Casting The 'Desi' Spell: Ranganath Krishnamani

Casting The 'Desi' Spell: Ranganath Krishnamani

Sejal Singh | May 22, 2017

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A great designer is not one who knows how to say things well, but one who realizes the importance of being understood well. The very same fact has made Ranganath Krishnamani a name every Indian designer knows, admires and looks up to. A true-blue creative who paints his illustrations with palettes as Indian as his heart, the uniqueness of his work, which is a perfect blend of desi and modern, has rendered him a raging sensation on online platforms such as Dribbble and Behance. Currently the Creative Head at Liquid Ink Designs, Ranganath graced NIT Rourkela with his presence during the recently held first edition of Roots, where he delivered a talk about illustrations, walking the attendees through his major projects and giving them a gist of how to perceive an illustration as a story, through a mini-workshop.

The Genesis

Born in a Kannada family, Ranganath was an artistic prodigy right from the very beginning, who was always aware of his incline towards art even while growing up. Remembering the humble abode of his childhood, he tells you the beauty of the modest house with its red oxide-covered walls, which served as the perfect canvas for him as a child, where he would draw pictures of Hindu deities that his family worshipped. He would spend his days drawing on the walls and when he had to restore his beautiful canvas, he would rub it off. The constant practice helped him hone his skills from a very early age, and by the time he made his way to class 10th, Ranganath found himself absolutely sure about pursuing a career in Arts.

Though Ranganath knew where his passion lay, he wasn’t quite sure at this point of time how being an artist would earn him his bread and butter. He still took the leap and applied to Chitrakala Parishat, keeping no backup options for himself. Fortunately, he got through, and thus began a self-discovery that entailed finding out what he was interested in and how he could bring his ideas to life. Ranganath was never much of a thinker, but one who believed in realizing his ideas through his work. As a youngster, you would always find him trying new things out, which shaped him into the artist he is today.

While Ranganath’s family was always supportive of his decision, they weren’t quite sure how he would survive off a career in art.

An artist was the last thing your parents would want you to be 15 years back. Back then, the ideal career choices were being a doctor, pursuing law or something to do with engineering. And if you could not do any of these, people would take pity and say, “Okay, yeah. You couldn’t do anything so you’ve taken up Arts. Makes sense!”

 Despite his family facing a financial crisis of sorts, Ranganath found a pillar of support in his mother and worked his way through all the difficulties that life threw his way, to successfully establish himself as an Artist. “It was almost like jumping into the water and figuring out how to swim.”

Over the course of time, Ranganath found himself drawing inspiration from the company around himself and began giving shape to his ideas. He mentions how there were two other guys in his college who were fantastic at what they did, and how this healthy competition helped him figure things out for himself. “All three of us had very modest beginnings, which basically taught us to value things. We learned how to keep things and to build something new while respecting the constraints.”

The Eureka! Moment

Upon graduating, Ranganath found himself standing at crossroads, where he found himself unsure if art was what he wanted to do for a living. He thus moved on to experience design.

This was 15 years ago when experience design was not experienced design, if you know what I mean. 

At that point, the web was at a very nascent stage. Ranganath, however, made up his mind and spent 8 years not doing any sort of art. He spent these 8 years figuring out technology and design, and how to make it very iterative. He learned about collaboration and feedback mechanism, and how to add it to the design style.

However, this did not particularly please or satiate the artist inside him, which questioned him on every occasion what he was building everything for. “Design is very time bound; you have something in your mind, you build it and it changes very soon. Art, on the other hand, is very memorable.”

A few years ago, Ranganath decided to break away from what he was doing, letting the artist inside him lead his way. He suddenly found the mundane work becoming interesting. “I would have some time for myself on weekends, where I would draw and then come back during weekdays to try and turn my sketches into something interesting. That way, I would break the monotony of the whole process.”

Once he started doing it, Ranganath realized that this is what he had wanted to do all this while. “It was right in front of me the whole time and I didn’t see it because I was so busy looking at the other things that were all around me.”

Government versus Private

Graduating from Chitrakala Parishat, which happens to be a Government-run art school, Ranganath has not lost faith in the centrally funded institutes, despite the substantial decrement in the number of great artists coming out of them in the recent days.

I have great respect for guys who are self taught and come from a modest background. It’s a struggle because you chose to be there. It pushes you to go an extra mile because you didn’t have all these things that were available to many others.

Ranganath believes that the perspectives of government colleges and private colleges are very different. “Private colleges, that are slightly more famous, attract a specific kind of crowd, wherein the focus is to make you well-rounded and able to present yourself well. Government colleges, on the other hand, are more skill-based; you learn how to balance your skills and bring something to life.”

He believes that Chitrakala Parishat helped him in such a way that although he did not know how to sell himself, he was well-versed in bringing his ideas to life. He believes that the industry needs both the kinds of people: those who can think, and those who believe in doing. It completely depends on the person if they want to be a thinker or a doer, as an artist.

The Creative Process

For me, the creative process is to try and do something every day. It’s like preparing for a marathon. You can’t suddenly start to run at the top of the race just because you want to. It’s about creating stuff every single day. Be it for half an hour or half a day, constantly you must be at it, every day.

For Ranganath, creating designs is like training, where one has to train himself to think. Then it becomes easier for you to make quick changes. Not much of a thinker personally, Ranganath has a knack for drawing whatever is in front of him. According to him, at one point or the other, one automatically begins making connections, and the whole thing then evolves into a project. “You start thinking about the message that the project is to convey or how do you stick to the design brief. You bring your project to life through your explorations.” He believes that a designer must go out, explore and take some things out of there.

