Get to Know: Nidhi Chanani, Illustrator
Author by Rina Shah The Arpan Group
Freelance artist Nidhi Chanani has drawn over 700 illustrations, earning admiration and accolades for her whimsical and endearing portrayals of everyday life. Born in Calcutta and raised in Southern California, Chanani’s experiences both as an Indian American and a woman inspire the moments captured in her illustrations as well as her upcoming graphic novel, Pashmina.
Currently based in the San Francisco Bay area, Chanani studied literature at University of California, Santa Cruz, where she gained a greater understanding about storytelling. Her love for art never faltered, and even as she worked in the nonprofit sector, she felt something was missing. Encouraged by a former editor of India Currents magazine, she began to write a comic and realized the potential of pursing art as a profession. In 2008, Chanani was laid off giving her the opportunity to learn more about and pursue her dream of becoming an artist. Chanani then attended the Academy of Art in San Francisco for one and half years before dropping out to focus full-time on her art.
Chanani began creating daily illustrations first to friends and family, and later to a growing list of admirers. She now owns her own online store, Everyday Love Art, where admirers can view her work and purchase prints.
Learn more about what motivates and inspires Nidhi Chanani. View her portfolio at www. everydayloveart.com.
Whimsical and vibrant, your illustrations offer a glimpse into moments individuals/couples/families experience on a day-to-day basis. What inspires you to portray these poignant moments?
I feel like we are surrounded by inspiration. Every day. It’s hard to see because there are a multitude of distractions, but I truly believe that beauty is everywhere. I draw a lot from my life, my life with my husband and daughter, and from the simple desire to draw. If I want to draw a monster or a dinosaur, I take that desire and tell a story with it.
What do you hope readers will learn from Priyanka Das, the main character in your upcoming graphic novel Pashmina?
I am hoping they will learn about the experience of a first-generation teen. I also believe that Priyanka will take readers along with her on a journey to understanding yourself, your family, and culture.
How has your experience as a first generation Indian American shaped both your artwork and novel?
Most of the work I create is personal; therefore who I am and where I’ve come from will show in my work. My inspiration for Pashmina came from a variety of sources: my mom, growing up in the US, my first trip to India, and women’s choice – all of these things are woven into the story. From the beginning, I wanted to create a book that showcased India as a beautiful country. Growing up the United States during the 1980s, my idea of India was one of poverty, hokey gurus, and the kama sutra. Yet there is a side of India that immigrants know to be filled with strong family ties, deep spirituality, and beautiful landscapes.
When I was younger my parents would travel to India often. When they returned, their suitcases had a pungent, almost magical smell – from a place that seemed very far away. I was probably ten years old the first time this happened. Opening their suitcase made me feel close to this other world. In a way I believe this story has been with me since then.
Both Pashmina and my artwork have my identity woven throughout. I create illustrations with brown characters. My wood burning art is created by intricately burning lines on raw wood is influenced by henna art. Pashmina is a story that has lived with me for a long time, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share it.
There is a growing movement for more diversity in books and art, especially for characters to be more reflective of the true makeup of our communities. Do you see Priyanka as an “agent of change?”
Yes, definitely. Priyanka not only reflects the struggles of an Indian-American teen, but also her mother. The central characters are all women who have struggled to understand and accept their choices. The concept that women have choice is one that I wanted to focus on. Threading this theme into the core of the story was challenging. Women’s issues are changing – women are recognizing their voice. I wanted to capture and craft a story that encourages women to harness the power of choice within their lives.
Who has played a crucial role in influencing the events of your life? How so?
My mom and my husband. My mom is a strong, Indian woman who left her home in India with nothing to come here with my dad. When their marriage didn’t work she made the bold choice to separate and was ostracized from the community. She didn’t let that stop her. Her example of working hard and keeping your head up has made me who I am.
My husband, Nick, has taught me so much about love and laughter. He’s the calm to my storm. I’m fairly practical, organized and ambitious. However, like most artists, I bury myself under doubt, and I’m a harsh critic of everything I do. He encourages me see the silver linings (even when they’re tiny), helps me laugh at myself, and tells me when I need to stop working. I feel more sane and balanced because of his presence in my life.
Increasingly today, younger generations in the South Asian community are choosing “non-traditional” careers. What words of wisdom do you have for those, particularly women, who aspire to pursue their interests and embrace an entrepreneurial spirit?
Surround yourself with people who believe in you and don’t be afraid to walk away from those who cannot understand your aspirations. Work hard and don’t expect over night success. Most success is a slow build. Celebrate your victories. Share your work.
All images provided by Nidhi Chanani. Profile image courtesy of Angela Grammatas.
About the Author
Rina Shah is the CEO and founder of The Arpan Group, a boutique ad agency and public relations firm that specializes in capturing untouched ethnic markets. From press releases and media kits to marketing materials and by-line articles, The Arpan Group customizes solutions based on the client’s needs. For more information, visit www.thearpangroup.com or call (703) 651-6670.