Over the course of a year, I have had the opportunity to speak with some fascinating and inspiring Brown Girls. Nidhi Chanani, an Indian American freelance designer and illustrator, is certainly one of them. Born in Calcutta but raised in San Francisco, even her impressive collection of work contains images of Brown Girls! Here’s what she had to say about her art and her life as an artist.
How did you make illustrating and designing your career?
I worked at non-profits for a long time. At the same time, I was really attracted to art. I took a lot of hobby art classes, but they just didn’t seem to satisfy me. When I got laid off, I took that opportunity to reassess my life. I decided to go to the Academy of Art for a little over a year, and then I decided to drop out just start doing my own thing. You don’t really need an art degree, you just need a portfolio. I didn’t really want to do the assignments I was being given. I just wanted to do my own work. The academy gave me a lot of foundational information, and so it was good for me to learn light and shadow, color, form, and shape.
Can you walk me through the process of creating an illustration?
Everyday is different. Generally I am inspired by life. It could be my friends, my family, a conversation on the phone, anything really. I think everyday has a moment or a special thing that I can draw from. My work usually comes from my own life. If the drawing contains fantasy or mythology, it’s my take on a conversation. For example, Above it all is an illustration where a girl is on top of an elephant. I had a conversation with my best friend who was having a rough day. She was telling me about a lot of stuff she couldn’t control, and I knew if she just worked through it and ran with it and she could rise above it. Then I just started drawing an elephant, and I drew her on top. That’s what ended up coming from that conversation.
Where did the idea to send daily drawings to people come from, and why did you decide to call it Everyday Love?
I started off doing a drawing everyday based on the encouragement of other artists who said to make sure you do work for yourself and not for hire. I started off Everyday Love with just my family and friends. There is a different pressure when you share your work with other people. I don’t think I would work it so much to the point when it was finished when I was just doing it for myself. I’m putting this pressure on myself to make it really look done. Those pieces are now what I make my living off of. They’ve gotten good response. Everyday Love was a title of a postcard pack I had put together. I really feel like there is a little bit of love, a sweet moment, an inspiring moment, or something that makes you smile every day. When I started thinking about doing art as a career, I began with the thought of making people happy. There is so much in the world that makes you sad, and it can be overwhelming so I wanted to do art to make people happy. Originally, I wanted to do political art, but my heart wasn’t in it. I just wanted to do cute stuff. As I started doing more work and really going towards what I felt comfortable drawing and drawing from, I realized that what I was doing was political. There is so much negativity and to help people and to share with people these small moments that can combat against all this negativity is really special.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I honestly have only been doing this for a year. I just want to continue doing my drawings and making myself happy. I really would like to write children’s books and do a graphic novel. Even just doing what I’m doing now for a long time would be just fine.
How has your Indian heritage influenced your art?
I basically grew up in a situation where my whole frame of reference in my visual dialogue is Indian. I grew up watching Bollywood films on the weekends, eating Indian breakfasts, and spending time with my Indian family. It didn’t ever feel like because I didn’t live in India, India didn’t live in me. Even if I don’t draw something Indian per se, something about my “Indian-ness” will come through whether I make the characters brown or pick a setting reminiscent of India. There is something about who I am in everything that I do. And who I am is Indian. I don’t think that is ever removable from what I do.
What does your family think of your choice to become an artist?
I had always been encouraged to be an accountant and then an engineer. It was very much about getting a degree and finishing school. They were encouraging when I went to art school, and then when I dropped out that was less so. As I’ve been more successful in my career, my family has been incredibly supportive. They are really impressed that I am doing something atypical and that I’m successful. Having that support is incredibly important. If it wasn’t there and if I was on the phone every week and they were telling me to go to med school, it wouldn’t work. My parents talk to my family about my work, and they relate to it. That’s just been really fabulous. They’ve been really supportive. Regardless of whether parents are Asian, I think they are nervous about the arts because there is no guarantee. They’re happy that I can make money, and I can make a difference.
You can see more of Nidhi’s work on here: