Women Series | August Edit
Women series is a monthly edit to explore creative entrepreneurship amongst women globally. Through this series, we wish to understand creative journeys, challenges, inspirations and develop a community. For the August edit, we have interviewed Rupi Sood of J'AIPUR JOURNAL (New York) and Rhea Gupte of FUSS (Goa).
Tell me about how your creative journey started. Did you have creative influences growing up? What education/training did you receive?
I grew up in a traditional Indian household as an only child where academics were valued more than the arts, so I missed out on opportunities to cultivate artistic expression. I remember losing myself in books though, and Bollywood films were always playing on the TV at home. As far as my studies, I went on to complete university degrees in Political Science and Education. But, I’m making up for lost time and exploring the creative life more fully now. I began freelance writing for various magazines after having my first child, and four years ago, launched J’AIPUR Journal online which has evolved into a coffee table style print publication as of 2017.
I’m a curious person by nature, and as a result, am currently pursing a Master’s degree in Contemporary Art to further my knowledge and understanding of the intricacies of the art world. I’m excited to see how I can contribute to that space as well here in New York City.
What has been the source of inspiration for you (people, travel, places, cultures , etc.)?
I am an avid traveller so experiences in different places definitely inspire my creative work and personal life. Living in a culture capital like New York is hugely inspiring in itself. Every day is a new adventure and I definitely don’t take the city for granted. The people I meet here, and abroad, especially those working in creative fields, inspire me immensely and remind me that we have so much to learn from each other.
Can you also talk about your experience of working in the field of print publishing? Do you think a digital medium is more accessible to express yourself?
My publication began as a website with only a handful of articles. I was traveling between New York, Paris and Marrakech at the time and simply wrote a few pieces about the places I visited and people I met along the way. I had a strong vision for the website and was lucky enough to work with a good friend in Madrid who shares a similar design sensibility. He provided me with a beautiful digital home for my articles. Now, there are people from all over the world who want to contribute to the magazine. The growth over the last few years has been slow and organic. It’s not a money-making business and I don’t run the magazine based on a traditional advertising model. It’s completely reader-supported (with most online sales coming through Instagram) and we have some of the best bookshops in the world that carry the magazine on their shelves. No one should launch a print magazine thinking they can make lots of money. What I do is fueled purely by passion. But I think if you make something that is unique and of high-quality, you will find the right audience.
Digital and print serve separate purposes and have different audiences. My heart is in print though. I collect beautiful coffee table books and always wanted to create a magazine that readers wouldn’t want to throw away but share with others or display as an object of art in their homes. So I’m working with one of the best printers in the world and am really particular about the papers and inks we use to create a pleasurable reading experience. Of course, the content and creative direction matter equally and I like to be involved in every step of the process. I think it’s easier to create, consume, and distribute content using the digital medium. Plus, it can have a wider reach and offers more ways to generate revenue. But it’s all about what makes you happy. I was always being asked by my online readers to create something in print so it was my way of giving back by producing a beautiful publication that celebrates diversity in the arts. J’AIPUR is one of only a handful of independent—meaning self-funded, or reader-supported—print magazines in the world that is rooted in the East. Hopefully, this number will continue to grow as we need more publications that match meaningful content with beautiful design and bring stories from the East to the West and vice versa.
What is the step forward for your personal projects? Would you like to share any? Could you comment about being a ‘creative soul' and does travel facilitate your ideas?
The plan is to always produce an edition of the magazine that is better than the previous. It’s a work in progress and it evolves as I grow as a person. I might experiment with publishing artist books at some point. The learning curve is huge in launching a magazine especially when you’re trying to do it all by yourself. I just want to make something of substance and style that people will collect and not discard. Plus, within the platform of the magazine, I feel really passionate about supporting artists, especially those of South Asian and other Eastern backgrounds. I can see myself publishing a certain number of editions of J’AIPUR, perhaps five to ten, before moving onto a new print project.
I’m drawn to the arts but I can’t paint, draw, sing or play an instrument because I wasn’t encouraged to do so as a child. However, it’s never too late to tap into your creative side so that’s why I began writing and then launched a publication where I have complete control of the design and editorial process. My creative soul needs to filled with a constant stream of arts and cultural activities such as seeing exhibits at galleries and museums, listening to live music, watching theatre, etcetera — Iife can be difficult enough to navigate so I like to fill it with as much art and beauty as I can. Through the stories within the magazine, I want to spread this message to my readers so they too can keep nurturing their creative souls.
Travel is indeed a huge source of inspiration. As I mentioned earlier, I’m filled with curiosity so I have this inner desire to keep exploring the world and expanding my mind. I can’t imagine living my entire life in only one city or not traveling. I think it’s essential to the creative process to see, experience and learn as much as you can. You can’t do that sitting in one place.
Could you comment on the current landscape of independent publications?
There are so many niche independent titles being launched across the globe right now, and of course just as many magazine titles shutter. It’s a tough business, especially for small independent publishers who don’t have generous ad budgets and rely solely on reader support to cover costs. But I think some of these publications have seen tremendous success because they’ve been able to figure out the financial side (by operating as creative studios, for example) along with the editorial.
Independent magazines are an important part of the publishing landscape since they provide something that is unique from what’s seen on the typical newsstand which is filled with big, glossy publications that are more like ad catalogues and made for monthly consumption. Independent magazines have more of a cult-like readership that’s looking for quality over quantity and an alternate to mainstream content. They have sophisticated readers who have to come to expect the best of content, design and creativity and don’t mind paying $20-30 for something that forms a part of a collection on their bookshelves.
