I know there are a lot of you who like me, love scrolling through the work of artists on that social media site. I don’t follow as many as I could but the ones I do have, I cherish. I love watching their styles evolve and seeing their practice teaches me a lot about the importance of being a lifelong student.
Ishita Jain’s observational studies of places and nature intrigued me enough to want to know more about her daily routine, especially in a time of palpable uncertainty. Art is something I consider as close to “making magic” as possible. She paints from life and is endlessly curious about things she sees on her walks around New York City.
But I wanted to know about the not-so-glamorous part. The routine that leads to the art or vice-versa. Ishita filled up my little questionnaire via an email interview, with answers that might be surprising or if you’re a creative, filled with a sense of “been there done that”. I hope you enjoy reading it and find something you relate to. My hope is that it makes you like yourself just a little bit more. Thanks, Ishita!
When did you realise you were an artist?
For as long as I can remember, I have always been interested in art. I grew up in a large joint family in Delhi, India and I was the first child in a house of 7 adults, so I had the luxury of everyone’s undivided attention and time. Apparently, my taiji (aunt) used to give me markers and newspapers and I would make a mess even before I could sit properly.
My entire childhood was peppered with art and craft, and even as a little girl, I would rarely be seen without a stack of papers and coloured pencils. I only consciously made the consideration to pursue art, well actually, design as a career in Standard 12.
Prior to applying for design school – at different stages in life – I had different career goals which ranged from wanting to be a magician, entomologist (aged 7 after an introduction to Ruskin Bond’s books), gemologist (after reading a book on rocks and spending several hours digging for diamonds in our garden), archaeologist (around Standard 6 when we were introduced to history as a subject), something to do with biotechnology around Standard 10, which I promptly gave up after a brief introduction to high school physics, chemistry and math. Then I was keen on pursuing psychology or art when I was in Grade 12. I went on to study graphic design but I still aspire to study and learn about all the things I have been interested in through the course of life, and luckily art allows me the freedom to do so.
When did you finally feel comfortable calling yourself an artist? Did this feeling come from within or was it in combination with others seeing you as one? Which of the two felt more important to you (you seeing yourself as an artist or others calling you one)?
I think I have only started identifying as an artist internally very recently (in the last few months or so). I began my career as a graphic designer and although I was always encouraged to have a personal voice in my work, design was largely about something bigger than me and was about problem-solving.
Last year, I finished my Masters in Illustration and during the time I worked on my thesis, I felt like I had the time and space to really focus on developing my own voice further. 2020 was/is a bizarre and dystopian time but it left me with no choice but to slow down and spend a lot of time with myself.
I still call myself an illustrator and designer, but internally, as I give myself more and more time to reflect and paint more personal things, I am starting to identify as an artist. It doesn’t really matter whether I call myself an artist or illustrator, or even what others see me as, as long as I am creating work that is authentic to me, all is good.
Would you be able to describe your current artistic inspiration? How do you cultivate inspiration in your daily life? How important is a daily routine to your artistic practice?
I am always inspired by my immediate surroundings. Daily life, the hustle and bustle of living in a city, growing up as a woman in Delhi, life in India versus life in New York, all of it seeps into my work. Currently my inspiration comes from nature and observing people’s relationships with nature.
During the pandemic, I have pretty much stopped using the subway and I like going on long walks all over Manhattan. I love people-watching in parks, looking at birds in the bare trees and watching the last bits of light play with trees and buildings at sunset. Walking before sunset, especially in the winter really became a cherished daily ritual during the pandemic. It adds so much joy to my day and it feels like the most mindful time that I spend with myself. When you live in a small apartment with a glorious view of a brick wall, every bit of movement outside is quite inspirational 🙂
In general though, my art is a product of my thoughts and experiences and I am always eager to try new things and subject myself to new life experiences. There is so much to see and do in this world and it is an everyday intention for me to create time and space to cultivate curiosities.
