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The Making of Shreyas R Krishnan’s Thesis Project

Fall 2015 / Spring 2016 MFA Illustration Practice Maryland Institute College of Art 1


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The Making of Shreyas R Krishnan’s Thesis Project

Fall 2015 / Spring 2016 MFA Illustration Practice Maryland Institute College of Art


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Some things are born out of the most disparate sources.

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Trial, Error, Revisiting and Reworking

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There’s more than one way to get to a destination

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Paper, Screens, Walls

p.57 4 7 Taking a break, Stopping to reconsider

p.43 Welcome validations

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Conversations with my contemporaries

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Some things are born out of the most disparate sources.

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When I came to MICA, I had arrived at what I thought was the underlying motivation behind all of my work— that I have always been a feminist, and that I have a great curiosity for shared and personal stories of belonging and culture. I enjoy wearing the many hats of illustrator, designer, writer and content curator. Each of these areas have their own sets of inspirations and influences which are specific to experiences, time and place. In my case, design, drawing, illustration and writing are more than just storytelling, they are also a way of experiencing and reliving said experiences. A year in, I realise now that there is another driving factor, a much simpler one. I am driven by the need to preserve a memory - a moment in time, or even an idea or a thought. I am a documenter.

Sketchnotes: Ru Kuwahata Lunchtime Lecture, Feb 9, 2015

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I ended my first year at Illustration Practice having spent the Spring semester working entirely on personal narratives. I was finally happy to own the work I was producing, and was in a good place with knowing how I drew and how I wanted my pieces to look visually. Over the summer I received my final critique report, which included feedback that I had either heard differently at my crit, or that was said differently afterward. Guest critics Eric Skillman and John Foster felt that a lot of my final pieces felt

labored over and hence, unresolved. The sketchbook excerpts that I had included in my presentation however caught their attention. That people have always been drawn more to my sketchbooks than my “final” work, has been a sore subject for me. Drawing in my sketchbooks comes to me more naturally than ‘illustrating’ and much of the first year was spent in trying to normalize the act of illustrating so that I could be as effortless as when I’m sketching. The critics also commented on the personal nature of my projects – I operated well when narrating from a personal place, but they were not sure how well I might do with a brief that I was not at the center of. “...The problem, I realised later, was not that I did not feel for these topics [music, culture, identity, travel and gender]. They continue to be some of my biggest interests. The best ideas need cooking (or as guest critic Ru Kuwahata said, ‘Ideas need marinating’), and it has taken me time to acknowledge and realize that it is okay to put some concepts in the back burner and allow them the time and space they need to grow just a little bit more.” Lost & Found (Fall 2014 - Spring 2015) Excerpt from my Idea Book


#illustrauteur ORIGIN STORIES

The first thesis idea I toyed with (for most of summer) was interpreting Goddess mythologies from different cultures beside an exploration of the female experience from those places. I liked the idea, but I was hitting a dead end with what shape the content could take on for the scope of a thesis and gallery show. One of my interests in joining the MFA Illustration Practice program at MICA, was the insistence in putting students through a year of critical research and writing alongside our practice as illustrators. For a long time now, I have held the view that it is essential for a person of any discipline have a critical understanding of the past and present of their chosen field—the issues that dominate it, the people that occupy it—in order to best know the present and future of their own practice and how they contribute to the larger picture. This is especially true in the case of Illustration, which is too often lost in all the talk and discussion about Art and Design, treated either as the neglected stepchild of Art or as the sidekick to Graphic Design that gets two lines of dialogue in a feature film. To be sure, critical writing about illustration is finally beginning to get a foothold. UK based Varoom - The Illustration Report “is a unique large format publication

commenting and discussing the contemporary illustrated image in depth, and features interviews with illustrators, image-makers and designers as well as featuring critical articles on different aspects of contemporary illustration by leading commentators”. There is some demand for books that go beyond a superficial and cursory glance at illustration and illustrators. This renaissance is still at an early stage, and like all beginnings, there are gaps - ‘history is written by the victors’ it is said. In our case, the histories of illustration are written by those that get to their pens first. I find myself in the same position as a graduate student of Illustration today as I did as an undergraduate of Design. Today’s accounts of Illustration and its history still tend to favour North American and European practitioners since most of the people writing are located in these regions. For a long time the discourse on Design suffered these hurdles as well, but has finally transcended them - from only UK based Eye Magazine and the collaborative online space Design Observer as quality sources, writing on design has come a long way with the publishing of Dekho, “an awardwinning anthology of inspirational conversations with designers in India, probing their stories for cues to the development of design in India and highlighting approaches that are unique to designing for India”.

Dekho Designed and curated by Codesign, India

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There is an acknowledgement that timelines must go beyond canons, and that the conversations on design need to operate across time and space, not simply remain a chronicle of the past. Perhaps time may simply provide Illustration with such a boon of clarity and visibility. In 2010, I co-founded and wrote for Little Design Book, an online journal of design, visual culture and material culture, to create meaningful critical discourse around design in India. During the 19 months of its existence, it built a reputation within India and abroad for being one of the few highquality, well-written, and critically informative sources on design in India. Despite this reputation though, I had the constant feeling that there were still not enough people actually reading Little Design Book. And even if they were reading, it was a one way street; there weren’t any visible signs of conversations being sparked or discussions being had that fed back into the dialogue.

