Let me introduce you to Shaivalini Kumar… She is part of Adobe’s 25 under 25, which celebrates artists from around the world. Kumar is from India, trained as a graphic designer, but has always loved illustration. She found that lettering is the best way for her to bridge the two while she tells her stories through design. Words are not the only way to tell stories. Illustration and lettering is the way Kumar tells stories.
I’ve asked Kumar a few questions about her process and the work she does. She shares her love for doodling as a child, what impacts her style, as well as the fact that math often times plays a role in design!
When did you first know that you wanted to be a designer?
As a child I loved doodling, illustrating or making characters and constructing stories around them. I loved inking out my thoughts and even making things with various materials. I hoped that people would find the quirks and oddities that I would consciously and (sometimes) subconsciously embed in my work.
Where do you feel most creative? Is that where you also do most of your work, or do you separate the ideation phase from production?
I love working where I can have peace of mind, whether it means ideating in my room or even sitting in my garden or a cafe. I don’t necessarily separate where I do the pre-production of my work and where I create the final artwork.
How did you begin to get interested in type design?
Type design is something that I always wanted to venture into. Even though I’m formally trained as a graphic designer, I’m very passionate about illustration. Creating “illustrated type” was something I found myself doing to bridge my two areas of interest. I started exploring using traditional motifs along with a modern graphic style and applying it to letterforms. They would have a simplistic base structure so that the aesthetic I create is complimentary to the form. I like taking type (sometimes existing typefaces) and constructing on top of them, modifying them, detailing them and giving them depth in a way that each of them has a small story to it.
The work you did for the Photoshop mnemonic, the illustration for The New Yorker, Taxi Fabric and other art all share a similar aesthetic. Where do you pull your inspiration and how do you channel it into your work?
I’ve always found myself being drawn towards urban style and contemporary art. I love reading and learning about artists from different parts of the world, and what incites them to create their art. Growing up in India, my culture, dialect, people and food have also impacted my style in some way. The result of this mix of cultural influences—my birthplace, urban art, and contemporary design sensibilities—is my current vibrant, pliable style.
Can you share your workflow with us, from inspiration to final product for typography? What tools do you use?
My process always starts with a sketch. I’m currently working as an independent artist and since I’m on the move a lot, I use the Adobe Photoshop Sketch app on my iPad to make quick digital sketches. Then I send the sketch to Photoshop and use it as my base for my character. I then move on to finalizing the overall outline for the sketch after which I use basic color blocking to establish my palette. I save all of this to my Creative Cloud library and continue working on them from my desktop. I love using Photoshop and experimenting with the various brushes and textures available. Once the final character is ready I add the details such as highlights and shadows using a low opacity brush and airbrush tool.
Does your workflow for type design differ from other illustration?
Yes, definitely. Even though I follow a basic process for my character design/illustration process, I would say that they are more spontaneous as opposed to the type design projects I do. I follow a more systematic approach to type design projects and use Illustrator for the extensive amount of precision the software offers.
How does geometry factor into your workflow?
I love working with basic shapes and symmetry. Sometimes in my illustrations I tend to use symmetric forms and clean shapes and elements to create a well-balanced yet dynamic composition.
A lot of typography requires precision. How do you balance the creative elements with the “math” part of the type design?
Isometric design adds a whole new dimension to my artwork and is a lot of fun to experiment with. Basic shapes, for example the custom letters I created for “Spry”, were essentially derived out of circles of comparable radii. I make sure my construction is correct before I proceed to the applications. I am currently working on launching “Spry” as a typeface. I still have a lot to learn and the errors in my process help me unlearn and learn new things, which I find very exhilarating. Visually balancing each alphabet is a challenge and keeping the larger base template accurate requires calculation and precision.
Anything else you’d like to add about your workflow, aspirations or process?
Trial and error is an important part of my process. I make sure that whatever I do, I take away some amount of learning from it. I believe in trying many things that are both within, and sometimes not my comfort zone. Only then you will know what you are best at, and in that process your learning curve will reach new heights. Always keep adding to your body of personal work. Personal projects have always driven me.
See more of her work here.