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The artist’s workspace as a floating island

Aakanksha Mittra, UI artist and children's book illustrator, on why her workspace gives her the confidence to create 

Aakanksha Mittra
Aakanksha Mittra

An artist doing UI design for the mobile and web games company Zynga, Aakanksha Mittra also moonlights as a children’s book illustrator. Her latest, with Pratham Books, is called The Birthday Menu, an endearing yet smartly educative short story about a little girl called Kanchi, who is (understandably) upset about covid-lockdowns affecting plans for her fun and fancy birthday meal.

Through her growing up years, Mittra would always be sketching — even during some of the more uninteresting classes in middle- and high-school — leading her to pursue a degree in animation film design at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.

Currently, at her day job at Zynga, she works on CSR2, a car racing game. In her over five-year-long stint here, she’d also worked on the popular game Farmville. “I tend to take up projects on the side which involve illustration as well as digital art,” she says. Her engagement with Pratham is one such “key project”, she says, recalling that she’d stared working with them just about two years ago, with the title Maa, is that you?

In this interview with Lounge, she talks about how her work gives her small moments of self-discovery, and how changes in her physical workspace have influenced her creative process. 
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Describe your current workspace to us.
My workspace has been like a floating island over the years. What started out as an office table and desk slowly evolved into just having the right tools and frame of mind to work in! As long as I feel like I'm in my element and I have what I need to create, I am comfortable calling [where I am then] my workspace. But to answer the question precisely, my "current" workspace consists of a white table in my room which supports my laptop and my Cintiq (a pen input device, [on which] you can draw directly on the screen). This space also has a cat visitor every couple of hours, as my three cats take turns to keep me company.

Has it always been this way? Or has it evolved over the years?
No, it has not always been this way. It's definitely evolved over the years. Along with the workspace evolving, my outlook towards my work, and how I work, has evolved as well. As much as I enjoy working as a UI artist, I still need that extra kick — the joy I feel when I create something by myself. I found that taking up freelance [assignments] on the side, or setting up stalls at art markets worked beautifully as an outlet! It definitely took time to reach this [stage]. I had to first stabilize how I worked my job before being able to think freely about side-gigs.

One of Aakanksha's cats visits her at her desk
One of Aakanksha's cats visits her at her desk (Courtesy Aakanksha Mittra)

How would you define your daily relationship with this space?
It's a sacred space for me, because that's where I'm at my prime. It gives me the confidence to create. I'd say it's a bittersweet affair too. On days when I'm low on energy and I feel like I need time off, I use this same space to consume content which helps me tide over this feeling. Earlier, I used to feel like I always had to be at my 100 percent; but I’ve slowly tried to teach myself that it's okay to slow down sometimes, and focus on myself without feeling guilty.

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

Some of the most memorable moments [here] were when I was working [on projects for] Pratham Books. I found ways in which I could standardise my workflow and do things more efficiently as well as enjoy myself with it! With Zynga work, since it's a live production project, I always have small moments where I discover new ways to approach my work. This is [space] where my love for illustration and the work I do for Zynga sort of merge and I'm able to think out of the box, go wild with branding designs, look at multiple iterations for a feature visual, and so on.

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

If I were to trade, I think I'd trade it in for a small cottage in the hills or the woods, but I'd keep all the tools I need with me (along with my cats of course!). The one thing I miss is being close to nature — enjoying a good breeze or just admiring how beautiful everything is. For about seven months in 2014, I spent time in Sikkim with a studio called Echostream. That was the ideal setting for me. Looking back, I'd love the same mountain setting with a cozy space to myself!

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

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