Career transitions are incredibly challenging, not to mention the transition from BTech in Aerospace engineering (IIT Mumbai) to a career in Visual Arts !

Ronica Roopak, our next pathbreaker, works as Content Manager at Spark Studio, a Y-Combinator backed Ed-Tech startup which delivers online extra curricular classes to children between the ages of 5-15.

Ronica talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about rekindling her passion for arts during her BTech at IITB by taking up elective courses in Language and Literature, Pottery, Sketching which spurred her on to do a Graduate Diploma in Fine/Studio Arts from Royal College of Art (RCA, London) to merge her creative aspirations with scientific aptitude.

For students, don’t let your science or engineering background stop you from following your calling based on your beliefs and conviction !

Ronica, what were your early years like?

On hearing my birthplace, one usually interposes a remark on its world famous tea. Situated in North East India, my hometown, Assam also has a rich culture of handloom and handicrafts. Being raised in such a society, I’ve always had a penchant for drawing and crafts since childhood. What started as a hobby of watching my aunt draw Mickey Mouse as a toddler, facilitated drawing my first portrait in kindergarten, of my grandmother. As I progressed to high school, I developed a liking for science and mathematics as well. I represented my school during my tenth standard in a space talk with NASA Astronaut Colonel Edward Michael Fincke, who talked about his experience at the ISS and his research having real life implications. This event later motivated me to pursue Aerospace Engineering as my major in university.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I did my BTech in Aerospace Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. I also did a Graduate Diploma in Fine/Studio Arts from Royal College of Art (RCA), London.

What were some of the influences that led you on such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career path?

Prior to joining IIT Bombay I was unaware of formal education opportunities in the arts. Being good at academics I was focused on my chosen major. As such, I pursued an internship at the Airports Authority of India under the GAGAN project. This interest probably stemmed from being part of Pratham, the Student Satellite Team of IITB. On the other hand, I also wanted to gain industry experience of working in a startup, much different to my academics. 

It was during my third year at IIT Bombay that I rekindled my passion for arts. I stumbled upon the Industrial Design Centre (IDC) of IITB. I decided to do a few elective courses from there which was mandatory in my curriculum. The Language and Literature course introduced me to critical reflection of fiction. It motivated me further to pursue an elementary course on Italian (A2 level). The Studio Project in Pottery under the design department was quite meditative for me and launched my creativity in clay. I learnt live sketching, designed comics and traditional animations in the Animation Principles and History course. Introduction to World Cinema: Filmmaker Perspectives introduced me to classics, film terminologies and enhanced my critical thinking. 

Though these courses made up for the lack of formal career guidance in arts during my high school, I didn’t have the required critical thinking to start my artistic pursuits right away. It was at IDC I came to know of degree programmes in fine arts. One of my professors, Shilpa Ranade, a prominent animator, is an alumni of RCA. She suggested the Graduate Diploma course at the Royal College of Art, London as a place to merge my creative aspirations with my scientific aptitude. The various experiences of my life and academic achievements have influenced me to take the path to where I am now and further pursue a career as an experimental visual artist.

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

Right after graduation, my first job was at an EdTech startup called I was working as a subject matter expert there.

It was during this time, I started preparing myself to get a formal education in the field of arts. I appeared for the entrance examinations of MSU Baroda and Sir J. J. School of Art. Though I passed the examinations, I didn’t make it to the merit list. I realised I was interested in a liberal and modern approach to creative learning which prompted me to apply for art universities abroad. 

Meanwhile, I decided to be involved professionally in the field of arts. As such I started working as a Content Manager in an e-commerce art supplies company called ArtLounge India. ArtLounge tested both my analytical abilities as well as my interest in the art industry. I had to clear a logical reasoning and analytical round prior to my personal interview. During the personal interview round, I brought a couple of my sketches and paintings along with me. Being an arts supplier, I felt they might be interested in looking at my work which would also give me an edge over other applicants.

The role allowed me to learn about different art materials, processes, brands and the artists involved in the field. I started preparing a portfolio for my university applications and after two years and a couple of rejections, I was offered a place in two universities – HKU University of the Arts Utrecht and The Royal College of Art, world’s no. 1 university in art and design. I was fortunate enough to have been coached by my friends at IDC who are artists themselves, in my portfolio, student essay and personal interview. 

RCA is the No. 1 postgraduate university in art and design. I graduated from the Graduate Diploma program which is a multidisciplinary course. This course helps students from different backgrounds to gain the appropriate aptitude and critical thinking required for Masters studies. 

Moving forward, I would like to do a postgraduate study at the intersection of art and science. Post that, I aim to apply for artist residencies to develop my work and get involved in exhibitions and galleries.

How did you get your first break? 

As an artist, I am yet to get my first break. Professionally, I got my first job through one of my contacts.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

There were multiple challenges I faced while applying for art universities. Coming from an engineering background, I didn’t have much knowledge on how to prepare a portfolio or my application essay. I was fortunate enough to be mentored by one of my seniors who was a design student back then. He guided me in my applications, critiquing my work, identifying areas of improvement in my work and still does today. The major hurdle I faced was financially to support myself during my studies at the Royal College of Art. I come from a humble family background. As such, I couldn’t qualify for education loans as I didn’t have any collateral to show. It was my friends who paid for my course fee. To cover for my living expenses, I volunteered at a hostel during my stay in London.

Where do you work now? 

Spark Studio is a Y combinator backed (funding early stage startups) Ed-Tech startup which delivers online extra curricular classes to children between the ages of 5-15. I am the Content Manager for the visual arts category in Spark Studio. I oversee content requirements in the courses, train teachers for improved pedagogy, interact with children and parents to understand how well the art curriculum is being received etc.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

I would advise young people to have a strong conviction on whatever they believe and decide to do, to be patient and work smartly towards achieving it. 

Future Plans?

In the long run, I plan to open my own artist studio.