In this context, the real question on my mind is, is anyone reading all this writing on illustration, or are we simply documenting in a void and indulging ourselves as writers? The first essay we were assigned for Stephanie Plunkett’s Critical Seminar in Fall ‘14, was a response to articles and essays by Steven Heller, Marshall Arisman and Rick Poynor on the state of contemporary illustration. In my essay, I wrote, “There seems to be an urgency today, in the call for an illustrator to move beyond simply dealing with style and other people’s content, to being someone who is an author. A case where, as with the auteur theory in film making, the individual voice of the illustrator shines through, no matter what the medium, format, or context. An illustrauteur, if you will.” It was apparent that the boundaries

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of Illustration are shifting, throwing out fingers to reach and include more types of work into its territory. On January 28th, 2015, Newsweek ran a cover featuring Edel Rodriguez’s illustration on sexism in Silicon Valley. The illustration and the reactions to it were an eye opener in revealing how little we talk about gender in the field of illustration. Despite the fact that many women illustrators brought up nuanced and valid points against the illustration, the backlash of hate and belittling they faced for their questioning was surprising. Humorless Mutts Club, a private Facebook group started by illustrator and feminist Celine Loup in response to this backlash “functions as a feminist illustration back channel to lift up female illustrators as a class and hold our male colleagues accountable”. This event made it more than obvious to me, that it is critical and relevant that as illustrators we begin discussing gender more openly, rather than keep these conversations in back channels.


#illustrauteur ORIGIN STORIES

Mnemosyne 16 page monoprint comic by Shreyas R Krishnan Facing Page (L) Little Design Book logo The Talking Kaatha, designed by Shreyas R Krishnan (R) Newsweek Cover Published online Jan 28 2015 illustrated by Edel Rodriguez Shreyas R Krishnan

From Fall ‘14 to Spring ‘15, there have been four aspects of my work that have spoken to me and my peers clearly, and with assured confidence—my explorations with the format of comics, illustrations that are a unique take on a moment in time, combining live portraiture and hand-type to create bespoke sketchnotes, and my essays on gender and illustration for Critical Seminar. My thesis would be a means

to utilize my nature as a documenter, while harnessing learnings from these experiments and digressions made through my first year at ILP. It also draws upon my experience as a graphic designer and content curator, and seeks to combine my drawing and writing practices.

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Proposal (Abridged) ‘Illustrauteur’ is a project that focuses on the practice of illustration itself. At its core are three ideas - first, the notion that illustrators can be auteurs, where the individual voice of the illustrator shines through, no matter what the medium, format, or context ; second, that discourse on illustration needs to be more accessible; and third, that like in all professional fields, there is not enough sincere attention paid to both its women practitioners and to the issues of how gender as a concept is addressed in its work. This thesis project approaches these topics in two parts, by looking inward and outward. The first part is envisioned as a book of critical essays on illustration with a focus on gender, but in comic/sequential format. The second part is a website that concentrates on interviews with women illustrators who are auteurs in their own right, from around the world. The book aspires to make conversations about gender in illustration more accessible to both illustrators and anyone interested in the role gender plays in our lives. The website, in some sense, serves as a her-story of illustration for the future.

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#illustrauteur ORIGIN STORIES

Looking Within (Book) Critical Writing in Sequential Format

What We Talk About When We Talk About Design Written and illustrated by Ruchita Madhok

Not all illustrators and designers are text oriented. Many are happy with operating exclusive of any tangible content. The easy access and democracy of the internet has also thrown forth a plethora of blogs, with part time and full time bloggers catering to short attention spans with quick lists and features; it is always easier to simply look at illustration as an end result rather than as a practice. It is also all too easy to place academic and critical writing on a pedestal, making the illustratorwriter an exclusive creature. If it is important (and it definitely is) that we write more and have more conversations on illustration, why is there very little effort to open up these conversations, include more voices, making it a discourse rather than a monologue? A possible answer is to extricate the discourse on illustration from the dryness of academic writing. “The medium is the message�, said Marshall McLuhan. The medium is inextricably related to the message, influencing how it is perceived and received. In 1993, American cartoonist Scott McCloud created Understanding Comics, a non-fiction comic that explores comic making

theoretically. To this day, it continues to be an essential primer for anyone interested in understanding principles and concepts in creating comics. The idea is so obvious that it is a wonder no one else tried doing it - what better way to explain comics than through comics? There are many excellent books on illustration as an area of study, but none that go beyond the written/ typed word. What would happen if these writings on illustration took on the form of images - comics, editorial illustrations? Would more people read, and more importantly, think and reflect on these conversations and contribute to them? Would it demystify the field of illustration for someone outside it? Gender is the unifying theme in this thesis project. Part 1, therefore, is a book consisting of essays how gender is (or is not) addressed in the field of illustration, delivered in sequential format.

