Through this series, Community Spotlight, we are highlighting a range of designers who inspire us with their boundless imagination and resilient spirit. We hope that in doing so, they too will bring inspiration to your doorstep.

This week, we were welcomed into Anupama Rao's magical realm of children's illustration. Her art journey has been filled with much experimentation and creativity, guided at every step of the way by her love for her childhood story books. A colourful illustrator and character, Anupama was a breath of fresh air and a true pleasure to get to know!

Q: Anupama, would you like to tell us about yourself?

Hi Design Cutters, I hope you are having a wonderful day! I am Anupama S Rao from Artoonea. I grew up with my parents, younger brother and grandparents in the scenic state of Kerala (also known as the land of Coconut trees), situated in the southern tip of India. I now live with my husband in Scotland where the lush landscapes of high mountains and deep lochs tell tales dipped in mythology…

I love to read; the pages filled with stories take me on wonderful journeys. Apart from that, I like to experiment with all things creative, and so far I have attempted (successfully and unsuccessfully :D) precious metal jewelry, wood working, bath and beauty products, and the list goes on...

Q: How long have you been with us as a Design Cutter?

I stumbled upon the Design Cuts website around 2015 – 2016. I began to actively follow through the Instagram page when Tom (and at a later stage Matt) started sharing marketing and designing content. The learning sessions hosted and curated by Design Cuts and the best digital product creators was something that I looked forward to. Plus the community coming together was a fantastic experience.

Q: What was your graphic design journey?

I was an imaginative child and drawing has been part of me since I can remember. The desire to immerse myself in the creative world, filled with lines and colours, led me to study Fashion Designing and its branches for my Bachelor's and Master’s degrees.

The UK gave me the opportunity to exhibit my art, and the story-rich cobbled pathways leading to one of the historical Universities' classrooms (where I did an art course) paved the direction for my art journey. The tales and mythologies greatly influenced the whimsical elements in my illustrations. I love colours and hence even if I set out with a muted colour palette, the final illustration probably evolves into a more colourful one! I gave up telling it what to do!

Q: How did you develop your signature illustration style?

I began with acrylics and watercolours, then transitioned into digital media. Initially my theme used to be landscapes or florals, but I wanted to explore the imaginary world created in childhood through those beautiful stories, picture books and cartoons that imprinted strongly on my mind.

Even though the initial attempts at children’s illustration were not very good, they gave me a sense of belonging and happiness. I requested advice from veterans in the industry and followed their work to learn how they approached things. I also invested in books and watched course videos. From there, it was all practice and more practice, but I am still learning with each new line stroke and colour application.

Q: Can you describe to us your design process?

Sometimes I will have a clear idea in mind and search for reference images to guide the process. Other times something will pop out while scrolling randomly through the web. Once the concept is formed, I will do a rough sketch either by pencil and paper or in the iPad. The rest will be totally digital. The second step will be refining the sketch and cleaning up the lines. The refining process takes a couple of attempts to satisfy. Using the refined sketch layer in low opacity, I then do the colour shapes in different layers. The next stage will be texture, light and shadow plus the final touch ups. Depending on the illustration, I sometimes provide an outline as the last step. The initial colour palette may change during the process.

Q: Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Most of my inspiration comes from nature or day-to-day activities that provide an idea. I always have a sketchbook nearby to doodle or jot ideas down for a later date. Not all of them get illustrated, some get combined into one project or provide an entirely new spark weeks or months later.

Q: Where do you hope to be in 5 years’ time?

I hope to illustrate children’s picture books in the near future. I am also developing some digital illustration products that will be available once they are endlessly refined and revised! Most importantly, I hope to be in a more fulfilling and happy position in my art career.

Q: Which graphic designers do you look up to?

Some of the graphic designers whose work I love are:

Q: What's your top tip for other designers?

Go with your instinct while creating, it will do wonders! Try not to compare yourself with others and be hard on yourself. Create in a happy mindset - if you are beginning to feel frustrated or tired, walk away from the project and come back after some time with relaxed eyes and mind. I learned the hard way!

Q: What are your favorite DC products to use?

I love every product by Lisa Glanz! I'm still playing with the immense and wonderful brush pack ‘Ultimate Brush Toolbox’ from Trailhead Design. ‘Gouache Shader’ and ‘Organic Vector Brush’ from Retro Supply Co. are a great addition for rendering and illustrating in vector. Lettering packs from Debi Sementelli provide lots of options for wonderful calligraphic compositions.

Thank you Anupama for inviting us into your world. If you would like to explore more of her magical illustrations or show her some love, you can head to her Instagram!