Painting Pixels - Sivakumar

You don’t meet a lot of graphic designers who have a Master’s degree in psychology, but Sivakumar (@sivadigitalart) does. It piques my interest when he mentions it. Why psychology? I ask him. “It helped me to gain an understanding of human communication” is his answer. His interest in communication began when he studied its theoretical aspects while pursuing his bachelor’s degree in Visual Communication, which led him to a career in media.

He tells me that his interest in art began when he was a young boy. He saw the first Jurassic Park film and was besotted by it. “At that time I was making clay models of the dinosaurs I saw onscreen” He also won two state level drawing competitions in ’97 and ’03. However it wasn’t until his final year internship that he learnt about digital art. It was the time when digital art began to boom and a lot of conventional artists were going out of business, or learning new tricks and transferring them to a digital canvas. I ask him about the transition, was it hard? “For me it was easy and smooth” he says “Digital art is simply another medium, and I believe that no matter the medium the artist and his techniques are the same” However he tells me that it is tough for people who take up digital art without any experience of drawing on paper.

Now Sivakumar works full-time making concept art, first look posters and title designs for movies, but all of that began when he started making fan art for the movies that he loved. It can be said that he introduced the idea of making fan art to the regional audience. 10 years ago when he started making fan art, he would post them along with detailed reviews of the movie. He gradually stopped posting reviews and stuck to making fan art. Perhaps his most famous work would be a poster that explains the events of Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi opus, Interstellar. It caught the eye of people around the world and one would not be wrong in calling it the best homage that the movie could get from a fan. He has also made fan art for movies like Gravity, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Oblivion, After Earth and Mad Max: Fury Road.

Sivakumar has won several awards in Advertising Industry for Best Illustration and Best Print Campaign. He has worked as a movie publicist in Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu movies. Some of his notable movies are Irumbuthirai, Maari 2, Hero, Namma Veettu Pillai and K.D. He is currently working on his first Bollywood film, TAKHT directed by Karan Johar, Dharma Productions.

Sivakumar tells me that he learnt about the word fan-art while trawling through Deviantart and Tumblr in 2009. He would browse through them at work, because he didn’t have a phone or an internet connection at the time, and in the end those sites opened up a world of endless possibilities for him.

“Fan art can be about anything, even a song or a book. It’s just a fan’s way of showing their appreciation for the art that has influenced them” But now he has practically stopped making fan-art, partly owing to the fact that he makes official posters for movies. Still he makes fan posters for Nolan’s movies, he made a timeline poster explaining Dunkirk, and he tells me that he will surely make one when Tenet comes to the screens.

Even though he had assisted in the production of many movies, by doing VFX work, or moonlighting as a matte painting artist, his first official credit in Tamil cinema was in 2015 as the title designer for the Nayanthara starrer, Maya. After the success of Maya, a lot of work came his way, and he started creating first look posters and concept posters for films. Apart from that he also helped to design the characters for movies. The director would give him an idea, about how a character should look and he would render them digitally. He tells me that he designed Dhanush’s titular character in Maari. Now he is fully focused on working in the film industry, and he tells me that he worked on five films in the last year. 

In tandem with his work in cinema, he also tries to use his artistic skills to create awareness about social issues. This started when he was in college, when he won a few cartoon drawing competitions. He makes it a point to not draw any political cartoons, like the ones that appear in newspapers, but rather to make illustrations that make people stop and think about the world that they are creating through their own actions. Most of his art that deals with social issues quickly go viral all over the nation in a very short span of time. But as much as they are admired, they are also heavily plagiarized.

When the Jallikattu protests were in full swing in Tamil Nadu, one of his illustrations was used by a milk products company as their logo, they even went so far as to lay claim to it.

He tells me that this happens all too often for him. This theft of creation isn’t limited to people on the internet as his works have also been swiped by major media houses in the state. Watermarks, signatures and logos are removed all too easily and though the piece of art is applauded, the person receiving the applause isn’t on the stage. Like most artists, Sivakumar doesn’t like it when people profit off his art and the fact, that there are no clear laws in the country to counter such theft leaves him and several other artists hanging dry.

Despite this he isn’t deterred, and he meticulously keeps working at his art producing vibrant and thought provoking content each day. He tells me that he doesn’t stick to one particular art style, he always tries to learn new styles. “When I learn about an art form, I try to learn everything about it, including its history. It’s essential to understand everything about it, so that I can use it more faithfully when I create something.” Currently he is fascinated by the Art Deco style which was popular during the First World War, and he hopes to use it sometime in the near future.

Apart from being a digital artist, Sivakumar also takes classes at the Taramani Film Institute. He has been teaching there for the past two years, and he is also aiding his colleagues there in revamping the curriculum and making it more relevant to the current demands of the industry. He advises aspiring artists to be thorough with the fundamental principles of digital design, “They might be boring, but they are the backbone for a good designer or digital artist.” He also says that they must study the presence of light and shadows, as they give life to the subject, then he advises moving on to aspects like perspectives, shading and coloring. “It’s essential to practice on paper before going digital” he adds.  

He tells me that a lot of people, even his students confuse digital design with digital art, “Design is closer to composition than art” he says, before adding “Art can be a lifestyle, but you can’t say the same thing about design.”

He tells me that when students don’t get their fundamentals right, their designs will face problems when they go to print. So what’s a good design? “I’d say that a good design is something that you can print on any surface” He cites the Nike and Adidas logos as examples. According to him, in design, aesthetics is secondary. 

While a rock solid foundation, a willingness to learn what he doesn’t know coupled with talent and dedication, there is no doubt that Sivakumar is one of Tamil Nadu’s most renowned artists, if not the world.

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