Illustrator Alicia Souza captures her interests and the quirks of life to recreate them on household products and apparel

Alicia Souza is a bundle of happy energy. Sample the drawings on her website, everything — from the dogs to the cows, chimpanzees and people — is always smiling. Her Facebook page features life-saving advice such as “How to save a pigeon like a pro”, illustrated ‘Old Wives Tales’, which give you gems like these: “Having a black cat in the house will attract many suitors to the young lass living here”, and multiple manifestations of her undying love for dogs — “Dog as pillow”, “Dog as tissue” and “Dog as heater”. As she puts it, “Alicia Souza can’t keep her hands still, which is why she ended up illustrating for a living.”

Before her current avatar though, Alicia worked at a bank in Melbourne. Brought up and educated in Abu Dhabi, followed by a degree in communication design from Australia, Alicia says she was one of the few students in her school who hadn’t stopped drawing after kindergarten. “While most of my friends went on to more “mature” hobbies, I was still the person they came to for crayons in class.” Even during her day-job at the bank, Alicia continued to freelance as an illustrator until she arrived at a career crossroad — “I realised that I had to choose between making a life out of my love for illustrating or having nothing to do with it at all, for good.”

It was at this point that entrepreneur Shubhra Chadda contacted her from Bangalore with the idea of a lifestyle products line which encapsulated India in caricatures. Alicia quit her job, moved to India and co-founded Chumbak with Shubhra. “Chumbak was a wonderful way for me to discover India. I had never lived here before and everything fascinated me. I could go for a walk down the street and find stories to draw from,” she says. The brand, today, is a household name for Indian souvenirs, marked by its quirky, insider take on Indian idiosyncrasies.

Alicia, the brand

After two years establishing their trademark style, Alicia moved on to create her own company under her name. “I like being in startup mode,” she explains. “That excitement when you’ve just begun something and you constantly feel the need to keep at it, is a feeling I don’t ever want to let go of.” Alicia Souza, the brand, now produces t-shirts, mugs, magnets, notebooks and the like, all delving into what represents Alicia as a person. “While the style remains the same as Chumbak, because it’s the same person drawing, the subjects go beyond Indian symbols. I love dogs and coffee, so I draw them much more now; and there are always plenty of hearts everywhere,” she laughs.

Finding, and evolving, your own voice as an artist, is Alicia’s current area of interest — a topic she has spoken on at several platforms, including at the recently concluded INK conference in the city. Her own method of drawing is quick and in the spur of the moment. “People look at my work, and call it doodles sometimes because it’s evident that its been drawn very fast,” says Alicia. “I’m very impatient. So when I begin something, I have to finish it right there. The aim is to just get the message out.” Inspiration could come from anywhere — the oddly dressed man on a bike, the cow sprawled in the eye of a traffic jam. “I sketch faster than I write words; so as soon as I spot something, I put it down in rough images.” It is then expanded upon at leisure. Even so, Alicia’s output is tremendous for a young artist. “I make sure I put up at least one illustration a day — either on my Facebook page, blog or website.” She is currently working on setting up an online store of her products.

Other projects

Alicia also freelances with several publishing houses. One of them is Tinkle digest where she illustrates a column named “Factually”, which picturises facts children would be interested in. She has also just finished illustrating a children’s book for a self-publishing author. It’s obvious that the 26-year-old really can’t keep her hands still, as she claims. She doodled through the course of this interview too, saying at its close, “I love the feel of holding a pencil in my hand! Even when I’m writing something, I draw on the margins of it. I have to keep drawing, always!”

Keywords: Alicia Souza