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Looking Without (Website) Interviews with women Illustrauteurs

The second part of Illustrauteur is looking without, at the community of illustrator-auteurs in the world. The illustrator-auteur is a multidisciplinary person, whose practice transcends the definitions and relationships that traditionally describe that of an illustrator. The Illustrauteur website will feature long-form interviews with these individuals/collectives who are not only blurring boundaries but also, in their own ways, changing and evolving the meaning of ‘illustration’. I am curious about process, how people think what they think and then execute their ideas. I marvel at the ability of a person – illustrator/ photographer/ writer/ musician/ artist/ designer – to have thought up a concept or form. In that sense, what pulls me towards a creation is the sign of a person behind it, the indications of a hand and a mind. As a designer, I learnt that it is impossible to operate in isolation. Talking and listening to others from a creative community contributes a great deal towards the formation and clarification of personal ideas and practices. This in turn forms the lenses through which one examines and experiences the happenings in the larger profession. 12

Unless the scope of this project includes some interaction with peers, it falls into the same trap that it tries to come out of —that of conversing in a void. Since the unifying theme of this thesis is gender and women, the website will limit itself to women illustrator-auteurs from around the world. The aim is to shine a spotlight on contemporary female-identifying practitioners who are not restricted to North America and Europe and offer illustrators, both students and professionals, a peer group that they can identify with or to look up to. Taking off from my long-time habit of creating detailed sketchnotes and portraits at talks and lectures that I attend, each interview will be accompanied by an illustration featuring a bespoke portrait and hand-lettered excerpts. These could also be made into posters that can be gifted to the interviewee and also used as promotional material. This part of the thesis is also a way for me to build personal connections with illustrator-auteurs from around the world.


#illustrauteur ORIGIN STORIES

(A) Illustrators Illustrated www.illustratorsillustrated.com (L) The Great Discontent Issue 3: The Possibility Issue

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There’s more than one way to get to a destination

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“Gender is performed and I have stage fright”. Graffiti on the back wall of MICA’s Fox Building Photographed by Shreyas R Krishnan on October 15, 2015

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#illustrauteur FINDING A WAY

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Top Editing A Rosie is a Rosie is a Rosie Above Extracting the structure of the essay

Despite being interested in critical writing and gender studies, I had never formally been through a class in either subject, until the Fall of 2014. About halfway through a semester of Stephanie Plunkett’s Critical Seminar and Soheila Ghaussey’s Gender in Film, the two finally overlapped and the result was Rosie is a Rosie is a Rosie, an essay that examined Rosie the Riveter through the lens of Judith Butler’s ideas on gender as performance. This paper is significant, being the first instance in which I was able to connect my interest in understanding gender with critical writing on illustration. I chose to adapt the paper into the first comic for my thesis. My original estimate for turning the essay around into a comic was a month, which I assumed would be easy enough since I had the text and research already. I was not accounting for the relationship between text and image, and how

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much of the text I would need to either simplify or throw out without sacrificing the content. Adapting an essay/paper into the comic format proved to be easier said than done. Critical writing relies heavily on the construction of words and sentences to convey an idea. Translating that into the format of a comic, which relies so much on the balance and push-pull between word and image involved a complete rethinking of how to present the essence of the essay. I went through multiple rounds of just thumbnailing the comic out, first to get the content to work within the page count that I wanted, and second to somewhat bring about that image-text balance. Thumbnails, however, can never properly indicate how much space text will occupy on a page, or how it might contrast with colored images. Reality strikes when the layouts are to scale, when pencil lines become inked and painted pages.


#illustrauteur FINDING A WAY

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Previous, facing and current pages Thumbnail sketches and page plans for the comic

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Transit I: BWI-LHR-MAA Sketchbook excerpt Baltimore - Chennai 2015

The day before I returned to India for the summer break, I bought a blank sketchbook and a set of pens on a whim. I wanted to see if I could fill it up in the long journey back, and try working with a very limited palette. After spending a semester using a technique that endlessly layered gouache, it was freeing to simply apply flat color. I tend to draw with line and then add color; in this 22

sketchbook I gravitated towards more shape, and less line. I did this more consciously with a second sketchbook that I began on my return trip to Baltimore. At the start of the thesis semester, I knew I wanted to treat this comic with a limited color palette, based off the original We Can Do It! Poster. The first three panels on page 1 of the comic came together easily enough, but I hesitated on the

last panel, unsure of how this palette would translate here and through the book. I put painting on hold and went back to making a miniature dummy, to test out my color choices.


#illustrauteur FINDING A WAY

Miniature Dummy Book 5.5 x 7 cm

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#illustrauteur FINDING A WAY

Text / Image Pushing the image further away from the text, so that the two are not saying the same exact thing, but instead complement each other.

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#illustrauteur FINDING A WAY

Dummies Five stages in the making of the first comic. From left, counterclockwise, version 1 to version 5.

The first few meetings with guest critics during thesis feel awkward and somewhat speculative. With the project still in very early stages, it is hard to showcase it in anyway that might prompt relevant feedback. The making of this comic was not linear. Though the script derived from the original essay, I planned visuals simultaneously. I began coloring the comic, even when the pencil drawings, layouts and even text were still changing. This is probably not the process I might have undertaken normally, but it came to be how I worked. With the writing, illustrations and layout continuously evolving in parallel, it helped give the guest critics better context to predict how they might relate. Common to a lot of my critiques both with Whitney Sherman, and visiting critics, was taking out what was extraneous and keeping the essential. My first guest critic, Aya Kakeda, saw a pencilled dummy, with text roughly placed and a painted first page in progress. It takes a great level of prescience for someone to look at a piece of

work at that stage and offer that one suggestion that clears some of the fog. “Break the heavy writing with some air”, she said. Critic Dusty Summers was more direct, emphasizing on consistency in the book and pointed out what worked, what didn’t, and why. He suggested changing my idea for a title illustration based off Groucho Marx glasses since it implied a levity that the book did not have. Giving a reader visual cues for period and place was essential. How far could I push an image away from the text until they both magically start to mean the same thing? I met with critic Anna Raff a few days before the Illustration Week trip to New York. There were a few spreads that were still tricky to resolve, but she still pushed me to reconsider what I thought were finished pages, to design and declutter. In NYC, critic Paul Hoppe reminded me to make sure that the text was accessible and to stretch the length of the comic if I needed to. He also spoke about

