Suzanne Dias

Suzanne Dias on her vivid, intimate illustrations

Illustrator Suzanne Dias tells CR about her journey into using colour, overcoming creative blocks, and how she approached designing a cover featuring abuse victims

“It was always very clear to me that I wanted to pursue a career in a creative field and my dream was always supported and encouraged by my family,” Suzanne Dias begins. The illustrator currently lives in Pune, India, having graduated in 2017 from the Symbiosis Institute of Design where she majored in graphic design.

Since finishing her course, she has snapped up a number of exciting commissions. One of the most recent is a portrait series for football media company Copa90, her illustrations spotlighting a handful of the most exciting female players in the game – many of whom will be competing in this year’s World Cup.

Even though she doesn’t think she has a “particular illustration ‘style’”, her vivid illustrations share a certain quality that makes them feel deeply personal, with a clear inclination towards intimate portrayals of women. However, she tries to find time to experiment with different processes, colours and techniques, which naturally help her to develop her repertoire: “Every now and then I have to consciously force myself out of my comfort zone and try new things so that I make sure I don’t end up becoming a one-dimensional designer.

“Every time I have a few free days between projects I try to draw for myself, just because I find it very therapeutic and it can help me recharge my creativity before I jump into another professional project where deadlines and meeting clients’ needs can sometimes be quite stressful,” she continues.

With colour being at the forefront of her work, it’s surprising to discover that it only became part of her creative toolkit further down the line. “At first, when most of my work was done in traditional mediums like pencil or paint, I was often afraid of colour because there was no scope for experimentation or changes and I wasn’t confident enough in my sense of putting colours together,” she explains. “But eventually once I made the shift to digital art, it was much easier to take risks, experiment and play around with various colour palettes till I found one I was happy with.”

Many of her projects are for creatives in other industries – such as designing album artwork for musicians – which makes the work more complex since it’s tied to someone else’s art. “I try to look at things from their perspective, especially when it comes to work for musicians and other fellow artists because it’s very important to portray the message they want to express accurately,” she explains.

She usually asks clients for their initial ideas, as “more often than not, they already have a vision of what they want the illustration to look like”. But there’s often room for flexibility: “I’ve been fortunate enough to work with wonderful clients so far, who gave me the freedom to interpret their vision in my own way so that the final result not only represents their expression but a bit of mine as well.”

One of her standout commissions is a cover she created for the November 2018 issue of Caravan, an Indian political and culture magazine. “It was an extremely important [issue] as it tackled the rise of the #MeToo movement in India and featured stories of numerous women who stood up and spoke against their abusers,” she explains. “Due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter, it was crucial to get the cover right and we wanted to move away from the way sexual abuse victims were traditionally portrayed. Instead we wanted to show the anger, courage and empowerment of these women who were standing up for themselves and for other women as well.” While the design involved “a lot of trial and error”, she was able to work together with creative director Tanvi Mishra on a powerful portrayal.

Dias has plenty in the pipeline, including “illustration and identity design projects for a few different independent brands and start-ups” alongside her ongoing work with online publication The Juggernaut, which focuses on South Asian politics, media and culture. But her scholarly days aren’t behind her just yet – later this year she’s heading to Sydney to pursue a Master’s Degree in design. “All in all it’s an exciting year ahead!,” she says.