

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Much Ado About Nothing, cover illustration for The Pelican Shakespeare. Art direction by Paul Buckley.

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The Tempest, cover illustration for The Pelican Shakespeare. Art direction by Paul Buckley.

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Macbeth, cover illustration for The Pelican Shakespeare. Art direction by Paul Buckley.

What sort of briefs do you like working on, and what would be your dream project?
Working on the Penguin books has been pretty dreamy, and I really enjoy working on my personal artwork. I haven't thought about what a dream project would be.

How has your time spent living in India influenced your work?
I am very heavily inspired by Indian art, cinema, garments, etc. I grew up in 90s suburban India with a family that heavily advocates meritocracy, which shapes my work ethic and narrative.  

What are you working on right now, and what's next for you?
I’m continuing with the Shakespeare books, and working on some personal art. I am also planning more products for my shop.

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Illustration for Asymmetry Magazine

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