Australian designer and illustrator Karan Singh is not the type of guy who likes to color inside the lines — “I’m the guy who will ignore the instructions, do almost everything wrong, and then know precisely why I shouldn’t do those things.” And, as he proudly states, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Born in New Delhi, Singh spent his childhood in Muscat, before eventually immigrating to Sydney with his family. He cites the support and influence of his parents as a great motivator in leading him to this career, though neither of his parents came from a professional creative background; “It’s not uncommon for older generations of Indian parents to practically define the occupation their child pursues so I’m grateful that they were happy for me to do whatever made me happy.”
Having initially gone to school for Design Computing, the inherently self-motivated Singh acquired most of the skill and technique exhibited in his work through his own independent studies. “After finishing high school, I don’t think I had really nailed down what it is that I had wanted to do,” he admits, “it wasn’t until I started teaching myself Illustrator during university that I realized what it was like to want to be good at something which is what made all the difference.” Though this sense of independence is impressive and often useful, it can also be isolating, and so it was through online communities like DeviantArt and Depthcore that Singh developed as a designer and an artist, thriving off the healthy dose of competition and a shared desire to learn from each other and evolve. After moving to New York, Singh decided to step back from his busy freelancing schedule to pursue full-time work, eventually landing a spot on the team at Vault 49, a full-service agency with a wide-ranging roster of high profile clients.
It wasn’t until I started teaching myself … that I realized what it was like to want to be good at something, which is what made all the difference.
It was early on in his career that Singh realized the importance of personal projects that allowed him to embrace his creative whims, even under the pressure of heavy workloads and strict deadlines. “I was saying yes to almost every job that came in and found myself working long hours on projects for others. The entire premise of committing to freelance was so that I could work on my things too, so this defeated the entire purpose of it.” Singh explains, “it’s so important to keep playing and continue to experiment; this is where the best work comes from!” While taking a break one day, Singh quickly drew up a simple illustration — an apple with a keyboard and a mouse plugged into it; a sort of a punny take on Apple computers. “It was silly and I enjoyed it so much that I challenged myself to draw daily for a week, then a year. The Daily Quickies thrived on spontaneity and, although draining, there was a certain rush in having no clue as to what I was going to draw the following day.” After a while what seemed to keep Singh going was simply how far he’d come, a constant reminder to just take it one day at time. “Despite the tough periods overall it was a really satisfying project – I look back on them fondly and it serves as a diary of the year gone; I can pinpoint areas where my life changed…I would absolutely do it again.”
Since launching “The Daily Quickies,” Singh has also taken on some other impressive self-started initiatives. In 2010, the designer launched Pig Bimpin, a site meant to shine a light on the oft-ignored facets of the design industry through interviews with fellow designers – those whose names are perhaps relatively unknown, but still play a significant role in the industry. A play on the title of the classic track by Jay-Z, “Big Pimpin’”, a slang used in describing those who exude success, fame and fortune, Pig Bimpin was meant to flip the script on this name — a direct allusion to the often less the glamourous fruits of creative labour.
There was a certain rush in having no clue as to what I was going to draw the following day.
Like most creative professionals, Singh is a strong advocate of the use of an online portfolio, such as those hosted on Format. “I don’t think I could survive without an online portfolio,” he states bluntly when asked of the importance of representing yourself on the web. “Having an online folio along with a presence on microblogging platforms (Twitter, Tumblr, etc.) is essential nowadays for self-promotion, especially for an illustrator.” With the transient nature of the internet, news becoming old in a matter of days (if not hours in some cases), Singh reminds that it’s important to keep on top of your work and update constantly. “My most polished work goes in my portfolio, and it’s also the work that I’d like to be commissioned for, rather than showing everything I’ve ever done.” Personal projects and his photography are more suited to his Tumblr and Instagram accounts, where he posts frequently and has garnered a substantial following.
Clearly Karan Singh is the type who feels most comfortable when his plate is proverbially full (or overflowing, for that matter). Aside from running his various personal projects and juggling his full-time work, he has also given talks at AGDA’s “First Five Out” and “Sex, Drugs and Helvetica” in Melbourne, as well as OFFF in Barcelona. He’s a strong believer in the notion that any professional in their respective industry has a responsibility to actively contribute commentary, input and critique about their fields. And how does Singh see illustration and design fitting into the future? “I’m prepared to barter design work in lieu of my brains to our future zombie overlords.” Not a bad idea for a dystopian survival plan.
original interview: October 14, 2013