Tell me how your artistic journey started. ( Did you have artistic influences growing up? What education/ training did you receive?
My early creative inspirations were all animation related. I was a huge fan of Japanese anime, so work from Studio Ghibli, DragonballZ, Cardcaptors and also American cartoons on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network were a big creative inspiration growing up. I was very keen to pursue animation as a career. I did a course for the same right out of school in my vacations and part-time in college, which also including image and video editing. This kind of formed a basis of my skill set, which I came to realize much later. After studying Arts in St. Xavier's college in Mumbai, I decided to study Fashion Communication for my Bachelor's Degree from NIFT. My journey has been a mash-up of all the things I have wanted to do at a given time. So I have freelanced as a model, a stylist, consultant, writer... I took up photography and also creative direction. Wherever I saw myself explore my creativity and further challenge it, I took it up and went in that direction. Several times combining my skills from different yet very related fields. All of these have formed a base for my artistic journey, but I feel it truly started when I began exploring various mediums and creating digital artworks. Working on these gives me the child-like whimsy of daydreaming and the joy of creating.
What has been the source of inspiration for you( people, places, cultures etc)
I feel mainly my day dreaming has been a source of inspiration to me. When I have conversations or when I'm simply sitting at my desk and editing, I feel my mind is always thinking of imaginary worlds in terms of colours, elements and stories. I like to note these ideas down and try and to execute as much as I can. I like to think in terms of emotions first and then aesthetics. I like the emotion to inform the aesthetic. I am very drawn to human emotion be it mine or the people I spend time with or emotions depicted in films or music. In a lot of my work I try to portray an emotion even if it is with inanimate objects or the setting of an image. If people read my writing or see an image I have made, I am interested in what it could make them feel, if they do feel something seeing my work.
Could you share the conceiving of your artistic career? We are curious to know about the process and its development.
I feel I got into it without really knowing that I wanted to be an artist and simply create. However, this theme of simply creating has been a part of me since I was very little. I started writing poetry when I was in third grade and I still do. I'd simply get an idea of something I wanted to write about and I'd go ahead and write. I usually have scraps of paper on which I have written my thoughts even in random situations like at a lunch or when hanging out with friends. I feel the need to create was always there and it was very nicely complemented by the skills I developed by learning different softwares , by learning how to make images, by playing with color and experimenting. I even treat my commercial projects like art projects. I pick only the ones which satisfy me creatively and don't take projects just for the sake of it, where I can't explore. So in this way, I feel I am happy working on commissions and personal projects equally. I feel that is one way to keep myself motivated at all times and not feel stuck. I enjoy conceptualizing, so I spend a lot of time on figuring out what I wish to make and how. I usually do this on paper which I then translate into a photograph or digital art. Developing my art is something I am very keen on, as I always want to keep learning and keep getting better. I also want to do more diverse work and explore 3d animation, painting, design, story-telling. As I grow, I hope my skills and quality of work will keep growing too.
What is the step forward for your personal projects?
At the moment, I don't have a lot of time to dedicate to personal projects. This year, I have my hands full with two full-time creative direction gigs for two e-commerce websites. So I am hoping to do my best and give it my all by still creating as much as possible in my role, with the team. However, I do want to make time to continue my floating dresses series called Ethical Threads, I also want to add new pieces to my Escape on an Aeroplane series and apart from that I have lots of conceptual ideas of new series I wish to make. I need to balance it and not get discouraged if I am unable to keep the pace as I want it to be, juggling between all my other freelance gigs. My list of personal projects which I want to do keeps getting longer and longer and at times I feel low for not having executed enough. But I also know I am doing my best and making the most of the time I have. It's a constant battle of telling myself to do more and acknowledging that I am in fact doing enough.
Could you comment on the current landscape of independent art/ curation industry in India? What are the major challenges you face as a freelancer? Do you feel it has anything to do with being a woman?
I feel it is a wonderful time to be an artist. We have the power to self-publish and share our work with the world at a tap on the screen. We can mold our career the way we wish to by planning it ourselves and pursuing it, without necessarily depending on a job with a single publication or brand; as it was earlier. There are young platforms sprouting for Indian artists which are really putting the spotlight on talent and ideas. So it's exciting and feels like there are endless possibilities.
As a freelancer, I did face challenges when I started. A lot of times people weren't professional, there were delays in payments, they didn't state a proper scope of work. With every assignment gone slightly awry, I became better at drafting my legal contracts with my terms and conditions in place. I made sure there was clear communication from the beginning so the client saw that this was going to be a very professional setting where they would need to value my time as I value theirs. I always ask for an advance and am happy to let go of a client if they refuse to do so. I am rather strict with the way I work and that has led me to thrive as a freelancer. I really enjoy every step of it now because I have a set way of working and clear expectations set with my clients.
In the beginning, I used to find maintaining accounts a nightmare, but I learned and got better. There is a lot of multi-tasking one has to do as a freelancer, apart from just doing the job. It was important for me to iron out all of these additional glitches to have a smooth and peaceful working relationship with my clients.
I don't feel being a woman has contributed any of these. This could be because I am very selective about the clients I work with and really stay away from big commercial projects which have lots of people on set. They seem too chaotic to me and I really enjoy working in isolation or with a small team. So I haven't faced any kind of sexism in my work environment as a creative. I have also been lucky to work with and for a lot of talented women. In fact, a majority of my clients have been women.