Efforts To Become Effortless

When asked how much of an effort was it to become Ranganath Krishnamani of present-day, Ranganath humbly compares a designer to a pianist.

When you see maestros playing, what you don’t see are the hours of effort that were put into attaining perfection. No one notices it, because for anyone to get into the effortless space, it only comes with the commitment that you’re going to put your time only to this.

For Ranganath, attaining perfection is all about boring days of doing the same thing over and over again, and choosing to continue doing them the next day too. It’s only when one applies some constraints over himself that his work comes out effortless upon completion, he says.

The Necessity of Online Portfolio

Ranganath strongly believes that an online portfolio is the most important thing for a designer if they wish to be seen. “More than anything else, it is about putting things out continuously.” He is of the view that Dribbble and Behance are platforms that let you express yourself, and do stuff that is relevant. One can choose what he wants to put up on these platforms, whether it’s UI or UX or culture or drawings. There comes a point where one would want to add a lot more effort in order to get a better response in terms of likes and follows, but Ranganath sees this as something that’s merely a part of the process. “The moment you add too much weight to it, it loses its effortlessness and becomes tedious. You don’t focus on the output, but what you want to do.” Ranganath advises the upcoming designers to make sure that those who come across their portfolio should see that you’re growing as an artist through your works, and it should make them feel compelled to follow you. He warns against instant gratifications like instant popularity on social media, since he believes that when one lets it happen in its time, it’s magical.

Don’t create things for followers; do it the other way round.

The Indianness In His Illustrations

When asked where he draws inspiration from for his illustrations, that have a very strong essence of India and its beautifully diverse cultures, Ranganath states that inspiration is always around us; the only think one needs to do is observe and not look.

It’s about that calling that makes you drift towards a subject very often. And that only comes with observation. I observe because I begin to realize that even the way a panwala folds a betel leaf could be my source of inspiration.

For Ranganath, finding a source to seek inspiration from was an inward journey, which wasn’t at all easy when he started off. Only when he began drawing did he realize that there were so many things around to inspire him; all he needed to do was observe. It just so happened that down the line, Ranganath realized that thinking things in the Indian context would be a great idea since our culture is the only thing that is unique to us and binds us together.

“The more I saw things around me, the more I realized that both the people and things around me were trying to capture their own backgrounds equally well. And all of them had certain areas where they were bringing their cultures into focus. My thought was that they deserve a proper representation. My concern was to establish a unity in the diversity that exists.”

Indian Scenario of Design

Ranganath thinks of India as an emerging market, specifically in terms of design. He believes that India has a lot of untapped potential, as design is an independent field has only picked up in our country over the past decade. There are now myriad opportunities for Indian designers to make a huge impact with their works. Initially, people from artistic background hesitated because they weren’t very sure what they would do, which is not the case anymore, with more and more people getting involved in thinking how to put their idea into use. Ranganath strongly believes that this is the best time for design in India, and aspiring designers must make the most out of it. “You are getting the opportunity to collaborate with people who are thousands of kilometers away from you, and I believe that is a great space to be in.” According to him, while the choice of being a designer comes with a lot of responsibility, there has undoubtedly never been a better time to consider design as a career option.

The more number of people come into the field, the more you will find yourself questioning. You will come up with ideas, which will then take shape, which means that we are more people thinking differently than similar kinds of saturated fields that are adding more people to the same profession. Here, on the other hand, you’re getting an opportunity to break away from the monotony.

What Constitutes a Good Design?

Ranganath think creating a good design is all about doing the simple things very well. “Trying to make the connections as if you’re telling a story.” Most people understand stories very well. For him, it’s more about the simple objects and things, and not about the flamboyant things, as is generally perceived. The designs that stir you from the inside are the simple objects that you can easily feel a connection with. A design, according to Ranganath, must exuberate simplicity, whether it is in terms of colors, shapes or the object that you’ve picked. The final product must go beyond imagination and convey the message in a way that it gets burnt in the back of the onlooker’s mind permanently.

Design For Engineers?

While design is a booming career option, the feasibility of an engineering student pursuing design as a profession remains doubtful. Ranganath, however, assures that with web taking over the world, it has become a lot easier now. As in Ranganath’s case, he is a designer who cannot code. Similarly, there are developers who cannot design. Nowadays, we are seeing more and more people do both, who Ranganath thinks are comparable to “jewels in the desert”, who wield the power of bringing design and technology together and creating stuff, which would otherwise have been a limitation.

“People like me who can only design but not code cannot actually execute their design the way we actually perceive it, which poses a limitation. As an engineer venturing into design, you’d understand both the sides and it’ll be very easy to put your ideas into the foreground. You do not have to wait for other people to come and tell you that your idea is not feasible.”

He gives a shout-out to the budding designers in NITR and leaves them with the following message: 

If you want to take up design as a profession, it needs that rigour and push from your end to keep doing it every day. It needs you to have some work ethics. Secondly, you must question a lot. It leads you to think and seek the answers. That leads you to create your own ideas, which would otherwise never come into being. Thirdly, have fun doing it. Designing can get very boring at times, and you must know how to never run out of interest. Having a good time while working is a must.

Cover Picture Credits: Creative Mornings

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