Step Inside Khyati Trehan’s World Of 3D Visual Art & Graphic Design

Step Inside Khyati Trehan’s World Of 3D Visual Art & Graphic Design
Khyati Trehan's The Oscar Art Project

While the world of creativity is boundless and has a place for anyone and everyone that wishes to create, the human need to need to define and compartmentalize everything means that even creativity can be explained through genres and mediums. But once in a while, we come across a creative who redefines the way we perceive art and its boundaries, one who is up to the challenge of creating their own niche, who creates a space that is wholly their own.

Existing somewhere between the realms of visual art and graphic design, New-Delhi based graphic designer & 3D visual artist Khyati Trehan’s portfolio is enviable.

“It was only when I studied design at the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad that I realised how massive that world can be,” she tells us. Post graduating from NID, she has gone on to work across disciplines, often exploring the edges of all things visual for clients including the Oscars, Instagram, Snapchat, New Yorker Magazine, the New York Times, Wework, Adobe and Apple among others.

Her work is playful, emotive and dimensional and has earned her accolades like Print Magazine’s 15 New Visual Artists under 30 in 2017, the Artistry Creator of the Year at Adweek’s Creator Visionary Awards, Young Guns 19 Winner, and most recently she made it to the Forbes India 30 Under 30 list.

Despite the many ways in which she has redefined the space of art in India, even being one of the pioneers of the 3D movement in India, she tells us, “There’s still tons more to explore.”

In an insightful and evocative conversation with Homegrown, Khyati Trehan shares her journey so far, what keeps her creatively stimulated, her love for 3D, her latest work for the Oscars, and more.

So, where and how did it all start for you? How did art and design shape your formative years?
I was really lucky to have studied in a school called Mirambika till the 8th grade. The school believed its job was to help kids figure out their thing. Education meant drawing out the potential that was already there, instead of prescribing it. Because I was exposed to creative disciplines at the same time we were learning our ABCs, I discovered I loved the visual world pretty early on.

It was only when I studied design at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad that I realised how massive that world can be. Since then, I’ve gone on to explore whatever ‘communication’ can mean: from type design at the Indian Type Foundry, building AR experiences for clients like Snapchat Spectacles, and Instagram, illustrating articles for NYTimes and the New Yorker Magazine, practising human-centred design and storytelling at IDEO, to more recently building complex brand systems with Karin Fyhrie and her global design collective Sovereign Objects. And there’s still tons more to explore.

Khyati Trehan's 36 Days Of Type

In an interview, you once said that 3D art is magic. How did you hone and evolve your skills from graphic design to the world of 3D?
In this day and age, you can learn pretty much anything online so I started there; by watching youtube tutorials and ‘intro to c4d’ series’. Pretty soon I realized that while I’ll learn which buttons to press through tutorials, I won’t be able to learn when and why to press them and what visual decisions to make. It was far more helpful to think like a photographer. If you’re recreating the real world, you’d logically learn from the real world. I started observing light and shadow and objects around me. Real things are imperfect, and you can introduce imperfection through textures. So I started building this habit of collecting textures wherever I went. Having a solid graphic design foundation of colour and composition has only made the learning process easier.

There’s a nuanced complexity and beauty in your 3D expressions. What’s your creative process?

Most of my 3D work begins with straying very far away from the screen, and spending time soaking in the context through anything that’ll help me understand the subject more; be it podcasts, talks, books, articles or people. Here’s where I find inspiration for both, context and aesthetics. And then there are times I let my hands have a life of their own and wander on the page, in which case the inspiration surfaces organically instead of being a starting point (like automatic writing). The complexity in some of my work comes from enjoying the compositional challenge of working with abundance and chaos and then trying to find balance in it.

NFTs are the new kid on the block. Have you minted one yet? What are your views on NFTs and the intersectional future of creativity and the blockchain?
I minted my first NFT back in March 2021 but have slowed down since then due to workload. NFTs have helped artists, filmmakers, musicians, creative coders monetise their work and enter the otherwise elitist collector space. It’s helped people pay off debt, turn their lives around and find new paths to creativity. I’ve read and heard so many stories that I just can’t not see value in this space. But a large and looming concern is its environmental impact. Alternatives like Tezos-based NFTs solve that problem thankfully with the more energy-efficient proof of stake. Even then, NFTs are such a polarising subject. I still think it’s possible to see value in something and also examine it critically. Especially when something is so novel, and still developing. With the way, this space is developing, and if it really is the future of things, a part of me wants to be involved and also ensure that a more diverse set of people share the spotlight. I haven’t even begun to imagine the possibilities with blockchain technology outside of NFTs. I’m sure there are tons of use cases for a distributed and peer verified public digital ledger.

