In her debut book Dearest George, 'happiness illustrator' Alicia Souza captures the small joys of daily life
Bengaluru-based illustrator Alicia Souza talks to Firstpost about her debut book Dearest George, her niche illustration style, and online store, and the importance of trying new things.
The illustrations in Alicia Souza's Dearest George recall the small, every day moments that come with being in a relationship, and living with pets.
Stylistically and thematically, the book is an extension of the art she posts online, drawing about the small, everyday things that catch her eye or make her laugh.
While being herself meant that an audience found her, she believes it’s important for an illustrator to be open to new things.
‘The corniest, love-iest book ever made,’ proclaims a ribbon on the cover of Bengaluru-based illustrator Alicia Souza’s debut illustrated book, Dearest George. “So, it’s very awkward,” is how Souza starts about the book, in an interview with Firstpost. It has grown out of a now-defunct website, which Souza used as a marriage announcement, having previously registered her marriage with George without a wedding, and not telling too many people.
“I made a website — it was all illustration explaining why we didn’t get married, our story in a way.” The simple announcement website blew up enough that she received thousands of messages every day for the year and a half the website was up, prompting her to draw more about them, and later pitch it as a book. “I didn’t tell George about the book till it was in, because I was even embarrassed to tell him. I’m like, ‘what have I done?’ So, it’s a very awkward thing where it started off with just an announcement, and now it’s a big whoop,” she says.
The book features her dog Charlie, guinea pig Henry Oats, husband George, and herself, all characters with whom her online audience is well-acquainted. The illustrations recall the small, every day moments that come with being in a relationship, and living with pets — a lively celebration of domesticity. “I tend to talk about things that happen every day. So not so much being married, just being in a relationship and being with a partner.”
Stylistically and thematically, the book is an extension of the art she posts online, drawing about the small, everyday things that catch her eye or make her laugh. “I lead a very regular life. So I tend to just draw the things I see around, which everyone possibly would have seen, because it’s just things that you literally see everywhere. Or things that happen possibly to everyone. I think that’s why people relate.” Coupled with her well-loved, distinctly cheerful style, these illustrations have worked to create a well-defined niche for Alicia Souza.
She doesn't see herself modifying this style much going forward. “There’s a point where I wouldn’t change my style too much. Because firstly, I’m used to it. And secondly, there was a time once I tried a very strange look, and everyone was a little horrified. So in that way it’s something that I cannot pursue, because now I have a very distinct style.” This also means that audiences, who see her post about the everyday things, have certain expectations. “A lot of people come expecting to see only that kind of thing. You wouldn’t expect to see hard-core statements or stands on anything for that matter, from certain people.”
While Souza is sticking to her style, she doesn’t feel limited by it. “If I do feel like I need to say something, I would.” For the most part, Souza is content drawing and sharing happiness, often referring to herself as a ‘happiness illustrator.’ “I relate to that a lot. It kind of goes with who I am as a person. It’s never been the case that I’m trying to make that work. It’s always just worked.”
While being herself meant that an audience found her, she believes it’s important for an illustrator to be open to new things. “If you really want to make money overflow, if you want to build something, you have to do more than one thing.” As a freelancer, she believes one must try everything, take up every opportunity that comes one’s way. “If someone says make a pitch, you make a pitch,” she asserts. “Which is why I feel like I grew way beyond what I thought I would do.” Through being open to trying everything is also how Souza is now a published author.
“Penguin approached me to actually do another project, which I couldn’t take on. And instead I just said, ‘I have an idea’,” she explains about pitching the book. It is also going with the flow that earlier encouraged her to turn entrepreneur, founding her online store to sell illustrated products. “The only reason I started the online store is because people were asking so much about products. And it just grew from there.” Having an online store also meant Souza had to quickly learn how to run a business, and adapt to the entrepreneurial way of thinking. “It’s a change in mind-set more than anything else. Because as an artist, you tend to want things done a certain way, be made perfect this way and look this way. You can always get a better composition, a better figure, structure, all that.” But with a business, “some things are very time-based.” Whether one likes it or not, has a fully fleshed out idea or not, things have to wrap up within a certain deadline, and products have to come out. “My style of work works in this deal, because I have a very quick style. It’s not overtly detailed, it’s not realistic, and it’s just more about an idea.”
The attitude of being open to trying new things is also how she ventured into illustration, since drawing professionally wasn’t initially an option for her. Growing up in the Middle East, Souza didn’t have exposure to a single illustrator or artist, and drawing was simply something she took an interest in and kept at. Even while she moved to Melbourne to study communication design, and later readied her portfolio, which was filled with illustrations, she didn’t think it could be a career. The first job her portfolio got her, however, included illustrating. And instantly, her outlook changed. “As soon as I put my portfolio out, I got my first job and I was ecstatic. When I was doing that I realised that I absolutely wanted to do illustration if I was in the field, or I would do something completely different.” Having experienced it, the idea of doing something within the design industry, but not actually illustrating, was unbearable. “If I’d got into something too similar it would pain a bit more, just knowing I’m close but not there.”
Illustrating took her from working in Melbourne to coming to India, and cofounding Chumbak, and later starting out as a freelance commercial illustrator, followed by being an entrepreneur, and now, an author.
However, despite the fact that she's now an established illustrator who's making a living through her art, Alicia Souza started out like every regular child. “I didn’t have a drawing hand as a child,” she says. “As you do something a lot, a lot, you ultimately have to get better. And that’s what happened. It wasn’t at all talent, it was truly just a lot of work.”