The art of self-expression

Published On: January 10, 2020 01:42 PM NPT By: URZA ACHARYA

Being an artist today definitely has its perks. For the longest time, art was limited to painting, sketching, sculpting in real life, which once complete could never be retouched again. But thanks to the digital age, artists now have a limitless playground where they can experiment with colors, shapes, and concepts and that too without any restrictions whatsoever. 

Similarly, as our lives have become so intertwined with technology, it comes as no surprise that many artists have shifted to the digital medium to bring their creativity out into the world. 

“As technology has and will continue to shape how we live our lives, I thought it was best to be flexible about the way I want to showcase my artistic expression,” says Mamina Shrestha, an educator and digital artist based in Kathmandu, Nepal. Shrestha, who is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Information Technology at St. Xavier’s College in Maitighar, says her experience as an IT student might have also led her to chose to become a graphic illustrator rather than, say, a conventional painter. 

According to her, she has always been that kid who used to draw. But rather than drawing landscapes, she gravitated towards drawing faces and characters, mainly from the animes and Disney films she used to watch. And so, even though she pursued other fields and ended up teaching kids at Karkhana, her artistic aspirations never really left her.

About two years ago, when Shrestha used to handle the social media presence of Karkhana, she worked with other designers who made posters for the company. “After a while, I decided to make them myself and this was when I tried digital art for the first time,” she recalls.

However, she says she hasn’t completely switched to the digital medium and that she does turn to pen and paper every once in a while. “As my professional career demands more of digital artwork, it’s what I end up doing the most,” explains Shrestha. 

In 2018, her friends from the poetry group “Kavindrapur” asked her to make some illustrations based on some phrases and prompts. She was required to come up with illustrations for phrases like “Baklo maya” (thick love) and “Ek cup khusi” (a cup of happiness) and she claims the project was both challenging and fun at the same time. 

This experience led her to make other illustrations about the joy in the mundane and that is a recurring theme in her illustrations. If you were to look at her Instagram handle (@maina_chitra), you would find simple but cute things about daily life (like the picture of a pulse reader with the phrase “Kathmandu is Bae”). “My art is all about relatability and finding joy in things we might take for granted,” says Shrestha.

Another thing that stands out in all her works are the colors. “As a child, I was always scared to add colors to my drawing because I was afraid I would ruin the whole thing. In the beginning, even my illustrations were monochromatic and every time I needed to use colors, I’d become anxious,” reveals Shrestha.

But after some people commented that adding colors would help them feel a sense of emotion and attachment with her drawings, she decided to go for it. “For instance, if I draw a pair of socks, it needs to look warm and pleasant so people can relate to it. That’s where colors now come in,” she says. 

As of now, her illustrations are being sold as stickers at Little Things, a gift shop located at Arun Thapa Chowk in Sanepa, Lalitpur. She also does commission work for a non-profit organization called “Changing Stories Nepal” where she makes illustrations for their blogs. 

Shrestha’s art has also become a big part of her work as an educator at Karkhana. She teaches robotics to kid in a course that is unconventional and allows her a lot of flexibility. “I’ve made stickers about robots for my students to keep them motivated and excited about what they are learning,” she says.

Shrestha has recently also started a community for digital artists called “Art Pulse” which focuses on bridging the gap between professional digital artists and novice digital artists who have only just started experimenting digitally. She recently conducted the first session of “Art Pulse” and digital artists came together to discuss their experiences in the field, learn the basics of graphic illustrations, and talk about creative inspirations. 

According to Shrestha, many digital artists feel an immense sense of pressure to have a social media presence as well as to post regularly. For her, Maina Chitra is more about documenting her work rather than her wanting to draw attention to herself in the digital world. That, she says, will happen eventually if an artist is focused on what he/she wants to do and achieve with their art. 

“I want to tell people who are new to the world of illustrations and digital art that before they listen to the demands and criticisms (and they will come), they should first focus on properly expressing themselves and getting their craft right,” she says adding that you have to concentrate on doing the best you can and block out the noise.


(Urza Acharya)

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