Macro level: 5

A lot can happen in five years. Isn’t that always the question employers ask you at interviews, where do you see yourself in five years? Well five years ago to this day I was at my final year graduation exhibition. I came across heart warming, nostalgic photographs on my Facebook memories. Me and old friends, me and my wonderful mama, my little niece in front of my stand. It’s crazy what can happen in five years. I look back on who I was when I was leaving university – lacking real industry knowledge, so naive of the world, under confident, the ultimate bubble-university-graduate. I could list all the ups and downs of the past years but I’d rather not bore you, or send myself off on a high speed rollercoaster just before bed! It’s been eventful to say the least. 

Though we’re currently living in strange times with a global pandemic and political unrest. It’s all too easy to despair. But when I look back on my life in the last five years on a macro level, life has honestly changed for the better. There’s been a lot of hard lessons, but so much growth. A handful of older and newer friends who I’ll always hold dear remain. Family is still family, because thankfully we never change! Several grey hairs have emerged, I’m still trying to embrace those. I finally found a special soul, to match my own, one I can call home, he’s called Charlie. I found a new workplace and the Creative Director who interviewed me literally gave me hope again in the design world and myself just at a time I really needed. Finally, for the first time since leaving university, I’ve started to embrace all the creative parts of myself and what direction I want them to go in. It’s been no easy feat either navigating the competitive, white world of design and filling the gaping holes that higher education leaves. 

All in all, five years on I’ve learnt how to make my own happiness. I’d never have predicted half the things that have happened since 2015 so who knows what the next five years have in store. Time is bloody weird when you think about it (too much) the idea that we’re constantly going forwards even though at times we might feel stuck. There’s still an underlying current willing us on towards something better. It’s surprising how much progress you make when you’re living day by day. Not too many months ago I was lamenting the feeling “I’d done nothing of value” but now, looking back five years, I can see how wrong I was.

Words & Illustration: Radhika Mary

Long time creator, first time(ish) seller

The first time I sold a piece of creative design was at my end of year Graduation exhibition. Back in 2015, I designed, printed and packed up some typographic prints, handed them over to a tutor and then collected a surprising couple of notes a few days later. I thought no one would buy my prints! That was the first time I’d sold any prints.

Personally, I’ve always had an element of “fear” when it comes to my painting and graphic design explorations. Fearing if other people will like it, fear that it’s somehow not good enough against other industry work. A lot of that goes back to my fourteen-year-old self overrhearing conversations right behind me in Art Class by classmates lamenting, “Radhika’s not even really that good, I don’t understand why the teachers love her”. I now look back and realise they were just jealous twits because I was a straight A* student in Art throughout high school, but those kind of comments, they stick. I used to just get my head down and pour my heart into my art – because I loved it. So that’s where I’m heading back to. 

Being creative is all I’ve ever known. My mama loves to tell the story of when I was a young kid, the first thing I’d do when I woke up was crawl to the end of the bed, where I’d leave books and crayons, to do morning colouring and drawing. I can’t even express how much being creative is in my bones, but anyone who knows me well knows that I just live and breathe creativity and art. It’s where I’m at home. 

So you see there’s never really ever been another career route for me, it’s always been the notion that I must do something creative. However, that’s where it gets tricky. Once you get older and you’re no longer creating for pleasure but for money and bills, that’s when you actually become less creative in some ways. I’ve been working in the industry for five years now and one way or another I’ve fallen into jobs that either restrict my creativity or don’t make full use of what I can or want to do. And I’m learning that, that’s okay. I’ve never been one to chase after the glossy, award-winning trendy work. I’m in it for the long haul, the designs that last more than a season, the designs that come from ideas and meanings. My realistic outlook on my day job versus my passion is where Radmakes was born. It’s my creative outlet, a way to fully explore anything creative I desire to! A chance to get back to making, purely for the love of it. 

Coming from a Fine Art background I’ve always been oddly wary of selling my work. To me they were precious paintings and works of art I’d poured hours and hours over, lost sleep over sometimes. I didn’t want to exchange them for money because I felt giving them away was in a way giving away a part of my talent and hard work. But now I’m much older and wiser I understand that me selling a painting or a print doesn’t mean I loose my skills. I’m merely parting with the final output, but I the creator retain my creative mind and ability to create more. Besides what good is creating a load of art and crafty things and just keeping them to stare at all day myself? Art should be shared with the masses.

I came across this quote earlier in the year and it really struck a chord with where I feel I am right now. I’d been holding off pushing Radmakes, mostly again, down to fear. But there has to be something said for the feeling of fear – it propels you to do something.    

 “If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.” – David Bowie. 

Last December, I sold my first commissioned painting. That was a huge step for me. Up until then I’d only ever given one other painting away and that was a gift for my sister’s wedding anniversary a few years back. Despite being a long time creator I’m evidently new to the whole world of selling. It’s fair to say I’m not a natural at it, it’s been a lot of hard work, trial and error. Getting a lot wrong! But that’s the way you learn. My knowledge of graphic design and the commercial side of the industry has played a huge part of feeding into my outlook on art and crucially how to set up my first ever shop. I’ve got so many things planned! It’s a little bit scary at times but one thing is for sure I no longer need to be the fourteen-year-old clutching onto my sketchbook worried what everyone else thinks. 

Quite aptly that first print I ever sold had words I’d written, typeset in a beautiful serif font and printed onto gorgeously textural Somerset stock. The heading words were: “The future scares the hell out of me”. It’s funny how things come back around, how the element of fear seems to surround my work a lot more than I realised before I sat down to write this piece! But I like to be honest, I think that’s where we connect as humans and honesty is an element I always try to instil into the way I work. As I’ve been setting up my first online shop these words come back to me a lot, the future does scare the hell out of me, but this time around, that’s okay.

Words & Photography: Radhika Mary

So, where are you really from?

A big thank you to Pennycress for including me in their wonderful, first zine. It’s a great compilation and celebration of creatives of colour up North. The first issue focuses on the theme “So, where are you really from?” Thanks so much for commissioning my first pieces of writing but most importantly championing something so important and needed in the industry right now.

My seven-year-old niece totally thinks I’m famous now that my picture has been printed.

Check out Pennycress’ website for info on how you can secure a limited copy, get supporting creatives of colour.

Instagram: @pennycress.zine

pennycress zinepennycress zine feature