I love interviewing local artists, and another awesome Austinite artist, Shyama Golden, will be the first to point out the “y” in her name is silent, as in Shama-Llama! She’s basically a one woman shop for art and design. Growing up, she would draw images one pixel at a time, make bad oil paintings (her words, not ours!), memorize defunct 1960s architecture books, and take pictures of neighborhood cats with her dad’s SLR camera. Being a creative was just her destiny, it seemed. Since then, she’s learned computer skills, painted things that aren’t ponies, lived in 3 countries, worked for Texas Monthly magazine for a few years, and then worked independently for a couple more (and counting). If you’d like to see where this story goes, read below for the full interview…
Shyama, tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.
Shyama: I’m an artist and designer based out of Austin, TX. My focus is on illustration, identity work and painting. I’ve also done interface design for many years and know how to design for the web as well as write front end code–something that has helped me reach many new people through my art even though I just started creating new personal work about a year ago.
Very cool we both live in Austin, what part of the city are you in and does it draw a good source of inspiration for you?
Shyama: I’ve lived and worked out of downtown Austin for the past 5 years. My place is in a small 1940’s office building that has been converted to loft spaces. I think it does inspire my work in ways that are hard to define, there’s something about being in a rich visual environment that’s just good for the mental health of a creative person–as opposed to a sea of beige, for example. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s located right between the art museums downtown and the East side art and design community.
Your name rhymes with…?
Shyama: Llama, comma, mamma, drama, Obama, and many other things, much to the benefit of those who have felt inspired to improvise songs based on my name. People love to say Shyama-Llama and at some point I just decided to run with it.
That can’t be the only reason why you decided to paint, print and have Llama T-Shirts is it? Has it evolved into a brand all in its own?
Shyama: Definitely not the only reason. Llamas have a certain quirkiness that’s always been endearing to me. When I posted a couple of llama paintings and drawings I did for fun, I discovered that I wasn’t alone in being drawn to the awkward appeal of llamas.
There’s a well known debate in the design community regarding the role of education in a designer’s work versus no design education, what do you think about this?
Shyama: I think the person who is going to succeed will be self motivated, and they’ll teach themselves either on their own or in a school environment. You can only learn so much in the hours you are in school, so most of it is self initiated anyway. Design school is valuable for the mentorship you get from your teachers. You can also get this type of mentorship without school by working with the right people but it can be difficult to find.
Now that you have prints, can we expect to see you at the annual Flatstock show in SXSW?
Shyama: I did have my Home Sweet Brachiosaurus print at Flatstock this year, through the good people at Industry Screen Print, who now make all of my silk screened editions. It’s very possible I’ll be collaborating with them on a print or two next year as well. I also was fortunate enough to get a chance to take part in Style X (Style By) this year, where my t-shirt designs were printed on demand right there in the convention center.
Having lived in so many different countries, what can you say about the diversities of cultures you’ve experienced and how does that play a part in how you work?
Shyama: I’ve lived in U.S. my whole life other than one year in New Zealand as a child and then two years in Sri Lanka during my teens. Living in Sri Lanka may have taught me more than any other experience, mainly because it was such a drastic departure from everything I had known, and the things I took for granted as being “necessities.” I don’t think this necessarily shows in my work, but being able occasionally look at American culture from an outside perspective has its benefits for an artist who lives here.
Have any favorite Asian films you like to unwind to?
Shyama: Raise the Red Lantern is one of my favorite Asian films. It’s a haunting and visually stunning film that keeps you thinking about the state of the women in the story long after the movie ends. I haven’t seen anything else quite like it.
Would you recommend the lifestyle of a freelancer or would you suggest a new artist to go the route of a 9-5?
Shyama: I think the ideal situation for designers who are fresh out of school will be working for someone talented whom they really respect. If the only option is working for someone who can’t teach you much about design (either because you’ve already surpassed your peers or because the opportunities just aren’t that attractive), then you are better off freelancing and teaching yourself.
Lastly, what is on the horizon for you and what can we expect to see from you in the coming months?
Shyama: I’m working on sketches for a series of paintings which I’ve been talking about forever and thinking about for even longer than that. I’m giving myself some time to step back and experiment with new themes and do things that will help me sharpen my skills, such as keeping up with a sketchbook. In short, no solid plans yet, just focusing on getting better at what I do. I want to explore different ideas and refine them before rushing to plan another show, because doing a series is a big step for me and I think it will be worth the wait.
Want to keep tabs on Shyama’s work? Follow her cookie crumb trail below: