Sachi Ediriweera: Designer / Graphic Novelist

Apr 24 2024.

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Ask a group of people what they do for a living today and no two answers are the same. That’s the beauty of the job market in this millennium – new opportunities, new careers and a brand-new idea of what success can look like and from where. In this segment, we explore the stories of those who stepped off the beaten paths of conventional careers to take a gamble on the roads less travelled, delving into their experiences to ask the big question – is there a career in pursuing an out-of-the-box job?

Sachi Ediriweera is an award-winning designer and graphic novelist. His first graphic novel, Lionborn (2017), was the first English-language graphic novel to be published by a Sri Lankan, followed by Wayfinder (2020) and now his latest, Enlighted (an illustrated novel on Prince Siddhartha’s Journey to Becoming Buddha) which was highly acclaimed worldwide and even used in certain school curricula abroad. Apart from his full-time job in design and pursuing illustration and comic work on the side, he’s also built a career in filmmaking as a writer, producer and director of acclaimed short films that have screened in numerous international festivals. He was recently in Sri Lanka as a guest speaker for the Galle Literary Festival in 2024.

Celebrating Sachi’s success as a designer and a graphic novelist, we delve into what it would take to make a creative outlet a full-time career. Is there opportunity for growth? Does Sri Lanka have the scope and demand for it? Sachi answers all. 

Q WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PURSUE A CAREER IN DESIGN AND COMICS? I was interested in drawing and storytelling during school. Once I realized that Sri Lanka didn't have accessible educational institutes for that sort of thing back then, I took it upon myself to spend hours and hours on the internet to learn about the craft. My first side hustle was doing graphic design for tuition classes while I was in school. Eventually, I landed my first job as a storyboard artist and graphic designer for a production studio in Colombo.

Q WHAT WERE SOME OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES OR BARRIERS TO ENTRY IN THIS FIELD? I think the first challenge many artists go through is trying to convince their parents that this is something worth pursuing. Many parents even to this day are under the impression that being a doctor or engineer is the only viable career path in the world. In my case, I dropped out of school early, which wasn't an easy conversation at all. Acquiring the necessary skills and experience to produce good work isn't easy while in Sri Lanka due to the lack of institutes that offer formal training, so dedicating yourself to getting through that phase can do wonders early on. However, on the downside, while it's a great way to learn, it also poses the challenge of your knowledge being a patchwork of various subjects due to a lack of structure.

Q WHAT ARE THE STEPS YOU TOOK TO ESTABLISH YOURSELF IN THIS FIELD? It was a learning curve for me with a lot of trial and error. Thanks to my early exposure to filmmaking, I understood the importance of marketing and promoting your own work. I focused on social media early on before "Content-calendars" was even a thing. Of course, social media is a double-edged sword now, so it's quite crucial to find that balance where you're making work that's true to you and has the ability to attract audiences as well.

Q WHAT SKILLS OR QUALITIES DO YOU BELIEVE ARE NECESSARY TO SUCCEED IN THIS FIELD? Apart from the obvious design or art-related academic accomplishments, I've been advising youngsters to acquire a sense of business acumen as well. While making art is great, you'd be surprised at how many young artists lack the knowledge to create or understand contracts which matters a lot in the long run. Skills such as marketing and communication can come in highly useful as well in this industry.

Q WHAT KEEPS YOU MOTIVATED AND CREATIVE IN YOUR WORK? I think it goes back to my interest in storytelling. From my filmmaking days to the work I do in design and comics now, it has always been about telling a story that I'm deeply passionate about using expression methods which are unique to me.

Q WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO IS INTERESTED IN PURSUING A SIMILAR CAREER PATH? Practice, practice, practice! I see a lot of young artists trying to throw themselves into the deeper end of the pool without learning the basics or even getting the right experience. Also, the rise of AI images can't be ignored either. As an artist, your voice and lived experience matter more than ever now, so find ways to feed that inner soul so it gets to blossom when the time comes. Q WHAT DO YOU FIND THE MOST REWARDING ABOUT YOUR JOB? Although I consider my audience when creating something, at its core, being able to create something which makes me proud is a wonderful part of this job.

Q CAN YOU RECALL A POINT IN YOUR CAREER WHERE YOU KNEW YOU MADE THE RIGHT DECISION? It's always the little moments over big awards or recognition for me. I still remember how a "TinTin in Sri Lanka" fan art I made went viral and how I got so many messages from people thanking me for making something like that because TinTin was a huge part of their childhoods. And something more recent, when the citizen protests (Aragalaya) happened in 2022, I saw multiple protest boards using the "Together" wordmark I had designed. A friend of mine even shared a photo where it was etched onto a wall at GotaGoGama. Finding out that something I made had that kind of impact was quite touching.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Panchali Illankoon

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

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