how more stimulus generates more output. Working as a graphic designer has given me some experience in interpreting feedback (mostly of the client variety). I’ve learnt, with this kind of training, to take thoughts and feedback and get to the core of what needs to be addressed - as opposed to simply making a change - and find my own way of creating a solution. The trip coincided with the first faculty swap; Kim Hall was able to pinpoint the little things in text and layout that needed to be addressed to tighten the narrative. Playing the dual roles of writer and illustrator left me feeling spread out too thin. Add playing editor and art director to the mix and it is a sure recipe for chaos. Kim Hall often suggested, ‘go sleep on it’, to take a break from one role before switching to another. Having an extra pair of eyes - Whitney Sherman and Kim Hall in this case - acting as editor / art director helped to push the book towards the direction it needed to move in. 29


POW! Illustration that Kills Sketchnotes from a talk during Illustration Week, November 4, 2015.

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Trial, Error, Revisiting and Reworking

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December was approaching, by the timeline in my proposal I should have had 2 comics done with a third one on the way, and about 4 interviews of women illustrator-auteurs done. I had one comic, that was still not complete. I was well behind my original schedule. My timeline had definitely been aspirational. I could probably work through a comic or an essay in a month, but I had definitely discounted the fact that doing both together – researching, drafting, writing, sketching, drawing, coloring – would take maybe twice the time. I was unhappy with my pace, being so off from my plan made me feel like everything was unravelling and that I was not in control of the situation anymore. Kim Hall suggested that despite the pace, I was still moving forward and was committed to my thesis topic, instead of backtracking or changing my mind completely. Whitney Sherman reassured me about choosing quality over quantity – fewer well made comics were better than many half-baked ones. With the MICA Art Market around the corner, I decided to set that as a deadline for myself to sort out everything that I needed to resolve for the first comic to be ‘finished’. One of the biggest things I needed to check off my list for this was the 34

cover illustration. During the New York Illustration Week trip, critic Alexandra Zsigmond at The New York Times said that the cover I had for my dummy was the weakest link in my comic. She suggested that I be smart about it instead of trying to be ‘clever’. I hadn’t arrived at a better cover idea after scrapping the earlier Groucho Marx one, and part of it was because of the lack of a less academic sounding title. A title is so essential to a book. It is that one thing that has to both encapsulate the narrative and also seem interesting enough to get attention. Rosie is a Rosie is a Rosie was the title I had used for the first version of the original essay, which spoke about today’s Rosie as an entity that was simply a collection of visual signifiers. That was before I was introduced to Judith Butler’s writing; I rewrote the paper because the idea of performative gender made infinite sense in Rosie’s context and added more value to the subject. The original title stopped making sense to me after the rewrite. The working title of the comic up to this point had been Rosie the Riveter and Performative Gender. The text of the comic had to be reworked until it was a simpler version of the original paper, while retaining the formal qualities of an academic voice. Considering this, the title couldn’t remain an exception.

Judith Butler’s argument for performative gender and gender as a construct starts from the point Simone de Beauvoir makes in ‘The Second Sex’ -“One is not born a woman, but, rather, becomes one”. The ‘becoming’ covered all the different ways an identity (gendered or otherwise) is assumed in the comic. After some initial fretting about an oversimplified title, I went ahead with Becoming Rosie as the new title for the comic. With a title in place, it was easier to form ideas about a cover illustration. Despite it being precariously close to December (and hence the end of semester), I still held some strange hope that I would have more comics done by the thesis show. My intent was for these comics to be assembled in one book as an anthology. I illustrated the cover for Becoming Rosie, anticipating that it would ultimately be a title page within a book rather than a cover itself.


#illustrauteur TESTING GROUNDS

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Making of Becoming Rosie Hand-binding twenty copies of the comic at the ILP studio.

I printed 20 copies of Becoming Rosie at the MICA Grad Lab. While costefficient, this was not my first choice, but as was the trend with the project, I was working from a tight window of time. Paper choices are limited for laser prints at the Grad Lab, and the colors in the print were darker than what I had on my files. I looked past these, went ahead with the prints, and hand bound the books with the making resources in the Illustration Practice studio. The Art Market was 36

my testing ground, to finally see if people were even interested in a comic about illustration and gender. This would be my moment of truth. Over the three days of Art Market, I went over repeatedly to the ILP booth, to check on my comics. Most times I would find someone by the stall engrossed in the display copy of Becoming Rosie. Often these were either much older women, or younger people. I assume that this

might be because of the immediate appeal this subject might have to the two generations; the first lived through that time period, perhaps the elderly women reading my comic had been Rosies themselves, the second is a generation that is more aware and accepting of gender theory as something that has an impact on our lives. Five copies of the comic remained at the end of Art Market, putting to rest my fears of total rejection.


#illustrauteur TESTING GROUNDS

Art Market 2015 Visitors to the stall reading Becoming Rosie at the ILP booth. Top image from Edon Muhaxheri.

