Back in 2018, we met the formidable Anu Ambasna who talked us through her practice informed by club culture, diverse bodies and perfect paunches. It’s been a while since we caught up with Anu and a lot has changed since. “I had a really long period when I wasn’t enjoying creating at all,” she tells us, “it felt like I was in a bit of a stagnant place which was probably a reflection on my life and outlook at the same time.” Luckily, the last couple of years have seen Anu rekindle her passion for image-making, a transformative period that has seen her find newfound confidence in the work as creativity became an outlet for expression more than ever.
“My work has become a full extension of myself,” she explains. “I’ve been able to tie my love for music with illustration which has been really special – working with artists and companies that I have a lot of admiration for.” Over lockdown, the London-based illustrator practised drawing every day, sometimes for hours on end. She experimented with materials “which felt exciting and new again;” taught herself how to use Illustrator (“I’d been putting it off for so long!”), and spearheaded these skills into a range of new commissions which further pushed her creativity forwards.
That being said, Anu continues to find inspiration in the same places, through silly conversations with friends or in trash TV which never fails to provide “ideas when I’m feeling a bit stuck.” She also likes to illustrate the lyrics of songs played on her NTS radio show or recreate stills from beautiful films. Flooding her creativity with all these references, she pulls from retro hand-rendered processes to inform her original practice where she explores issues such as corporate fatigue, the daily routine and working life, just to name a few.
For Anu, visualising a story comes naturally as her imagination is “constantly in overdrive.” When she gets an idea in her head, she quickly maps out the storyline (whether that be a comic or standalone illustration) without writing anything down or expressing a sketch beforehand. When working on a comic, she notes the most important aspect of the process is planning. This way, she can tend to the written aspect as much as the illustrative so the comic can flow cohesively once the words meet the visuals. Storyboarding is also key, a stage where experimentation really comes into play and where “the possibilities are really endless as so much detail can be put into each panel.” Anu goes on to say: “I love the way that comics allow me to take a silly conversation with a friend and turn it into a whole story where I can inflate ideas and create a weird and wonderful narrative.”
There are two recent projects that Anu highlights where her process can be appreciated in full force. The first is a comic published as part of ELCAF’s (East London Comic & Arts Festival) ten-year anniversary celebration. Titled Corporate Fatigue, the comic marks Anu’s longest piece to date taking just under a year to create. Drawing and colouring the entire volume by hand, the process was long but more importantly, “incredibly calming”. The idea for the comic started with a game played often by Anu and her friends, that involves coming up with fictional band names (they can be either good or bad names) and from there, the story naturally arose.
A semi-personal tale, Anu drew from her own experience of corporate fatigue from “working in office jobs that I had no interest in and balancing the pressures of ethnic parents and living in London.” In the detailed comic which features Anu’s famously quirky characters, she pens small personal details that she knows all too well. Billions of tabs open on an internet browser, for example, a to-do list, and jokes “that only fellow South Asians would understand.” Using the tiniest pen nib available to her allowed Anu to implement the slightest of close up details. The comic marks a significant moment in Anu’s creative journey thus far – being part of a festival like ELCAF which she has long admired.
Elsewhere, she recently hosted a drawing workshop hosted by one of The Believer’s, a Las Vegas-based bimonthly magazine. Anu has been a fan of the publication since the age of 15 when her brother introduced her to the issue featuring cover art by Daniel Clowes (“who I’m a huge fan of!”). And the workshop held a special place in Anu’s heart as it centred on drawing food. The hour-long workshop – which you can view and take part in here – came from a lockdown past-time where Anu started turning family recipes into comics. In this workshop, viewers from all over the world, from America to India, were invited to turn a favourite sandwich recipe into a comic. “My favourite part was seeing everyone’s work at the end,” she says, “the brief had been interpreted in so many unique and imaginative ways.”
The exciting projects don’t stop there. Next year, Anu will be spending three months in Japan in a much-anticipated project also centred on food and illustration. Up until then, she’s pausing her illustration work to concentrate on her DJing for a while as UK clubs and festivals reopen, but after that, there’ll be plenty more zines in the making. And, as always, you can check out more of Anu’s work that she creates custom for her NTS show which airs bi-monthly on a Wednesday from 2-3 pm BST.
Anu Ambasna: Kichidi recipe (Copyright © Anu Ambasna, 2021)
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.