Our Engineering colleges are hubs of hidden talent that has been lying dormant for years. But those four years provide the creative freedom and space to exhibit your true potential and follow your calling with confidence!
Sanjay Reddy, our next pathbreaker, Illustrator & Design Educator, works with corporate clients to create visuals that tell a story by illustrating or doodling a particular theme, as well as guides design aspirants through his career experiences and podcasts.
Sanjay talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about making up his mind to transition from Engineering to Design after he ended up selling a couple of his artworks in his first ever art exhibition.
For students, sometimes we don’t know the value of our creations until someone else puts a value on it. All it takes is to put yourself out there and you will be surprised at what you see !
Sanjay, tell us about Your background?
I was born in a small town called Narasaraopet which comes under Guntur district of Andhra. My dad used to work for a bank and in 1998, he got transferred to North India, that’s when we relocated to Delhi and have been living here ever since. My mother is a homemaker.
I used to draw ever since I was a kid and my mother was the one who taught me to draw in the initial stages. Soon it turned into a serious hobby, I would sketch the Pokemons, Dragon Ballz characters, Swatcats and so on. I took keen interest in the art class at school.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
Just like any other Indian kid, I ended up in an engineering college.
I did B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from JSS Academy of technical Education, Noida, sector 62.
I was misguided into believing that I can get into Design by pursuing B.tech in Mechanical engineering, but realized that it wasn’t so early on and started to spend time sketching and doodling during bachelors.
Later on I went on to pursue a Masters in Transportation Design from Institute of applied Arts & Design, Turin, Italy.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
I was profoundly influenced by
Kerby Rosanes, a Filipino Illustrator who made an impact on me. His art style was so peculiar that it caught my attention and without knowing, I was completely into it.
Kim Jung Gi – An insanely gifted Korean artist who leaves me speechless everytime I look at his work.
I participated in the Redbull Doodle art competition in 2014. It was organized in around 20 countries and the winners from every country would compete with each other for the final title. I didn’t win anything here, but made it to the finalists in India. That was enough for me to decide that I can pursue the creative domain.
I finished my B.tech in 2014 with decent grades and had a job offer in hand which required me to relocate to Bangalore. But I wasn’t ready to take up a job in that line. I wanted to prepare for design entrance exams – CEED & NID and if I did not make it, then I would take up that job in engineering. My dad was really upset and we had a disagreement, we did not speak for 3 days. The next day he came to me and said, if you want to pursue design then do it 100%. Give it your everything. There is no coming back. And that’s exactly what I wanted to hear from him.
That was the biggest turning point. I gave it all, I still do give my best, it’s a continuous process.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
During the second year of engineering, to keep myself occupied during the boring lectures, I started sketching. That’s when I came across Kerby Rosanes’ work on instagram and it sort of opened me up to a completely different kind of art style. I enjoyed doodling sitting at the back of my class. While I was doing all this, I had the opportunity to intern with Nissan-Ashok Leyland joint venture after 2nd year of engineering and with Volkswagen after 3rd year.
At Nissan-Ashok Leyland, I was in the Product Development department. Evalia and other light commercial vehicles were under testing and since everything was confidential, I didn’t quite get the opportunity to explore. I understood different components of an automobile and their workings.
At Volkswagen I worked in the Quality assurance department and I worked on a project related to TSI engines which was appreciated internally and I also received a letter of appreciation at the end of my internship.
But after closely watching everything that happens inside the Volkswagen plant, I decided to go for design and made all efforts to go for a design education.
I got to know about the design entrance exams called Common Entrance Exam for Design (CEED) and National Institute of Design(NID).
I visited the Design department of IIT Delhi and spoke to professors to understand what these design exams look for. I talked to students as well to know how they prepared for the exams.
Once I understood how to prepare and approach the exams, I continued to explore further and got to know more about design outside India. I also applied at different foreign universities and got through most of them except one.
How did you get your first break?
During engineering, I think it was at the end of the second year, along with a couple of my friends I participated in a competition to win a chance to exhibit our artworks at Hauz Khas Village, Delhi.
We won the competition and we were able to display our artworks for free at a prestigious art gallery in Hauz Khas village, Delhi. It turned out to be better than what we had expected, we ended up selling a few of our artworks. That was the first time I sold one of my artworks, it went for Rs 2700. It was a shocker to me and my dad especially as he always said I shouldn’t waste time drawing stuff, I should rather spend the time studying.
What were the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Making the switch from engineering to creative domain required strong conviction and a lot of introspection. Not only did I have to weigh the pros & cons but also convince myself that no matter what, I need to stick to my decision. My dad had already said that I have to go all out if I am making the switch, I have to live up to it. More than that, am I really ready to take this step? Is it something that I would enjoy doing for the rest of my life?
I never thought about “what if I do not make it?” because I knew that I really wanted to do it, I was passionate about it and I believe that having a plan B will be a distraction from plan A, I’m either doing it 100% or not doing it at all.
