What is your party personality? Upon entering a social gathering, do you quickly find yourself surrounded by adoring fans as you fall into a story about your hilariously bad work week? Or do you immediately head toward the drink table, the bathroom, or, if need be, any piece of furniture that can shield you from view? Anything to avoid human contact.
Bangalore-based illustrator Neethi identifies as the latter. “I’ve grown into a 27-year old who looks for benches to crawl under, or curtains to hide behind at events involving more than three people,” she explains on her website. “Every brave new venture with people goes down in the same way ― a cyclical uneasiness resulting in sweat and silent tears rolling down the cheek.”
In her series of illustrated GIFs titled “The Socially Awkward Adult,” Neethi explores the peculiarities of life as a grown woman who still, when confronted with the possibility of group socializing, feels the urge to run ― or at least awkwardly mention that you follow the person on Instagram. Each drawing homes in on a particular nervous tick that many introverts will recognize ― the eye scan, the foot tap, the finger fidget ― all time-tested ways to communicate your social angst to the world around you.
We reached out to Neethi to learn more about her relatable and totally charming series.
How would you describe your relationship to illustration? Is it an occupation, a hobby, a passion, a pastime?
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I used to write voraciously during my teens. Somewhere down the line, words took a backseat. I lost my voice and got stuck in the regular rut. That’s when I began moonlighting as an illustrator. I wanted to bridge the gap between my textile design work and the passion for storytelling. Most of all, I loved working on small personal projects and relished the liberties it brought. I guess once you start doing the kind of work you intend on pursuing, it comes around in similar forms. I hope to continue building my own narratives and flesh out more stories through art.
What are the conditions under which you draw? Do you have a specific set-up or ritual, or do you have a notebook on the go?
I’ve been on the move all my adult life, transporting my little workstation across houses, hotels and hostels. All I need to do anywhere is find a corner table, spread out my notebook, laptop and a cup of tea. Watercolor and gouache are my best companions on the road. I find it really liberating to use cheap blank notebooks to draw on. It allows me to make mistakes and be in the moment. My client works are largely digital and the process for each brief is different. I like to explore the full potential of a project without limiting myself to a format.
You describe yourself as a “Socially Awkward Adult.” Can you expand a bit on what you mean by this? What situations trigger your awkward side and how would you define your fears?
Most of the time when anyone comes home, I am awkwardly hiding behind my computer screen. I am not a misanthrope by any means; I do like having people around. But interacting with a group is something I’ve always dreaded. Perhaps it stems from me being a single child and feeling out of place with a large number of people.
I’ve been told I zone out often in a gathering. My friends find it hard to introduce me, since they know my standard courtesies would include just a string of awkward giggles. Believe me, I have tried! I’ve gone up to people with the intention of having a meaningful conversation, only to blurt out lines like, “hi-you-look-taller-on-Instagra
Walk me through the process for creating these GIFs. Do you first draft them by hand before creating them digitally?
The idea for this series came from a chat I had with writer Meera Ganapathi about how people behave in social situations. All of those instances were me! I extended what began as a single static piece into a series of GIFs. The loopy format fell perfectly in line with the nervous tendencies we have when we’re anxious. I drew out rough sketches in a cab ride back home from an event and finished them digitally.
In the U.S., many introverts have found a voice and an outlet on the internet. Are introverts “having a moment” like this in Bangalore as well?
Definitely! We are the internet generation and I’d like to believe that the introverts of the world have united over the internet. Back in the early 2000s when blogging became popular, all the shy bees took to it. Be it writing or drawing, we had a safe space to unleash our thoughts. I still have many friends from creative support groups back then who have migrated to Facebook now, a lot of whom I have never met. Today, with social media, we can take our own time to be expressive. And chances are that we will be heard.
Do you support yourself as an illustrator? Do you have a day job?
Yes, I’ve been freelancing full time as an illustrator for just almost a year now and it has been truly rewarding. I hope to be able to pursue my passion for as long as I can.
What do you hope to communicate through your drawings?
Drawing has always been therapeutic for me. Whenever I am at a low point, art can instantly uplift my spirit and I hope to do the same for people. It is a strong tool to start a conversation. I am currently working on some new series that touch upon stronger topics and hope to shed some light on them through my drawings.