“I took great comfort knowing that as long as I had paper and pen, I was never alone, and could never be bored,” says Sirin Thada. The New York-based illustrator and artist has been drawing ever since she could hold a pencil between her fingers, and pursued art in one form or another at every step of her education.
Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, it wasn’t until she moved to New York that she realised she could make a living in illustration. “I came to the city to study law and journalism, but in doing so, I started meeting creatives of all types, with jobs I never knew even existed,” she says. “I continued drawing and crafting just for fun, and when Tumblr was a thing, I started sharing my work there. Thanks to that amazing community, and the beauty of the internet, my work began to take off, and I started getting a decent amount of freelance work.”
“It would take several more (gruelling) years however, before I could comfortably call myself a full-time, professional artist and illustrator. I certainly had the love for it, and I was encouraged by each and every freelance gig I put under my belt,” she says, “but there was still a lot I did not understand about creating a viable career out of it all.” So she set about researching how to making it as a professional artist, honing her skills, and saving enough to quit her day job with the support of her husband.
Nowadays, Thada can be found illustrating for Catapult magazine, creating art for the hospitality market, or producing illustrations for clients ranging from Penguin Books to HBO to the Washington Post. Primarily using watercolours, acrylic paints and collage techniques, she creates dense, layered tableaux, brought to life through her ever-changing take on shape, colour and texture.
Thada’s influences stretch far and wide. “Traditional arts from all over the world hold a special place in my heart,” she says. “From Thai temple murals, to Navajo sandpaintings, German scherenschnitte, and Malian mud cloth – I love learning about the arts and crafts of different cultures. I am also a fan of many Post-Impressionist painters, including Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard, and modern masters such as Pierre Boncompain – I love their use of colour and distorted forms.
“The dynamic energy of the Futurists is also a huge inspiration to me. And, Jacob Lawrence is probably one of the biggest influences on my work, for his emotional and energetic way of capturing moments from everyday life. Having lived in and near Harlem for several years, makes his work even more special to me.”
Her palettes are derived from an emotional connection to colour. “I do gravitate toward using strong complementary colours, in the vein of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists,” she says. “But, on occasion, I push myself to break out of that. Ultimately, it’s the mood of the article, or the purpose of the project, that guides my colour choices. From calming turquoise, to fertile emerald greens, to jubilant yellows – mood most certainly determines my palette. After completing the rough sketch, I usually rough out the colours too. This helps me ensure the palette works, and that there’s flow, balance, or contrast and emphasis where needed.”
While many of her illustrations depict busy scenes evoking urban life, a key part of her practice draws on, and celebrates, the natural world. “I am constantly looking to nature for patterns and colour. My style is definitely organic, imperfect, wabi-sabi,” she says.
“I love working by hand, and all of my work incorporates varying degrees of handmade elements, mixed in with some digital magic. That little bit of the natural – the mark of the hand, that human presence – is important to me,” she continues. “I’ve used autumn leaves collected from my walks to make patterns or stencils; I take photos while hiking to use for reference; and I always try to sneak in birds or plants into an illustration if possible!
“On a more indirect level, being out in nature is how I relax and recharge. I enjoy slowing down to see and appreciate the little things, like the beauty of a leaf suspended from a spider web, pirouetting in the breeze like a figure skater,” she adds, “or the cuteness overload of a chubby baby woodchuck, chomping on some flowers or the thrill of spotting a secretive screech owl peeking out from a hole in a tree. I’m sure that being attuned to those sorts of things somehow filters into my work too.”
With the natural world facing the drastic effects of the climate crisis, Thada feels the visual arts can help make environmental messages more compelling and emotive. “With interest comes learning and understanding, dialogue and conversation, and ultimately, hopefully, action and change.”