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Paper and Clay Edmonia Lewis (paper), Artemisia Gentileschi (clay)

Thesis is also only a part of the workload for the year, there are other electives to attend to and they may or may not directly tie in with the thesis project. For Fall 2015, I enrolled in Women in the History of Art, and Dimensional Storytelling. I have never been formally trained in art history, and considering the content I was dealing with for thesis, I wanted my introduction to the subject to be through the lens of women artists. I have also never been someone who can work three dimensionally, and so I pushed myself to give it a shot with Dimensional Storytelling. To make both these new forays intersect more, and in discussion with Megan Jones who was teaching Dimensional Storytelling, I planned on making dimensional portraits of the artists I learnt about. Edmonia Lewis, the first non-white American woman 38

sculpture became a portrait in cut paper. Sofonisba Anguissola, the first woman Renaissance painter, and Lavinia Fontana, who became one of the most prolific Italian painters, became an embroidered diptych. Artemisia Gentileschi, who changed how women and their bodies were looked at in art, became an air-dry stone clay piece. Of all these portraits, embroidery was the medium that I took to the most. I had come as far as I had with material, and so I (foolishly) chose to work with air-dry clay for my final project, and integrate embroidery into it. Clay, on the other hand, has never been my friend; it has always been a material I struggle with. There was a slight sadism in my choosing to work with clay for my final project for that class. If the clay and embroidery experiment worked,

I hoped to make more that could act as dimensional elements in my otherwise potentially-small and flat thesis exhibition space. I have always been acutely aware of how 2-D my work is, owing to the fact that it is almost exclusively in print, and on paper. In a conversation with Kim Hall, she simply said, it was okay if I failed, this was not a part of my thesis yet. If it worked, I could add in that aspect, if it didn’t I had at least tried. It did not work, and I ultimately scrapped the idea in Spring. I still harbored dreams about making my thesis space having three dimensional elements to it, feeling like it was something I ought to do, whether I wanted to or not.


#illustrauteur TESTING GROUNDS

Embroidery Sofonisba Anguissola (left) Lavinia Fontana (right)

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Attempts at Clay (Top row) Fragile pieces (Bottom row) Adelaide Labille Guiard, Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun and Angelica Kaufmann

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#illustrauteur TESTING GROUNDS

(Right) Changing Process Drawing in layers for hand made screenprint positives, portrait of Sarah Fotheringham (Below) Lunchtime Lecture Sketchnotes Heidi Younger on September 25, 2014 and November 2 , 2014

The projects in Dimensional Storytelling did help in my being conscious of how I make portraits. I had a very difficult time with paper and clay, feeling like how I draw or create form did not translate through those materials. With embroidery, since it is still somewhat flat, I enjoyed creating tactility. Once I abandoned the clay idea for my thesis show, I held on to the possibility of embroidering on screen printed paper, if I managed my time well. My first few Lunchtime Lectures at MICA, I sketched my notes the way I always had, with a black pen. On the day that Harry Campbell spoke, I resorted to a handful of crayons in the absence of a pen, and the result was so different from what I had done until then. Since a lot of the last two years has been about trying

to practice consciously what I do unconsciously, I kept at it. Every lecture, I picked crayons and brush pens at random, trying out color combinations and composition. By the time I would get to interviewing women and making portraits for thesis, I had to change my process to come up with the same results. Instead of working on the spot, from a live person, I drew from reference photos, assembling fragments of drawings and writing on Photoshop to create spontaneous looking sketchnotes. These were scaled up, and then drawn over again at actual size to create positives for screen printing them as posters. Switching to that scale of drawing was an experience that was freeing and frightening simultaneously - drawing in a way that uses more of the body makes the act far more real. 41


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Taking a break, Stopping to reconsider

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The second comic, following Becoming Rosie, was to be based off another essay I had written for Critical Seminar, on skin politics and the depiction of the monstrous feminine in the Hindu epic Ramayana. A comment I had received from a few critics and people who had read Becoming Rosie, was if the text could be even lesser than what it was. Given that the purpose of these comics are to simplify critical writing without dumbing it down, I stand by the writing for Becoming Rosie. I did begin to wonder if there was a way to talk about gender without words, relying entirely on visuals. History itself is not absolute. It is a record that is made by someone. ‘Past’ isn’t a finite amount of time, it grows in size each day. Everything has precedent. 44

When I toyed with making clay portraits of women artists for my thesis exhibit, I saw it as a way to thread past through the present. In the Women in the History of Art elective, I had been taking copious sketchnotes and drawings of women artists and their artworks. The history of women in art cannot be studied without beginning at their exclusion from art. Patterns begin to emerge in how women were/are depicted in art, there are the tropes of nudes, goddess, fallen woman… I wanted to catalog some of these patterns, in the sketchnotes style, to show examples of female body depiction in art. It was important for me to note that with subjects like these there is always the temptation to look for gendered work - that women and men create art differently (which essentially plays into the dialogue that kept women out of art). Power and privilege


#illustrauteur REFLECTION

shift across class and within gender, people are products of their time. At the end of the Fall semester, I set about collating, organizing and shortlisting images of artwork that we were looking at in my history elective, and art by male artists through time. This collection of drawings of artworks would be my second comic. I had the winter break to let this idea sit for a while, and decided that my respite from text needn’t be one from narrative as well. In New York, critic Alexandra Zsigmond had suggested the works of two illustrators to me - Aiden Koch and Brecht Vandenbroucke. Koch has a very drawn, loose and documentational aesthetic and has recently been making comics that are based off her drawings and studies of existing art. Vandenbroucke’s book White Cube was specifically recommended by

Alexandra Zsigmond. It is a collection of ‘episodes’ in comic format, about how two characters respond to the art world - large parts of the book are set inside imagined gallery spaces. Taking cue from both these illustrators, and my own research, the second comic assumed a more reflective nature to it, as compared to the examining quality of Becoming Rosie. The plot is straightforward, a figure enters a museum to view a display called Women in Art, and leaves. Critic Ray Jones made some good observations about my process of drawing, suggesting that I time myself for panels and pages, because the longer I take to draw, the stiffer the drawing becomes. He also pointed to the specific (and universal) experience of a museum - displays, the way lighting changes, the smell of the museum.

