Illustrator And Artist - Yashika Narapanawa

Jan 18 2024.

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Yashika Naranpanawa was always going to be an artist. From a small age, not a single blank surface was spared her artistic touch and in school, art just happened to be her favourite subject. After school, she moved from Matale to Colombo to study architecture at the University of Moratuwa to practise a profession that combined what she loved the most – art, math and creating beautiful spaces. At the same time, Yashika also pursued her art, developing a drawing style that’s beautifully unique and true to her. She has illustrated two published story books and just completed her artwork for a third. In conversation with the Daily Mirror, Yashika tells us about her work, her style and why art succeeds where words fail.

Q WHAT GOT YOU  INTO ART? My first memory of drawing is from around when I was 5 or 6, sitting on the floor with my sister, drawing on the wall or my little table. I always drew, I never stopped. When I got into grade 6, I started studying art as a subject and my friends as a group would do art together. We would scour newspapers and find art competitions to enter and all five of us would just draw together and send it in. We even won some!  I always pursued art as a subject as I grew up and after school,  I got into architecture professionally.

Q WORKING AS AN ARCHITECT, WHAT ROLE DOES ART STILL PLAY IN YOUR LIFE? Architecture and art are so similar but also different at the same time. Getting into architecture was a completely new thing and I got to explore different styles. In our first year,  we had a module in free-hand drawing and pursuing it encouraged me to draw more. Back in 2017, I used to post my art on my private profile on social media but then I wanted a page that could act as a portfolio of my work, so I started a separate Facebook and Instagram account. Then my friends asked me if I could send my artwork as postcards and then they would commission certain things from me like birthday cards and family portraits. During COVID-19, when I had a lot of free time, I wanted to explore being an illustrator and I got to illustrate two books.

Q YOU HAVE SUCH A UNIQUE ART STYLE; HOW DID IT DEVELOP? When I started, I didn’t have a specific style. I was very much into realistic art when I was in school, so the style I have now took time to develop. It developed into this style when I started working because it was such a transitional phase in my life. When we do architectural drawings, we often draw humans to show what people can do in space so I used to draw a lot of stick figures and then from there, the style of drawing just developed – the stick figure suddenly took shape, she got long hair, her silhouette relaxed a bit more and then, completely unconsciously, I had this girl I kept drawing in every picture and a new style.

Q IN ALMOST ALL OF YOUR WORK, THERE IS A FACELESS FEMALE PROTAGONIST. DOES SHE HAVE A NAME  AND STORY? She’s nameless and I think I like it like that. I draw for myself so that girl could be me but that girl could also be you. My art means something to me, it has its own story but that’s specific and personal to me and only me. To anyone seeing my art, I want it to be interpreted in their way. I think that’s the beauty of art. Unlike when you read a book where you are told a story of the characters and their history, with art, it’s whatever you want it to be. I love it when people tell me how they perceive my work and what it speaks to them.

Q HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR SIGNATURE STYLE? Surrealist. Reality and imagination blend. I tend to explore themes surrounding nature, psychology and self-reflection. For me, art communicates on a different scale, what I can’t say, I can draw.  But I don’t want to limit myself to a particular style. I think as an artist it’s important to have your style, but you must also develop it. It’s not authentic if you don’t.   Right now, even though I haven’t learnt a lot of theory on art, I am self-studying, attending workshops and talking to artists. For a very long time, I kept my work to myself but now I’m learning to show my work and get feedback. So, I hope to explore more into my signature style and motifs.

Q YOU’VE ILLUSTRATED TWO BOOKS AND YOU DO WORK BASED ON COMMISSION – HOW DID YOU GET INTO IT? Like I said I used to have friends and family who would commission art from me for birthdays and occasions. I had a friend who wanted to publish a collection of poems and he asked me to illustrate some works for him I enjoyed it. Then in 2021, Samudra Publications was publishing a Sinhala translation of Aesope’s Fables and asked me if I could illustrate for the book. It was an incredible experience because it was very challenging. I’m used to freestyling and drawing what I want but here, I had to consciously explore the characters and draw what suits them. It was an eye-opening experience because through illustrating this book I realized that my style can be developed to create more characters in my signature style. It doesn’t always have to be the nameless girl. Then the second book I did was for a children’s book called Rookada Pancha by Samudrika De Silva and it also helped me add to my style because I had to add more body and use less clean lines etc. I’m incredibly thankful that everyone who commissions my work always allows me to keep my style but at the same time, each of them helped me learn something new and expand on the range and scope of what I can offer as an artist.  

Q WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE ARTWORK? Well, I always think I could have done the work I do for others better. But on a personal level, my favourite artwork would be the girl in a cage I titled ‘Caged by Choice’ because she is locked in a cage but she’s holding the key. I drew it for myself at a time when I felt so stuck and as I mentioned earlier, what I can’t say in words I could always say through art. It’s very personal to me but at the same time, I found that it was also personal to many people. It’s one of my drawings that I get a lot of feedback on. People always pause at that picture, and they see so many things.

Q WHAT’S NEXT IN THE WORKS FOR YOU? Right now, I have another book I illustrated that’s coming out soon.  I’m also learning Illustrator so even though I work on pen and paper at the moment, I hope to go digital soon. As a professional architect, I love the work I do but at the same time, I’m very keen to pursue my work as an artist and illustrator because art has always been very cathartic to me as it gives me more time to connect with myself. I have a lot to learn academically but the goal is that I want to develop myself to a point where I can confidently say, yes – I am an artist. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Panchali Illankoon

Law Graduate, food and travel enthusiast and full time dog mom..

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