On days when the rest of the world goes to school or work, Swornim Shakya sits in front of a computer in this room holding a pen and a tablet.
Even though the 24-year-old grew up around a family of artists, he hadn’t thought of making a career out of digital illustration.
“I was more into photography,” Shakya shares.
“I wanted to do something in that field, but back then, it was hard to find work as a photographer unless you did event shoots.” While shooting at events would help him earn money, he couldn’t do it as it wouldn’t give him a creative outlet.
However, his hobby taught him image manipulation software at an early age. As Instagram’s popularity grew, Shakya was inspired by foreign creators who drew digitally and used their art skills to earn their livelihood.
“I started out by making handicrafts and carving wood,” remembers Shakya. He saved up his salary for a while and finally bought a Wacom tablet.
“Back in 2017, digital illustration was still in its fetal stage in Nepal,” he says. There were only a handful of art pages from the country and even fewer related to digital drawing. For Shakya, it was hard to find critics for his works. “I had to be my own critic for a long time,” he confesses.
“And I’m still very careful about what I put out. I don’t post my artwork unless I think they’re worth showing.”
It’s hard to pin down Shakya’s art style for he draws everything from cartoon-like characters to large, detailed portraits and fictional creatures. When asked if he’s influenced by his family’s Thankas, Shakya said that while his artistic family background might have affected him as he grew up, he’s now more interested in branching away from the religious and traditional aspects of it and taking up newer challenges. “I’m more inspired by digital artists right now,” he says.
Some may think that being exposed to art from a young age makes people more skilled, but that rarely holds for digital illustrations because, even though the concept of the art is similar, the process of it is completely different. You have to go back and relearn all the basics of art to get a hold of digital drawings. And the same holds for Shakya.
Right now, most of his work includes freelancing for different companies and institutions to make designs for posters, merchandise, and stills for videos. He’s also busy experimenting with different tools and sharpening his skills and styles. Most of what he makes independently also shows up on his Instagram.
“I make art for myself,” he says. “But I also want people to take something from my work, from what I portray.”
While he is doing well for himself today, this success didn’t come to him easy. In addition to the lack of feedback, Shakya also had a hard time building a career in illustration at a time when people didn’t know what it was.
Even though everything was in the process of becoming digitalized, people were still skeptical of anything that came from a computer and the internet.
The lack of digital space community also contributed to his loneliness. He was struggling alone, with no one to reach out to for advice or applause. Shakya drew for himself, posted for himself, but he was always aware of how alone he was. That’s also why he’s named his Instagram page, Ekanta Pana, a tribute to the peaceful but isolated journey he’s had.
After all these hurdles, today, Swornim Shakya stands as one of the first few people in Nepal to run a digital art page. Most days, he makes his own schedule and you can find him working from home, drawing for a living on the same tablet that he bought years ago.