Archive of AGDA Interview
05.07.16 /SHANTI SPARROW / SHILLINGTON COLLEGE
Travel and design go hand in hand for Brisbane-based lecturer, designer, and illustrator, Shanti Sparrow.
Shanti has spent the last few years living, freelancing and teaching design across Australia and in the USA — a far cry from her humble beginnings working as a graduate in a small local printery in Gladesville, Sydney.
“I graduated in a really terrible time, in the midst of the global financial crisis. I contacted every studio in Sydney a couple of times over and eventually caught a break. I’d applied for a job that was well above my skill level, I think it was a mid-weight position, just because I wanted to get my name in front of people. I wasn’t right for the job that they advertised at that point, but then about a month later they did need a junior, so they went through their old applications and found me. I was very lucky.”
“That was me just shooting for the stars at that point I think,” concludes Shanti.
In 2014, after five years designing predominantly for not-for-profit businesses, Shanti held a position as Senior Designer at Bug Communication studio in Sydney — with whom she still freelances — she’d also just launched herself as an illustrator, and picked up publishing deals for two children’s books.
“I had deadlines looming at me everywhere, so I was working ridiculous hours, and I knew I needed to take some time off to recharge. So I picked a date and decided that I was going to take a year off. I chose New York as it is regarded as a city with endless possibilities and I found the idea very enticing. So I spent seven months just living there, and worked as a freelancer on and off,” says Shanti.
“See, that’s the brilliance, you can do the work that you want to do and all of a sudden you remember that you love design and you really want to do this.”
“I started illustrating a lot. My illustrations can take anywhere from 20-30 hours and I managed to get over 25 pieces done, which is a huge amount for me. It didn’t feel laborious because I could choose to do it when I wanted, on the subject matter that I wanted to work on. I was recharging, being inspired, and feeling that creative freedom again.”
“When I came home I didn’t have a real plan for what I was going to do with the illustrations, I just wanted to create them. And simply having them there attracted a whole lot of opportunities: whether it’s being in another art show, or licensing out to greeting card companies, calendars, puzzles.”
On the strength of what we’ll now refer to as ‘the New York illustrations’, Shanti scored publishing deals for an activity book and a colouring book. Brilliant! Now, we can never know for certain — due mostly to our limited understanding of the workings of fate, the universe, and the space-time continuum — but if she hadn’t taken that time to reset and just create those illustrations for the pure pleasure of creating, those opportunities may not have arisen.
“The inspiration for taking that risk was going to Semi-Permanent and seeing Sandra Dieckmann talk — she’s an illustrator who I admire a lot. She talked about giving up your day job to try something different. She gave me the confidence to take the chance. There are so many rewards and amazing possibilities that can come from actually doing it,” says Shanti.
Having learned these lessons by living them, and not being one to keep valuable secrets to herself, Shanti began teaching at Shillington in Brisbane in November 2015.
“Teaching has been more impactful than I could have imagined. I was exposed to fresh young minds, and they’re really fearless. You see them do more original things than what you’d find a designer four years into the industry would do, because they’re not influenced by industry standards yet,” says Shanti.
“I think my design has significantly improved since becoming a teacher. Now, when I design, I hear my own teacher-speak in my head and I have to lift my game.”
“I guess because of the high number of contact hours where I am currently [around 40 hours per week], and maybe because I’m a new teacher, I tend to get very attached to my students. I want to know who they are and where they’re coming from.”
“Once they graduate, I definitely keep in contact. One of my dreams one day is to create a collective that helps juniors as they enter the industry. Graduates have all the theoretical knowledge, but doing that first quote, getting that first brief, even communicating with your first client one on one can be daunting. I’d like to help them go through their first couple of clients with a bit of guidance.”
“Doing side projects is what’s exciting me; I’ve got a little zine called Oh, Hey! Just creating dream brand jobs that you want to work on, I feel like the laws of attraction work there a little bit; where if you put out these things that you really love working on, people see that love and approach you to do work that’s similar.”
Shanti looks forward to embracing the varied and exciting opportunities that teaching, illustration, and design attract and has plans for further travel and another international relocation in 2017.