Work experience with an advertising agency and product development at Walt Disney served as the perfect background for Maulshree Somani when she decided to turn entrepreneur. A desire to express herself creatively in her own way led her to set-up 'Whatif', her design company 2010. Her moment of success though came with illustrations for the children's mythological series 'Amma Tell Me' by writer Bhakti Mathur. Living in the fast-paced city of Mumbai with her husband and child, Maulshree chats with Ria Das about her passion for design and the work and personal life balancing act.
From drawings to designing: The desire to experiment
Ever since I can remember I was interested in drawing, colouring and designing, and observing my passion, my mother admitted me into an art course After my 10th, I started attending a course, and continued it for 5 years. After that the next big step that had to be taken was looking for a job. That’s how my career in designing started off. I took the plunge to be a graphic designer, working with an advertising agency for 7-8 years. Then I moved to Walt Disney, where I was in the Creative team handling a part of the Disney consumer products.
Over the years I wanted to do something I like, something which is not a 9-5 job. Hence came the idea of starting my own design company. In my life I have experimented with a lot of different things, and continue to do so. Presently, I am working on books, logos, t-shirt graphics etc. Doing different things keeps me going actually.
Right now with the baby, I don’t get much time to do other stuff . However, I have enrolled into a course on home styling.
If I see something online which I eventually like, it motivates me, inspires me to do or create similar stuff. So Digital media is my biggest inspiration I must say
Illustration happened because of 'Amma Tell Me'
I am a designer by profession, not an illustrator actually. It eventually happened when Bhakti got in touch with me. She was writing children books and approached to me to do illustrators for her book ‘Amma Tell Me’. She was happy with the work I had shown her and we went ahead with the first book (initially we planned to work on only one book, the series happened in a flow), it was about Krishna. After publishing the book, we got a very good response. Then before we knew it, we were discussing over working on the next one. We published the second of the series – Ramayana. That’s how it started and now we have done 10 books together.
Now that I am a mother, I feel these books have special message. Today’s life has became more about the visual than the written word. But we Indian mothers want our kids to read mythology, it’s interesting to know about the norms and values these books teach us in a light, simple way.
Designing for children is instinctive
I think I am more attached towards children. I am comfortable around them more than with an adult. I always go a books shop or library and check kids’ books very often, especially the illustrators. So I think I just went for the instinct. The whole idea of working for children worked for me because I like it very much, and so my deepest ambition is to get into that genre which could be graphics or books or personalized stuff. I am taking each day as it comes – waiting to see where it takes me.
It's a good time to be an illustrator in the Indian market
If you ask about market for kids’ books, it’s definitely on high. Because I see that parents are conscious about what their kids need to learn at every age. For example- when I was a kid, I had only two books, now-a-days’ kids have plenty of them. I want my child to read, learn from books as much as possible, and I trust like me other moms think in the same way. Books also take you into a fantasy world and kids need to have that space where they can imagine, learn and see beyond reality.
If we talk about market for illustration, I would say there’s a limit what computers could possibly do. You need human minds to run those. It is widening its range and anything that is handmade, handcrafted is big. It never loses its charm because that’s where the difference is. And today illustrators are not restricted to only books – they can do graphics for furniture, clothes. So it’s not limited to print medium anymore. It’s vast. In my case, I get ideas to design on anything. I create graphics for cushions, sheets, tees, anything.
Keep learning. Keep trying. And just absorb. I would say never stop learning even if you’re 50
Digital media is my inspiration
I would say I’m online a lot. I see anything on net that amazes me, I start doing it. Wall graphics is my favourite. I got inspired to do so from internet only. I look out for projects close to that. A couple of months back I saw beautiful children clothes with graphics on it. I started doing it. If I see something online which I eventually like, it motivates me, inspires me to do or create same stuff. So that keeps me going. It pushes me to try different things. I don’t do same thing over and over again, but always try unique things. So Digital media is my biggest inspiration I must say.
The tough act of balancing work and family is a phase
It’s tough when your child is 3-year-old. I want to spend most of my time with my kid but also need to concentrate on my work. I am aware that all mothers go through this phase and I too am doing a decent job., managing books and spending the necessary time with my kid – because that’s what you do. Every phase of life has a purpose and my purpose right now is balancing things. Maybe a year after when my child grows a little older and I’ll have more time, and then will have the opportunity of expanding my creativity as much as I like. There are many other things that I am engaged in like doing t-shirt graphics for a brand, also working on logos. Finger crossed for the future ahead.
Designing is not a gender dominated profession
It’s dominated by good designer. Talent apart, you need to be in the right place at the right time. You can’t miss any opportunity. It’s not at all a gender dominated profession. If you have the passion, you just have to go for it. And trust me people are waiting for a talented designer to be with them on board. If you have the desire, the creative thinking and the desire to express then you’ll find a way. It’s a choice you make and a risk you take.
Advice for women in the creative field
Keep learning. Keep trying. Be design driven. I have spent 14 years in this profession, but still I believe that you have to keep your heart, ears and eyes open for new learnings. And just absorb. I would say never stop learning even if you’re 50. We are artists, so everyday new designs, new innovations emerge. Let’s keep grasping.