LadyDrinks Member Spotlight: Navina Chhabria, Graphic Designer/Illustrator

This week’s LadyDrinks Member Spotlight is on graphic designer and illustrator Navina Chhabria. I worked with her to design the cover of my memoir The Perfect Indian Daughter. I’m someone who usually has a clear vision of what I want. On this count, I had –none. I figured if I knew so little about the design and illustration process, others may have similar questions. My Q&A with Navina, breaking it all down.

Joya: Your first step was a zoom call with me. I shared what the book was about. Then you took that information and went to work. What happened next? Give us the behind the scenes look.

Navina: I jotted down keywords during our conversation. I did some preliminary doodling as you told the story and and around key words. The mission is to retain the heart of the story. I did some more doodling. I also created a mood board. This helps with momentum. It makes the task less daunting. Finally, before embarking on the design process, I did comparison research. The last thing I want is for a client’s project to end up looking like something that is already out there.

For the cover, I did a combination of traditional and digital techniques to show progression. I painted the individual elements traditionally. Then I brought them together in Photoshop.

Joya: How do you explain the pricing process to someone who has never retained a graphic artist or illustrator before?

It depends on the scope of the project. It is split transparently into the various stages of the process. I also avoid charging by the hour because there is no possible way to quantify how much I achieve in the said time.

How many revisions does a client typically get?

The client gets 2 revisions included in the fee. Two revisions is usually a stretch because I feel the design isn’t focused enough if it needs more revisions than that.

Have you ever had a client flat out reject your concept and design?

I keep the client involved in all aspects of the process. We discuss each stage. Sometimes we don’t agree with an idea at a certain stage, but we rectify it before I move on. That way, when we are at the finish line, everything comes together.

Where do you find you are doing the most educating around your work?

Sometimes I am expected to have solutions from the get-go, but good design is more than production. It takes dialogue. It takes exploration. It takes time. The most educating happens around the process and the exploratory dialogue where we arrive at both concept and price.

What is a question you wish clients or potential clients asked you more often?

The ‘how’ and ‘why’ I arrived at a particular solution when a client looks at my portfolio. That brand of dialogue builds trust and, ultimately, a better product.

What is your background? How did you cut your teeth in graphic design?

I have a background in science. I grew up in India. When I was young, I wasn’t aware that a career in art and design was event possible. I got to explore the field in my early twenties as a part of a sales team at my first job. I’ve never looked back.

Have you always wanted to be a graphic artist?

I’ve known from a very young age that I wanted to be an artist of some kind. Growing up, I was made to believe that it wasn’t a viable career option. Thankfully, something inside me never gave up on the dream and I kept creating art.

How do you brand yourself? How do you get visibility for your work –and landing that next project?

I am an art director and visual storyteller. Branding myself has been a process. For the longest time, I was quickly boxed into a category. It took time to realize that I love exploring and storytelling. I also love the interaction with people and getting to the heart of a visual problem.

Can you name a project you are especially proud of?

The book cover for The Perfect Indian Daughter by Joya Dass. I loved working on this project because of the story and the triumph in it. The graphic is versatile. It is a standalone piece of artwork. It is a book cover. It is a podcast graphic. Parts of it can be broken down for branding the overall project.

How Mr. Rat Got His Cheese by Isabelle Burge. Today Isabelle is a 100-years-old. She wrote this story when she was a teacher almost 50 years ago. I was in charge of producing this picture book from start to finish. This project was quite special to me because the writing is exceptional. It’s a teaching aid for children and still tells a delightful story. It is available for purchase everywhere books are sold online.

52 Weeks of Yoga by Gwen McCarthy. This was the first book project I ever worked on as an independent artist. I produced the project from start to finish, including the cover art and the insides. It turned out beautifully. 52 Weeks of Yoga is available for purchase everywhere books are sold online.

I am currently working on my own first picture book as an author/illustrator. It is a story of a little girl who gets bullied because of the color of her skin, how she overcomes self-doubt and emerges victorious. I am really excited about this one!

What is your ‘pie-in-the-sky’ project? In other words, if you could design for your dream project, what would that be?

There are a few I have in mind:

  • Work with Michelle Obama on a children’s book. You and I had spoken about this on a call once. 🙂
  • Get 3-series picture book contract
  • Brand a beauty influencer from start to finish
  • Be an editorial illustrator on retainer for major magazines

Business advice for entrepreneurs?

It took me several years to understand my own brand. It is rarely a straight line but clarity comes from action. Try not to panic. Enjoy the process and it WILL come together. Also, be your client/customer’s biggest champion. The more generous you are, the more you will get out of the process.

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