Oh my god! Aliens and huge octopi attacking a city. All while someone is hanging out, texting and having a coffee. That’s just another regular morning for Mayumi Haryoto. Her interview follows:
My name is Mayumi Haryoto, I’m a self-taught illustrator based in Jakarta, Indonesia. I could never decide whether I’m a cat or a dog person, I think I like them both.
Tell us the story behind “Dreaming of Chopin”. Who is the boy in the painting? What’s his story?
The character is actually a girl not a boy, but I like that your interpretation gives a sense of ambiguity in it. I was contacted by Vivi Yip Gallery in Jakarta, and they were celebrating their first anniversary by having a group exhibition with fantasy and fairy tales as the chosen theme. There wasn’t a particular story about the girl itself. Just by coincidence, I was listening to Chopin a lot at the time. So I thought why not just make something out of it. I was trying to capture how I feel when listening to him through the image of this girl. I hope I succeeded. It’s up to the viewer to enter their own narrative to the work.
In “Soup for Soul” what is going on? What emotion do you want the viewer to take away after viewing the piece?
I think the viewers can take away any kind of emotion they want. I’m actually a bit embarrassed to talk about my personal works. I feel like an angry teenage girl who poured her emotion by writing some sappy poems and posted it on her blog in the witching hour only to regret it the next day. This work and the other similar series in my personal works in general are about how I feel growing up as a woman. All the double standards I had to face, the troubles for having too much empathy, the constant inner conflict between pursuing my ego or submitting to my partner, to my family, the relationship with my mother or the lack of my father, and so on. I’m not trying to pass on any view in it. Those works were created just when I happened to be in a very emotional state and nothing more, to me at least.
What has been the most interesting project that you’ve been able to work on? What made it so enjoyable?
I have to say it’s when I was working on Sore’s (read: So-rē, means: afternoon) first album ‘Centralismo’. It was the first time I got a pretty wide acknowledgement. My drawing style has definitely evolved leading to that work. But what made that project extra special was the fact that it was the first time I tried to draw again after working as an art director for quite some time.
I quit the art directing job impulsively without making any plans. Grabbing the pencil and interacting with the texture of paper made me feel that I was back in my element again. Then I just knew I’d be okay.
What has been the most challenging project that you’ve been a part of? What did you learn from your experience and how have you applied that knowledge to future projects?
Each project is actually challenging. But the ones that learned a lot from were the ones that I failed. Most of the lessons had nothing to do with the illustration technique, but more to its business side; like negotiating, being political, managing client’s expectation, as well as schedules, and so on.
As a freelance artist how do you find work?
I can only think one; networking. I did not go to college. Monetary crisis that hit Indonesia in 1997 hit my family really bad. When I started working at age 18, I treated those early working experience as my college time. That’s why I kept changing jobs from a 2D artist in game studio, art director in ad agencies, record labels, storyboard artist, a line producer in film productions and few more others to gain knowledge and fulfill my big curiosity. I even did medical illustrations too. That experience not only helped me build a good range of networks, but also helped me to understand the bigger picture of the creative industry itself. The experience also gave me knowledge on how every field is connected to each other and allows me to better understand my own position as an illustrator. Of course, the Internet plays a lot of part too. Self-promotion has never been easier and affordable.
How did you approach the piece you did for GAP?
GAP Indonesia wanted to do something to show their support to the earth day. They gave me a pretty loose brief with only few mandatory; there has to be a text saying “0% Plastic” on it and also I can only use maximum four colors. I immediately thought about the recycle symbol. I know the idea was too easy, so I put it aside for a while to find different approaches. But I couldn’t find more ideas that made me feel happier in the given time. Either I tried too hard to come up with something smart or too poetic. So I came back to my first idea to play around with. The three mutually chasing arrows made me think about how we’re all connected to each other and how rare life is in this universe. So I tried to show all kind of forms of life resembled in each of the arrow. I avoided using too many green color because the recycle symbol is already a too-obvious approach. And at the back side of the bag, the galaxy was to show how rare our beloved planet is.
