Illustrator Shreya Gupta on her Google Doodle celebrating India's first female doctor

Google Doodle marking Rakhmabai Raut's 153rd birthday

Illustrator Shreya Gupta moved to New York City from India to pursue her passion for drawing. This lead her to a number of diverse illustration projects for high-profile publications and articles, including her Google Doodle celebrating India's first practising female doctor. 

A graduate of the School of Visual Arts, Shreya now illustrates for titles such as The New York Times, Scientific American, Penguin Random House India and Los Angeles-based Gallery1988.

Her illustrations visualise concepts varying from novel reviews and book jackets to articles about confronting sexual harassment, as covered in Scientific American (women in science come forward following Weinstein allegations).

Scientific American / 'Confronting sexual harassment in Science'. Art Direction: Michael Mrak

She also illustrated a woman’s experience of coming out as bisexual at work, as covered in Fast Company.

Fast Company / 'I naively thought that this field would be okay with who I was'. Art Direction: Florian Bachleda

Whatever the narrative may be, Shreya’s style remains beautifully rendered with textures, patterns and line work which always tell a story with thoughtful care and delicacy.

Penguin Random House / Darklands book jacket

After discovering her work, Google commissioned Shreya to illustrate a Google Doodle celebrating the life of India’s first practising woman doctor on her 153rd birthday.

The brief was to create a doodle on Rakhmabai Raut, and although she was also an activist, Shreya and Google decided to focus on her being one of the first female doctors in India.

“The art director, Erich Nagler, gave me the creative freedom to bring my own ideas,” says Shreya.

“After that there was some back and forth on the sketches. Also the feedback was not just given by the art director but the entire Google Doodle team. They were really nice to work with and the art direction was always on point.”

Originating from India herself, Rakhmabai’s legacy resonated with Shreya. Rakhmabai fought hard to stamp out child marriage and for equal opportunity of education for women.

“The need to have equal opportunity for women is still prevalent. Being from India, where many times a woman has to give up her dreams and ambitions because of societal demands, I could definitely relate to the subject matter,” says Shreya.

“Rakhmabai fought during 19th century when the women rights were almost non existent. So we decided to give her the look of a barrier breaker, an explosive look.”

Now calling the Big Apple home, Shreya says the creative industry is hugely welcoming to foreign illustrators. Although she says being a female hasn’t affected her work in any way, coming from India has landed her some specific assignments, purely because she can work on a project related to India “with more ease and efficiency than a non-Indian illustrator.”

New York Times Book Review / City of Brass

For example, the Google Doodle on Rakhmabai Raut.

“After reading about her I found out that she was a Marathi, a culture followed in a certain state in India. India is a multicultural country and each state has its own language and different lifestyle,” says Shreya.

“So I knew that Marathi saree has a specific look which is characterised by a thick border and a repeated pattern. But Indian nurses wear different type of saree which is white with blue border worn with a blue blouse. So since I am from India, knowing about such details come naturally to me.”

Shreya is quick to mention – apart from her detailed and patterned work also popular in Indian art – her stylistic approach isn’t hugely affected by her Indian upbringing. Extensive travel has led Shreya to meet many people from different cultures.

“When they share their stories, it makes me look at the same thing with different perspectives,” she explains.

“I think through that I have become more empathetic and more accepting than I was when I was living in India and that reflects in my present work.”

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Shreya begins her creative process for editorial projects by first reading the article she will be illustrating for. She reads it two or three times and underlines words that spark ideas, making notes of possible sketch options after that. Then she sketches thumbnails to try different compositions, beforing choosing her favourite to sketch in grayscale.

“I usually send three or more sketch solutions to a client,” she says. “I always send sketches that I like because the client can pick any one. After a sketch is selected, I draw the final sketch on paper using graphite and ink. The colour is always done in Photoshop.”

Shreya is experimenting with creating an image that is abstract but just legible enough to be understood. She loves to draw lines and patterns of lines, and has recently signed with a literary agent with plans to start working on her own children’s book.

See more of her recent work below. 

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Artwork made for Light Grey Art Lab's Camouflage show 

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