Here is a series of four illustrations that revolve around the choice I made.
Where do you work now? Tell us about your work
I have two small initiatives.
Here I work with corporate clients to create visuals that tell a story, it could be illustrating a particular theme or doodling on the client’s product, interior walls, etc. We have worked with clients like Swiggy, V Green media, Lazy Co, Zion Tv, etc
We also customize Marble inlay products and work closely with the craftsmen of Agra. To mention a prestigious project, we customized a marble Inlay Table Top for J. Portelli Projects, an architecture & real estate firm in Malta. The tabletop bears the logo of Mercury Towers which was signed off personally by the world renowned architect Zaha Hadid herself.
We take up selective projects where we help brands with branding and identity.
I struggled a lot to enter into design. There’s a lack of awareness, parents do not understand that sketching is not just a hobby and design is more than just fashion design. I founded Designex Studio to provide quality guidance to design aspirants at the cheapest possible price to the students. We offer mentorship programs to students appearing for UCEED, CEED, NID & NIFT.
Host : D Talks – The Design Podcast
D Talks brings you interesting discussions related to design. From how to become a designer to life after one becomes a designer and everything in between.
I interview students, designers, creatives from different fields to bring out their side of the story which helps students to know how they can get into design, what design is, how is design education different and what career prospects are there after graduating.
My podcast was ranked 6th in December 2020 in Design category in India on Apple Podcasts
What are the Skills needed?
To be an illustrator, one needs to be good with sketching for sure, but more importantly he or she must be able to build concepts for illustrations. Sketching is a skill that you can learn by practicing, you just have to put in the hard work and time.
I am self taught. I never went to an art school or art classes. I learnt everything on my own.
I use Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Procreate. You learn by failing and learning your failures. I failed so many times that I learn to fail better every single time
Since I have two initiatives I divide my day according to the deadlines I have. Usually, I do my illustrations in the morning. After lunch I work on preparing notes for my lectures and strategizing content for social media. In the evenings I do podcast interviews or editing.
This order changes depending on the deadline that I may have.
Everything I do is passion driven and when you are passionate about what you do, you go the extra mile to learn new things.
How does your work benefit society?
I work with freelancers only. I encourage independent designers/artists to build their own clientele that generates a steady flow of income. That way they have more stability, freedom and puts them in a better position mentally and practically.
For example, in the Swiggy project I had 37 artists on board from all over India working on the project. They all had the opportunity to work with a client like Swiggy and they made more money than they thought while doing the work they absolutely love.
I customize the designs for clients looking for marble inlay products and work directly with the craftsmen of Agra to execute the design, eliminating the middlemen. The craftsmen end up earning more than twice the amount for the same work they do for retail shop owners.
I combine my foreign design education exposure with the relevance to Indian design scenario and provide value added courses at low cost. We also have guests from the industry to talk about design to our students. This combination is unparalleled.
We have visited many schools to talk about scope of design and how designers can assume a responsible role in the future.
D Talks – The Design Podcast
Many design aspirants, students & professionals from India and abroad have written to me mentioning how listening to my podcast has helped them.
The podcast was featured by a creative director of Soap, Portugal among the Top 9 podcasts for creative people alongside the likes of Ted Talks, The futur, etc.
It was also featured by Indiefolio Network in their weekly inspiration column.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
I’d like to share two examples here
Customizing a Marble Inlay Table Top for J. Portelli Projects, Malta. A unique experience which taught me a lot of things about the handicrafts industry and the craftsmen in general.
Inlaying semi precious stones onto Makrana marble is a very difficult task. At a point where we were inlaying the client’s logo, the design was so intricate that the stone cut-outs would break just by a soft breeze. It took around 100 attempts to pull it off.
The level of skill that these craftsmen have is unbelievable and their dedication to the craft made me ask myself –
“Am I this passionate about my work?”
One day I woke up to a call from a parent who got my contact from the internet. The parent mentioned that they wanted their child to go for engineering and how listening to my podcast has changed their perspective and this influenced their decision. After speaking to me they decided to let their child go for design.
This was very special for me. I wasn’t this happy even on the day they aired my interview on a leading news channel in South India or published an article about me in a leading newspaper. I can’t forget that day. And since then I have received many calls like that.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Know what you are good at. Doesn’t matter even if you do not know completely what you are good at but have an inclination. It is important to know what you enjoy doing. Once you have that in perspective you can then do the research. Look into the field that interests you, reach out to professionals or students who are already studying that course. Do not give up, if they do not respond, then try again and keep trying until a few revert back.
If you are convinced about what you want to do then it will be easy to convince others.
I will keep doing what I am doing and see where this will lead me. I am passionate about what I do and I would want to remain that way for the rest of my life.
I want to reach more students who want to pursue design as a career and help them. If I can play a small part in their journey then nothing like it.