I like having a rough structure to my week. Without it, I feel overwhelmed by the amount of things to be done. It has only been a little over 2 years since I moved to New York from Delhi and I am still finding my bearings here. From figuring out mundane life things like a meal plan and an exercise plan and doing the sheer amount of dishes when you are homebound on one hand to figuring out time for professional work, personal work, outreach and promotional work …it’s all a lot to be figuring out at once and it’s a lot of hit and trial to even find a routine that suits me. It’s important for me to reassess and adapt my routine every few months. A lot of my work involves location drawing and being outdoors, so my routine naturally ends up changing along with the seasons.
What is your favourite time of the day to create?
Not really any specific time. I prefer to start work on a new piece anytime during daylight hours. During the winter, I love painting straight after a walk. It’s when I feel most inspired. During warmer days, I can paint anywhere and everywhere as long as there is light and a place to plonk my butt.
Can you describe your daily routine to us from the time you wake up until you go to bed? Is there any part or ritual in your routine that stays consistent and feels most comforting to you?
My daily routine has ample space to vary with my varying moods. I am currently freelancing so I have more of a weekly than a daily routine. My daily routine is fairly mundane. I wake up around 7.30-8 am and then I love morning snuggles with my partner. I like my mornings slow and they go in order of exercise, news, breakfast and catching up with family and friends in India. Sometimes I journal before I get down to work. I mostly begin work around noon.
These days I am working on a children’s book, personal paintings, research and editorial work for a newsletter and a lot of promotional emailing to art directors. I usually go for a walk to my neighbourhood park before sunset and then come back and work till dinner. Some days I cook, some days my partner cooks. Post-dinner and tv, we both read till we fall asleep 🙂
What ritual or practice has felt grounding to you in the past year?
Currently, my walks are the most consistent part of my day. I also love to light an incense stick before I start work, it reminds me of home, though we never lit incense sticks at home daily, only during festivals. I never really had any intentional rituals back at home in Delhi, but now that I am here and am often homesick, I like going out of my way to surround myself with the colours, clothes, sights and smells that remind me of everything that I miss about India.
Do you experience creative blocks? How do you work through them or with them?
I haven’t faced a major creative block in a while and recently it has been the other way round- when something else in life is facing a block, painting and writing usually help me out of bad phases. Minor creative blocks/ feeling stuck about a singular piece or project happens all the time and it feels like part of the process.
When I am over my head, the best way to catch a break is to really do something that is physically all-consuming – plugging into music and going for a run or a swim. I also love talking and venting to my closest friends, or going to a library or bookstore and flipping through beautiful books.
How important is rest or boredom to you and do you consciously try to add it to your routine?
I am a fairly productive person and struggle with not doing anything. The only time that I am able to slow down and relax most easily is when I am in the midst of nature, so I am always looking for ways to be outdoors more often.
How do you use technology in your routine? For example, do you use any specific apps or a timer to get you into a flow?
I have a love-hate relationship with technology. I am very much a “think with your hands” kind of person. I always have a notebook and pens, paints and pencils around me. I love to make lists, take notes, just the physical action of writing on paper is so fun to me. I think my best work is also hands-on and done largely traditionally but a big part of my work also involves the computer.
There are huge advantages to technology as long as you are able to tame it to your process and not the other way around. I hate downloading and trying out new apps and mostly stick to using a physical calendar for day-to-day work, but I do use google calendars to manage the Zoom life.
Ishita Jain is an illustrator and designer based in New York. Originally from Delhi, India, she is an alumnus of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India and the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Program from the School of Visual Arts, New York. Ishita loves to draw on location and enjoys documenting the people, places and stories that surround her. Currently, she is delving into the world of visual journalism to share these stories and is especially interested in people’s relationship with the natural world that surrounds them. She also loves to read, swim and go on long hikes and hopes to travel the world and document it, one journal at a time. Her work can be seen on her website and on Instagram