“Thank god for glitter”: Shweta Sharma on her vibrant, dream-inspired illustrations
The Mumbai-based illustrator discusses how she “seamlessly tangles” traditional craft techniques with modern subject matter and excerpts from her dreams.
- Elfie Thomas
- 8 April 2022
Stumbling on the surreal technicolour world within Shweta Sharma’s illustrations – with dancing Teletubbies emitting steam from their ears and colourful mudras turning into goggly-eyed creatures – it comes as no surprise that much of her work is inspired by her dreams. Shweta has a particularly active imagination which runs wild every night in her sleep. Sometimes she wakes up in the middle of the night and has to immediately whip out her sketchbook to record an idea before it fades.
When the morning comes and she’s digested her dreams from the night before, she can then start interpreting these recordings into fully-formed pieces. While the characters are wild, wonderful and dream-like, Shweta is fond of a clear geometric structure to arrange her illustrations. The grids and structures which appear in her work are all adapted from the symmetry of the art back in her hometown of Jaipur. Born and raised in Rajasthan, the “land of colours” as the illustrator calls it, she now makes her home in Mumbai. But her colourful upbringing has clearly influenced her path into illustration. With a mother who was always painting, a grandmother who was not averse to “hurdling” queues outsides temples to show Shweta the “sculptures with the most vibrant details”, plus a crafty grandfather who would make machines come to life before Shweta’s young eyes, her childhood was brimming with creativity.
So, Shweta began creating things in her free time from a very young age. She’s always been someone who is comfortable with being alone, “which kinda made the room for art bigger in my head”, she tells us. Working hard at after school craft classes (“Thank god for all the glitter”), Shweta had her first painting featured in the school newspaper – “It was a big deal for a seven-year-old.” While her cousins did their homework, Shweta could usually be found happily sketching cellular biology diagrams. Since then, Shweta’s continued to experiment, trying to find the perfect recipe for combining the “two primal ingredients – emotion and art”.
Despite being an avid fan of biological drawings as a kid, Shweta has never felt she was very good at drawing realistic anatomy. Instead she prefers to bring to life the surreal, fluid and humorous characters which appear in her dreams. She always starts these illustrations by drawing before digitising them. “I’d hate the idea of losing touch with the authenticity of hand skills,” she explains, “and it's personally a more satisfying process for me.”
Her respect for the “authenticity of hand skills” was central to her graduation project, Neo-Mughal Miniature matchboxes. For this she joined a group of traditional Mughal miniature artists and observed their work for six months. Inspired by their commitment to keeping their heritage alive “even in these slashingly modern times”, Shweta designed matchboxes inspired by their work. Mimicking their skills and techniques, she experimented with different subjects to be “more dynamic and adaptive in essence”. During the project Shweta was met with kindness and openness by all at the studio, and her “respect and curiosity towards traditional art forms went 100 steps up”.
Re-interpreting traditional culture with a modern take has become a bit of a skill for Shweta. She created a series called Smoking Mudras during college when she was always surrounded by a swarm of “creative heads brewing conversations and debates and taking ‘smoke breaks’”. Preferring to observe rather than join in, she began noticing the different inflections of smokers’ hand gestures. Intrigued, she embarked on a project drawing comparisons between these gestures and Hindu Mudras. Through the series, these symbolic Hindu hand gestures are re-imagined as the hands of students, brandishing cigarettes in such a way as to suggest sentiments like “I’m into you” or “lend me a drag?”.
In the future, Shweta wants to continue experimenting with “seamlessly tangling” modern subjects with more traditional art forms. “There are so many art forms that go way back in time but refreshingly still exist, it's truly an overlooked luxury,” she concludes. “They should be documented and given their own label of art movements.”
Shweta Sharma: Teletubpathy (Copyright © Shweta Sharma, 2021)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.