Presenting the first comic and second comic to guest critics were completely different experiences. I am a high context person, which means I enjoy providing as much context as possible to what I am trying to communicate. Becoming Rosie, by way of having text and image, satisfied my need to explain. The second comic is wordless, and having to simply hand over a dummy and watch someone read it was stressful for me. When I showed critic Mikey Burton the sketchnotes from my history class, the urged me to compile them and create a zine that could utilize printing processes like risograph.

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Process Physically piecing together separate drawings on tracing paper, to compose and layout pages

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Unlike the first comic, a title for the second comic did not emerge from my readings or research. I needed something that would evoke history, norms and expectations. Whitney Sherman proposed Standards, a word which means norms and measurements. In jazz music, a standard is a composition that is widely known, and is an essential part of a musician’s repertoire much like tropes in art. With that, I was sold on the title. The cover was another roadblock. My idea dump kept revolving around iconography of measurement. Kim Hall made a timely interjection, and found a way to tie the ending of the book to the beginning. Attribution is important for me, if an idea was suggested to me, I acknowledge the person when I talk about the work coming out of the suggestion. I do not usually seek this much help, this actively– especially for something as big as the title and cover idea. The way Standards came together was a lesson though, in that it is okay to ask for help, that is what a cohort is for, and what the support system of grad school is mean to do. 48


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Parallel to the second comic, I went back to addressing the cover of Becoming Rosie, which was conservative and looked like a textbook. Comics books and picture books typically use an illustration from the inside pages, and I didn’t want to do that. I find I can generate visual ideas better for non-illustrated books. I used the same visual idea of a green room, as the previous Becoming Rosie cover, and scaled it up to wrap across the front and and back cover. The change in appearance was immediate, the book felt more like a considered work than it did before.

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5

Conversations with my contemporaries

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Through the course of the year, I had been identifying women illustrators who fit the bill of illustrator / auteur, for my interviews. My list came from illustrators that I already knew of, illustration annuals, design and illustration blogs, social media and recommendations from friends. I was looking for women who were not globally known, who were doing different things that sometimes might not be considered illustration in the strictest sense. Critic Rebecca Bradley recommended that I have articulate for myself who or what an illustrator auteur was. The illustrator-auteur pushes the boundaries of illustration in terms of content, format, material and practice. My articulation of the illustrator auteur

The plan was to contact 5 illustrators first and then work my day down the list; I harbored no illusions about my success with getting responses. There was a lot of waiting once emails were sent out. There were a lot of 54

silences, people who did not respond at all. There was one instance with an illustrator wanting to be a part of the project and then disappearing completely. There were people who got back to me immediately, and those who wrote back weeks later, excited nevertheless about the project. I used this stopgap to construct questions. The interview format that I wanted was similar to those of long form ones on The Great Discontent, and like designer Debbie Millman’s podcast Design Matters. Questions about work, process and creative paths are usual, but the wording of these questions can change the way someone answers them. I read many of The Great Discontent’s interviews, and binge listened to Design Matters, noting down questions that I liked, or following the line of questioning and paying attention to the sequencing. I tried to avoid questions that my interviewees may have already answered extensively in another interview. One question I particularly enjoyed from both, was

“What is your first memory of making something?”. This is a question that people are never often asked, and instantly sets the tone of having the interviewee reflect on their timelines to make connections and respond. I had three interviews lined up to finish in time for the thesis show - Sarah Fotheringham, Meltem Sahin and Gunjan Aylawadi. Sarah Fotheringham is a British illustrator living in India, and one half of illustrated homeware brand Safomasi; Meltem Sahin is a Turkish illustrator and animator, currently in the USA, who has been working with electronics and basic robotics as part of her practice; Gunjan Aylawadi is an Indian paper artist based in Australia. With the exception of Meltem Sahin, who is my classmate at Illustration Practice, I had never spoken with these women before. Each of them were interviewed in a different format, and it was an interesting exercise to adapt my language and line of questioning to suit these formats.


#illustrauteur BUILDING A COMMUNITY

www.medium.com/the-illustrator-as-auteur

Sarah Fotheringham and I emailed each other over a month, I would email her three questions at a time, in order to have the flexibility of introducing new questions or reframing questions I already had, based on her answers. The interviews with Meltem Sahin and Gunjan Aylawadi were in one sitting each, Meltem’s was in person, Gunjan’s was over Skype, both were first recorded as audios and then transcribed. In all three interviews, I would sometimes get an answer to a question that I had planned on asking without having to actually ask it. To me, it was a sign that they were comfortable enough to speak with me about their practice without my needing to prompt or prod for details. I silently congratulated myself when a question was met with “I hadn’t thought of it that way before, that’s a good point”. It made the interview feel more like a conversation with a peer about their practice, rather than a simple Q & A. The interviews had to be edited differently as well. Sarah’s was

already in text, the only edits I had to make were in sequencing her answers to flow better. In Meltem’s and Gunjan’s cases, there was more trust involved in how I would edit their words. Speaking is more spontaneous, people have less opportunity to edit themselves the way they can while typing. Sometimes the conversation drifts, or sentences are incomplete, things are implied. I wanted to retain their voice, without imposing my own through my editing. Portraits were made for these three women in the sketchnotes visual language, but in a more planned manner. I worked from photographic reference, combining my drawings of multiple photos into the final portraits.