Khyati Trehan's The Oscar Art Project

We are so excited for you and The Oscar Art Project. It’s incredible. You were amongst a few global artists invited by the Academy to create a representation of the Oscar statuette inspired by your relationship with the movies. Walk us through that.
I reread the email in my inbox that began with, “I am writing to find out if you’re interested and available in participating in a project with the academy”, a million times. This is definitely one of my biggest milestones yet! The Creative Director of the Academy, Ford Oelman, reached out to 8 of us, including my personal favourites David Mcleod and Shane Fu, to respond to the prompt “How do movies transform and inspire you?”.

My exploration was an attempt at making the immersive power of movies visual. The Oscar statue acts as a representation of every movie viewer that is transported to another world, watching the story unravel all around them. It was a breeze working with Ford & Peter Baston (the campaign designer) and they granted me ample creative freedom and time for me to develop the work. The main piece, select crops and the animated version were featured during and after the ceremony at the 94th Academy Awards on March 27th 2022 in social content, winner announcements, the official Oscars website, and this year’s Oscars gallery.

Your work effortlessly weaves through varied mediums and expressions. Do you believe this multi-disciplinary approach has an advantage for young creatives looking to build their work with an intent to create an imprint on a larger global landscape?
On the contrary! Having a clearly distinguishable visual style and a singular forte may be a bigger advantage. I made a conscious decision not to take that path because I enjoy versatility in my work. Which meant I’d need to become a versatile designer. In that pursuit, I’ve carefully crafted my career to make myself as uncomfortable as possible and many times as possible. I’ve done that by choosing to either by living in a country where I don’t speak the language, or moving to a large scale company when I’ve only worked in small ones or by entering a discipline of design that I know little about. It seems to be working. This process has sped up my learning, and it’s the unexpected concoction of all these experiences that form my identity as a designer. Sometimes the fact that it’s all coming from you, a single individual with lived experiences and a point of view, is enough of a connecting thread.

Indian and South Asian artists are finally getting their due in the creative world; what do you believe this next decade holds for the South-Asian creative? What can help bring more Indian artists to the global audience?
I hope the next decade continues this upward trajectory of South Asian Artists getting seen and heard in the country and across borders. The internet has no boundaries so it only really takes building visibility (and of course hard work and good ideas) to reach a global audience. The first step is as simple as putting work out there instead of waiting to be discovered. That means sharing projects on websites, articles, social media etc along with sharing the stories that led up to the work to demonstrate who you are as a thinker, and what value you bring to the room.

Khyati Trehan's 3D Artworks

In a world that is constantly changing, What does your art hope to say?
Every project solves a different set of problems or addresses a different brief. This variety is even more exaggerated in my case since I tend to move from branding to illustration to AR to animation to art direction and back, and all of this across industries, and varying audiences (I include myself in this audience when I do personal work) which means there’s never just a singular narrative to tell. I wouldn’t be doing my job well if I kept saying the same thing while the ask is different each time. Whatever the visual communicates, the hope is that it moves people, tells them something more than words could manage and stays with them long after their eyes have moved elsewhere.

What does a day in the studio look like for you?
I don’t have a studio at the moment so a day in my house looks like working on the couch with a French press ready to go at all times.

Who are some emerging artists in the Indian and global scene that you follow and for people to know
Sanchit Sawaria is a multi-hyphenate art director, brand designer, and 3D visual artist who’s proof you can be a ‘master of all’. Latika Nehra extends graphic forms to contemporary ceramic art in her practice. Osheen Siva is a muralist and illustrator who invented ‘Tamilfuturism’ and her work revolves around themes of gender and sexuality. Shiva Nallaperumal and Parimal Parmar are India’s gifts to the world of type design. Nundrisha Wakhloo is a documentary filmmaker whose poignant film Chaaya was just released on MUBI. Kushagra Gupta does not miss with their organic and graphic 3D compositions. Ibrahim Rayintakath might well be my current favourite illustrator who’s drawn thoughtful editorials for every newspaper on the planet. They’re all Indian and they’ve all made a mark on the global scene. This list can get way longer but I’ll stop here.

In Frame Khyati Trehan

When you are not creating art; what does Khyati do?
Making bread, doing karaoke, playing with the cats, watching tutorials for fun, binge-watching a season of something over Bhel puri with my sister, and watching my husband play Elden Ring.

Who is Khyati Trehan, the person, when removed from Khyati Trehan, the artist?
Khyati has difficulty talking about herself in 3rd person and would feel more comfortable if a friend answered that question instead.

Lastly, what’s on your playlist at the moment? Besides your sister, Kavya of course!
Strangely, I don’t listen to much music when I work unless it’s repetitive execution-only work (in which case I listen to Jon Hopkins or Rema; yes it’s a range). I can’t think when there’s music playing!

You can checkout Khyati Trehan’s work here.

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