How has your interpretation and view of art changed since you became a freelance artist? Do you think you can analyze on a deeper scale? What are the reasons for that?
I’m not sure whether it has something to do with me of becoming a freelancer or it’s just me growing older. At the time, I experienced a wider range of different emotions that I had never experienced before. In a way, not only that it changed my view about art but also about life itself.
Has your work changed significantly since you began? How so?
Yes, it certainly has. I was 18 when I started working at a game studio called Matahari Studios with Timezone Australia acting as the umbrella company. I was the first and only female they hired in their art department and it felt very intimidating. I could only do manga style at that time, while the others were so skillful and mostly were into american comic style work. But the lead artist who hired me seemed interested in my coloring skill and most probably for having the gut to apply there. I was an intense and competitive kid and so hungry for approvals. I hated being told that my drawing looked girly as if it’s not good enough.
As a result in my early time where I started working as a freelance illustrator, the more they didn’t expect it was created by a female artist the more I felt I have achieved something. Today, I couldn’t care less anymore. Currently, I have a lot richer references other than comic books and animations.
What interpretations have you heard of your own work? Which was the most accurate?
I’m so happy by how IdN reviewed my work for The Ark Project that was commissioned by DGPH. I find it very flattering when someone can articulate the abstract of the universe I live inside.
What advice or critique of your work have you heard that really stuck with you?
It was actually given by a famous illustrator Yuko Shimizu. In deep frustration, around 3 years ago, I sent her an email asking for advices, hoping that her teaching experience would enlighten me. She told me she couldn’t see who is Mayumi Haryoto in my work and threw me a question whether I want to be a replaceable or irreplaceable artist. She suggested that might be the source why I wasn’t happy with my works. That question stuck in my head.
My old website (studioshika.com) had many styles of works to showcase my skill set instead of focusing in something. It’s actually a very common mistake new comers would do. I never went to art school, so I wouldn’t know any better either. Through her advices, I began to make use of my experience in advertising agency to do self-promotion by treating my name like a brand. I started to see that freelancing isn’t just a way to pay the bills, it is actually a career path. I also learnt that in big places like US or Europe to be a successful illustrator you need to posses a constant unique personal style. In Jakarta, the situation was pretty different and it didn’t really matter because the competition wasn’t that high when I started. There were no illustration agents too here. But more and more young artists are showing up with strong personal style today. I’m glad to know I’m not struggling alone.
What advice would you tell beginning artists about how to challenge themselves, how to make themselves better artists?
Better start digging different kind of references from different kind of fields now. I’m saying this because when I was younger I could only care about comic books and nothing else. Wider knowledge is always better. Also it’s really important to set your goals, both long and short terms. The hard part of being a freelance is you just can’t expect to climb up a career ladder like an employee, you need to keep making new goals and evaluate them too to keep track of your career. Nothing is certain in this life to begin with so if you choose to be a freelance artist, prepare yourself for more unexpected things to happen in your life and not all of them are good surprises. Just be persistent enough. I’ve learnt that my best surviving tool is the ability to improvise. If things don’t come up as I expected, just deal with it, improvise and make it work. If it fails, just quickly think of something else until it works… even while crying.
How have you challenged yourself? What parts of your work are you currently trying to develop the most? What parts are you most proud of?
I challenge myself by setting impossible goals and many times I kind of hated myself for that. But it’s actually one of the things that keeps me going. Honestly, I feel like I’m still finding my own voice. That’s the part I’m still trying to develop. In fact, I wish I would always have something to develop.
What did you work on this week? What are you working on throughout the next two months?
I’m working on a film poster now, the film has been released few months a go. But they wanted to create an alternate poster to be used for their international distribution. There’ll be another film poster too next month. I also have several personal projects in mind, I try to work on them in between my schedule.
What are your hobbies?
Uhm, looking for trouble? Ha. Well, I wish I had enough money and time to say that traveling is my hobby.