Imagine you are walking down your favourite street and suddenly, out of nowhere, you see a cute, brightly coloured monster hugging a tree. This is how Mumbai-based illustrator Sebin Simon’s imagination has been running since March last year. Simon clicks photographs of seemingly everyday subjects and objects, and transforms the scene by employing his digital illustration skills. Founder of the popular Facebook page Inkology which has over 6.5 lakh likes, Simon has created images that have become a source of motivation for scores of people in India, as well as overseas. The illustrated images, his ‘monster sightings,’ are spontaneously created and span a number of locations in the country, right from Kasol to Kochi. From taking out leashed monsters on long walks to ones lurking behind drain pipes, Simon will stop at nothing to keep his inner child alive.
We spoke with the artist to better understand what drives him to create these images despite a busy work schedule. “I keep a lot of pet fish in my studio. Looking after them really helps me focus on work,” he says. Go figure.
Cryptic answers notwithstanding however, it turns out that what kicked off as a website to showcase his portfolio as a young Arts student has now become a country-wide phenomenon. It started on a normal weekday when he was travelling in a local train in the suburbs of Bombay. “Just like any other child, I doodled and scribbled my way through a number of scrap books and the habit stayed with me as I grew up. One day I was going to meet a client in Ghatkopar and clicked a photograph using my phone. The moment I looked at the photograph, an imaginary monster popped out of it and I made a mental note to re-visit the thought. Later that day I sketched the image using pen and paper and placed a monster in the scene using the natural elements in the photograph. It looked appealing so I used Photoshop to digitally infuse a monster in the photo and showed the results to my friends,” he said candidly.
Simon is no superhero however and, just like many of us, he has a day job. As the Creative Head at a digital marketing agency in Bombay, once Inkology began picking up pace, his boss, noting his passion for creating illustrations, told him to work from home. “Now I go to office only for important meetings or urgent gatherings. It’s like a two-in-one for me because I’m a night bird and waking up in the morning to go to work just upsets my rhythm,” he says.
But while we’re on the topic of superheroes, it’s important to remember most heroes aren’t born anyway, they’re taught, and Simon is no exception. He studied Applied Arts at LS Raheja School of Art in Worli, Bombay. His elective subjects covered window display, art direction and set designing – nothing intrinsically related to illustrations. “During a two month internship I had a lot of free time on my hands and began scribbling and sketching to keep my mind busy. During the course of the internship I learned about the different techniques and styles of illustrating an idea based on the medium or the message to be conveyed. My own technique of illustration began emerging around this period and I found that my style was more about projecting thought processes rather than complex patterns and styles.” This idea reflects in his monster illustrations which form surreal images but don’t employ much of the artistic flair that Simon uses in his day-to-day projects.
Digital illustration is extremely dependent on technology and even a small power disruption can upset work schedules - this is not the case with Simon, “I would simply go back to my roots and sketch using good old pen and paper. Sure the images won’t look real at first but your imagination will fill in the gaps. Of course, a major problem would be getting my work under people’s noses in the first place. I would probably have to approach magazines or put up exhibitions.” He dreams of putting up exhibitions in multiple cities of all his monster illustrations and related work. We like this retro idea of involving the tactile sensation which is in-line with Simon’s self-image of being a common man’s artist rather than an elite one.
Given the huge number of likes on his Facebook page, fans are in no shortage. Naturally, a lot of people write to him and some even recognise him while he is travelling. When asked about his favourite fan moment he replied, “This one time I was travelling by train and overheard a group of college kids talking about the latest monster illustration. One of the girls said ‘Inkology is really cool!’ That definitely put a smile on my face. Another time I was in the waiting lounge of an airport when a guy walked up to me and said he recognised me and was very fond of my work. That was the first time I was recognised in public. Since then I’ve had a lot of people telling me to keep up the good work. It doesn’t bother me that sometimes my work is shared without due credits. If it helps someone smile at the end of a tiring day, so be it.”
We all scribbled all over our notebooks and walls when we were kids. Many of us carried on the activity well into our teens and certainly some still doodle away idly to pass the time. Simon had his fair share of reproaches from teachers at school but felt he just couldn’t stop the sketching. He feels that doodling always comes from the soul. There were moments in school when he was told to stop. Coming from a family of engineers and doctors has been challenging for him. “My family told me that this was not a good line of work and that there was no guarantee of earning money. I heard the words ‘”you can’t” several times but I harried on and am on solid ground today. I never thought that it would become such a phenomenon! The beginnings were very humble.” he said.
He is now looking out for organisers to help him put up exhibitions in various cities across the country. With a kit of more than 100 illustrations, he hopes that offers will be forthcoming. “My friends keep telling me to open an online merchandise store selling toys, t-shirts and phone covers. The only merchandise I ever tried selling was a calendar but none of them ever really sold” he jokes. Simon regularly posts photos on Inkology’s Facebook page. His illustrations are quirky and offer a peek into the mind of a talented artist.