to or followed. “Conversation” is the biggest goal of my thesis, and Medium is more conversational than most other publishing platforms.Readers can participate in more ways than simply writing in a comment box at the end. Content in Medium can be highlighted, readers can comment in-text on specific points that they want to respond to. At the time of writing this thesis book, I am interviewing Egyptian comic artist Deena Mohamed, creator of the webcomic Qahera: The Hijabi Superhero.

These interviews were to be housed online, since it allows for greater reach and for content to keep growing. After a lot of deliberation, I chose Medium.com, an online publishing platform for voices and perspectives that matter. The website allows for users to curate posts into publications that can be subscribed 55


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6

Paper, Screen, Walls

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The Illustration Practice Fall Shows were significant for me. Image Harvest 2014 was the first time in my life I used (or saw) a level, hammered nails into a wall and hung frames, all with considerable help and hand holding from Megan Jones, who was then a thesis student. My Image Harvest project was in a small corner of MICA’s Leidy Gallery. When students and friends from other programs would ask me later which piece at the Fall Show was mine, no one could recollect it. I doubt very many people saw it. Image Harvest 2015 was to be installed in the Fox 3 Gallery. I had made zines of my sketchbook journals for the very first time, making narrative connections within my own documentation practice. I had four zines and a cluster of frames and I theoretically needed very little wall space. For that show, there was a lot of 3D work being made, there was more work on pedestals than on walls, and I suddenly had an entire wall to myself, as opposed to the corner that I was expecting to get. Whitney Sherman helped me plan a wall layout that changed my understanding of displaying my work. Image Harvest, Fall 2014 Illustrated cards for ‘The Meaning of Liff’ at MICA’s Leidy Gallery

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It is ironic, that as a trained graphic designer, I kept forgetting that white space is a good thing for walls too.

My wall had framed drawings and zines on shelves. To create more looseness in the layout, Whitney suggested I draw straight on the wall. I pulled out excerpts from my sketchbooks that hadn’t made it to the zines or to the wall frames and either drew or wrote them directly on the wall in pencil. Through the install and after, I had people (classmates, people from other programs) come up to me and say they loved what I did, and continued to tell me how they had connected with some of what I had written and drawn. This had never happened to me at MICA. Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are is a TED Talk by social psychologist Amy Cudd, in which she talks about non-verbal body language and how it can shape our own perceptions of self. I began thinking about the relationship between power, visibility and occupying space in relation to presenting work. I work small, but scaling up its presentation had allowed for my work to take up space and people’s time and attention.


#illustrauteur BLOWING IT UP

Image Harvest, Fall 2015 ‘Itinerant’, a collection of drawings and writing from journeys between India and U.S.A, at MICA Fox 3 Gallery

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When the time came to plan the thesis show gallery, I knew I did not want to simply frame spreads from the comics, or even have any part of the comic up on a wall. I wanted the space to integrate with the artworks, for visitors to my gallery to participate, rather than visit. A project that seeks to generate conversations must create a space that allows an immediate interaction – an in, so to speak. I wanted for visitors to my gallery to participate, rather than just visit.The products of my thesis are time-intensive in their need for attention, there is a lot of taking in of information. A space or activity that made visitors create something would help balance that. Again playing off the title of the first comic, I wanted a people to draw themselves into an artwork, “becoming” it. When I discussed having a reading table 60

with Kim Hall, she immediately put forward the idea that I include books on art, gender and illustration that I had been reading, referring to or that would connect to the contents of my comics. It was a gold suggestion, for many reasons - it would reinforce the content of the comics, and really allow for someone whose interest in gender had been piqued, to have a ready selection of further reading. Whitney Sherman, on hearing my thoughts for the thesis show, said ‘You need a big wall’, and allotted me a space that I had secretly coveted all along, but was terrified to have because of its size and location. The showcase of the website was the one thing that I was clear about from early on. I was screenprinting my portraits as 22 x 30in posters on deckle edge Stonehenge paper, that would be installed slightly off the wall, giving them some dimension. The actual website would be accessed


#illustrauteur BLOWING IT UP

on iMacs in the space. I wanted to draw on the wall again, this time around each poster. Drawing on the wall, I found from the Fall semester, helps move artwork off the page. To up the ante, I aimed to screen print on the wall, around the posters. My screenprinting teacher Kyle Van Horn (of Baltimore Print Studio) asked me to reach out to MICA Printmaking faculty Eva Wylie, who does multi-layer screenprints on entire walls. Whitney put me in touch with her and Eva, despite being on sabbatical, Skyped with me to explain her process in detail. I practiced vertical screen printing, but I would not know what the results would be like when I printed on the highly textured gallery wall. At installation, screen printing was limiting how much I was getting on the wall. Even with help, the process was slowing me down owing to the fact that sinks, and pressurized water were not immediately accessible. I made a judgement call, painted over what

I had screen printed and used color pencils instead to draw straight on the wall.

