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As a freelancer, a steady workspace doesn't suit me: Diya Ullas

Artist and tattooist Diya Ullas on growing up with the works of Quentin Blake, why their grandmother's glasses keep them company when working, and more

Artist Diya Ullas' works reflect the order in chaos one tends to feel within oneself.
Artist Diya Ullas' works reflect the order in chaos one tends to feel within oneself. (Courtesy Diya Ullas)

Everything about queer visual artist Diya Ullas (they/them) seems to involve bright colours and intricate patterns: their artwork, their Instagram page, even their person. Such richness is admittedly born of the artist’s own chaotic mind and queer identity. 

More than just a sight for sore eyes, these tend to reflect the order in chaos one tends to feel within oneself. A graduate in Creative Arts from the erstwhile Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Ullas dabbles in several art forms and makes everything from paintings to animations to handpoked tattoos. Their quirky paintings and digital art have also been turned into cool t-shirts that the artist sells at fairs.

At the moment, Ullas is working on a graphic novel based on a story they wrote called The Candid Killer, which promises to capture the plethora of human expressions.

In an interview with Lounge, Ullas gets candid about mental health, inspiration and their yearning for stability amidst chaos.

Describe your current workspace to us.

My workspace is wherever I am. As a freelancer, a steady space doesn't suit me, as the projects find their own path as they come to life. It depends on where my mind is. Sometimes, it may even be sketching in bed. It's fluid and falters at times, but it's the only way I see my thoughts crystallise into art.

Has it always been this way? Or has it evolved over the years?

I've always found myself moving, almost constantly. It helps me search for little sparks in my solitude. There's a certain bubble you build for yourself with the art that you're creating. It's an extension of you. You hate it with a burning passion at moments, but then you find yourself, warmer, kinder even with time. There is a yearning within me for a singular space, a stable one. A little studio that's mine, but that's a little dream that lives within the confines of my skull for now.

Back when I first began drawing, my workspace was a whole dining table that I claimed as my own, banishing my family from it. Well, not really, but they were kind enough to allow me to occupy that space. It was cluttered with markers, pencils, crayons and chaos. It was a time when I needed that space and art allowed me to occupy it. It brought a voice to an incredibly shy child. It still does.

How would you define your daily relationship with this space?

My daily relationship with my workspace is a troubled one. I wish I could tell you that after all the years I've spent drawing, I've found the ability to fall into that comfort with nothing but ease. Unfortunately, my mental health makes many a day a wee bit wonky in terms of functionality. The way a space feels alters in accordance, but the attachment to a project remains unfaltering. This means that when I feel that connection, all the pyaar that I require flows through me into every little speck of what I'm creating, even if it's a mess. It just takes a minute sometimes, to find peace within that space. Wherever it may be.

A shot of Ullas working on a tattoo. They believe that there's a certain bubble one builds for themselves with the art that one is creating.
A shot of Ullas working on a tattoo. They believe that there's a certain bubble one builds for themselves with the art that one is creating. (Courtesy Diya Ullas)

Tell us about some of the eureka moments you have had and major works that you have done from here.

In the spaces that I've shuttled between, I've discovered so much about myself. I've learnt of my love for illustrating for children; I’ve faced my fear of making digital art and gone from feeling like it was something I could never do to animating. I have even started tattooing. Every moment that I've spent creating, I've done something that once felt impossible to me.

When the pandemic hit, the world halted around me and everybody else, but I kept myself sane for a month or two, animating a video saturated in such soft, sappy sentiments that only the 22-year-old me could comprehend. It was a Herculean task for me though because I spent the entirety of my life wanting to animate, but being afraid. I sat at my desk every day and chipped away at a second or two until it was done. I'm still so proud of it. It's called Rocket, it's an original song and gives away how cheesy I am.

I digitised and animated an old poster I made for a class in college about the evolution of music.

Bringing to life something that younger me did was so wholesome as an experience. It felt like I'd grown up. Finally.

I also taught myself how to tattoo as I sat with the ingredients to create pictures of permanence on my skin. It was one the most exhilarating feelings to learn and get better with every poke.

Eureka hasn't specifically been a moment I've had whilst drawing, but more of a feeling of accomplishment that a piece is complete. It's a feeling of warmth, exhaustion and yearning to get to bed because I'd probably have been up all night.

If you were to trade in this place for another, what would it be?

As lovely as this little anarchic bubble I exist and art in is, I'd love to create outside. To be able to breathe better and exist without the confines of concrete walls.

What's the one thing that has always been at your workspace over the years? Why?

My grandmother's glasses. She was the most important human being in my life and passed away when I was 18. I'm now 25 and I still have her glasses on the mess I call my desk. Finding out that she had cancer, fixed my truancy in school. She always made me want to be a better creature and she believed in me more than anyone should. So, I keep her ancient spectacles around to remind me that I can do things especially when I feel like I can't. This, unfortunately, happens rather frequently. I hope that someday I can make her proud. I want her to see me do well.

The first artist whose work you followed closely/sometimes imitated. What about them appealed to you?

The first bit of art that I came across that I adored belonged to Quentin Blake in the Roald Dahl books that our mother read to us when we were children. That, along with the clichéd influences of Picasso and the pandemonium in my mind, led to me finding my style of art.

What was the first medium/tool you used in the early years of practice? How has that evolved now?

Permanent markers have been a constant throughout my life. For all the confidence I lack as an adult, I never liked making rough drawings and always went into each piece, marker first. It's helped me trust myself more and I always find myself carrying a marker with me, even today. Now, I also create digital art and draw permanent pictures on people with a needle or two. I didn't see myself getting here when I began, but I'm here and it most certainly has been quite the process to navigate the different medium I've come to love.

Indumathy Sukanya is an artist and independent journalist based in Bengaluru

Creative Corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creative individuals and their relationships with their workspaces.

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