Screen printing Large size sketchnotes portraits; practicing vertical printing; pulling prints on the gallery wall

The Illustrator as Auteur gallery had three components to it - the Rosie/ Odalisque wall, where people could draw themselves into drawings of J Howard Miller’s We Can Do It! Poster and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’s La Grande Odalisque; a reading table with multiple copies of Becoming Rosie and Standards, and books for suggested reading; the wall of portraits of women illustrator auteurs, and the interviews of them. My initial apprehension about whether people would want to draw at a gallery or not quickly disappeared as I found the wall filling up during installation itself, and three times over again before it was time to take the show down.

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Rosie / Odalisque wall install (L-R) Emily Joynton helping with painting; constructing a grid of 288 nails; Sena Kwon passing postcards to hang on the wall

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Reading Table The reading table included notes from my readings and thoughts during the making of the thesis.

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The Illustrator as Auteur gallery 1. Rosie/Odalisque wall, 2. Reading table, 3. Title wall, 4. Interviews and Portraits, 5. Portrait detail Images from Edon Muhaxheri and Adam Bencomo

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Welcome Validations

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Why comics? Why comics on gender? I have discovered over time, through trial and error, that removing the messenger (at least in my case) makes the message easier to deliver. Both for me and the receiver. The comic / my illustrated narratives are informed by personal content and context, they are not devoid of it. The format allows for time though. Time to construct a word, a sentence, an argument in a way that it cuts out my physical voice and form and only assumes the more metaphorical idea of voice - the invisible narrator. Does it allow the reader to absorb the message more willingly? Does the book become a (seemingly) non-threatening medium, a more assuring messenger compared to the threatening presence of someone out to change your mind about what you believe to be the truth?

(Top)The MoCCA Arts Festival Award of Excellence Image from George Wylesol (Bottom)Drawing Nonfiction Elective Poster Poster by Shreyas R Krishnan

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I almost did not send Becoming Rosie to the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) Arts Festival 2016. Thanks to an understanding printer who had 5 copies ready sooner than promised, along with a note wishing me luck, I was able to just make the March 11 deadline for entering work to the MoCCA Arts Festival Awards of Excellence. This year’s jurors were


#illustrauteur ORIGIN STORIES

Calista Brill, Cliff Chiang, Charles Kochman, Mark Newgarden, and Lauren Weinstein. The festival was the day after our thesis show opening, and most of the second years didn’t make it to New York. So when I received two calls from studiomate Aditi Damle, who was tabling the ILP booth at MoCCA Fest, I assumed it was because there was some issue with my inventory. I did not expect to be informed that Becoming Rosie had won an Award of Excellence in recognition of the most outstanding work on view at the festival. I went through the rest of the day grinning like an idiot. Two major things happened during the making of my thesis. Early in January, the Angoulême International Comics Festival announced its nominees for the Grand Prix, the most prestigious prize for comics. All 30 nominees were men. Franck Bondoux, the executive director of the festival, defended the nominee list saying there weren’t enough qualified women making comics. This year for Women’s History Month, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC, began a social media campaign #5womenartists inspired by the fact that most people find it difficult to name five women artists. These events, apart from

strangely mirroring the development of Becoming Rosie and Standards, are important because we are finally at a point in time where it’s no longer acceptable to say “but there were no women doing this”. “Art should look like the rest of our culture… you know, unless all the voices of our culture are being heard in the history of art, it’s not really a history of art–it’s a history of power.” Frida Kahlo, Guerilla Girl

The same goes for Illustration, Design, and any practice really. Erasure of this sort can only be countered with resolute recording and documentation, ensuring that histories aren’t lopsided. The MoCCA award has been a welcome validation, an assurance that what I am doing can gain more traction. The next step is to get my comics out in the real world, in a more real way. Becoming Rosie is already stocked in radical Baltimore bookstore Red Emma’s. Critic Margherita Urbani urged me to send the comics to websites like Brainpickings, and It’s Nice That, which do reviews of books in order to generate word about the comics before sending them to publishers.

It would be important to build an online system around the comics as they are sent to these people and places - website, store, updates. I am in the process of identifying relevant publishing houses for the comics and resuming research for the next comic. The interviews for The Illustrator as Auteur will also continue. Although it is currently web based for greater access, once there is enough content, it would serve well in print as well. I am fascinated by the podcast 99% Invisible, about the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world. 99pi is primarily independent radio, but each of their podcasts is vsupplemented by an online text and image post for the curious and interested. The format is clever, and is also a possible direction for The Illustrator as Auteur. Thanks to Whitney Sherman, I have the amazing opportunity to teach at MICA in Fall 2016, integrating my interests and practice. Drawing Nonfiction is a graduate level elective that teaches students how to create non-fiction narratives across different formats. There are many ways for this thesis and my practice to continue, and I am optimistic that all of them are forward. 71


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Photo by Adam Bencomo

I am here because of the unconditional support of my family. My unending gratitude to Whitney Sherman, Kim Hall, Joyce Hesselberth, Stephanie Plunkett, Soheila Ghaussey, Shadra Strickland and Rebecca Bradley for being women that I look up to, and for all the words and wisdom that gave me the clarity to find and stay on this path. The two years at MICA would not have been the same without my Illustration Practice cohort, and friends from other programs. Special shout out to Meltem Sahin, Megan Jones, Abby Malate, Sara Al Haddad and Nada Alaradi. 74


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www.medium.com/@illustrauteur www.shreyasrkrishnan.com

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#illustrauteur: The making of Shreyas R Krishnan's thesis