Pavneet Sembhi is a self-taught artist based in London. She particularly enjoys creating extremely detailed illustrations that add a twist to conventional imagery. Rather than focus on one specific subject matter, Pavneet instead favours the abstract. Using a combination of black and white, and bold colour, her artwork is stylistically fluid and free from boundaries.
After pursuing a career in law, Pavneet made the decision to follow her dreams to a creative career. With that in mind, we caught up with the illustrator on her process, inspiration, and how she made the leap to a freelance lifestyle.
Tell us how you became an illustrator
Well, I actually studied law and then went into an office job that wasn’t too bad, but certainly wasn’t fulfilling in the slightest. From a young age, I always said I wanted to be an artist and I guess it just happened in a roundabout way. I started drawing again in my spare time and eventually shared my work online to discover that there was a whole bunch of people who liked what I did. It really proves that it’s all about the journey, if I didn’t have an unsatisfying job then maybe I wouldn't have started drawing again.
Who has been your biggest influence and what did they say or do to influence you?
Peter Deligdisch (@perterdraws) is an artist I stumbled across a few years ago who made me realise that illustration can be whatever you make it and however you want it to be – I sent him an email to ask for advice and to my delight he replied to say that I should just keep sharing what I was doing and get it out there. Validation should definitely come from within, but at first, it helps to hear it from people you admire and look up to.
You draw the most intricate artworks. How do you achieve such detail? What's your process?
I use 005 Pigma Micron pens to achieve the tiny details and pencil guidelines to help keep the symmetry. Drawing intricate pieces do take a lot of patience and care, the results will not be immediate but I think it’s worth it in the end. I have always loved details; there is just something exciting about seeing a piece that you know has taken many hours to craft and perfect.
What's your work setup like? Desk? Tools? What do you like to use?
“When I'm illustrating I use a desk with no computer so I am free from distractions and cannot get lost in admin or emails. My trusty tools consist of a few rulers, compass, protractor, rubber, pens of various sizes and pencils. Depending on what I'm drawing, I will often have reference images and books for inspiration. Oh, and my phone – I’m such a podcast geek, but we won’t get into that otherwise I'll just end up talking about Serial, Answer Me This, Criminal, The Black Tapes, Professor Blastoff and so on...
Where do you find inspiration?
I know it's cliché to say this but it really is everywhere. As a lot of my illustrations consist of patterns and details, I am always on the lookout for new designs, shapes, colours and concepts to include. I have been inspired by the interior of a Nandos, the architecture in a museum, the tree structure in a park and tiles on the floor, so I really mean everything. I take lots of photos when I'm out and about and use them when I need some inspiration.
Do you think it's difficult to make a living from creativity?
It is very different, that’s for sure. It has its difficulties but then there are also the benefits. The difficult bit is establishing you and demonstrating your credibility. Although I always find it easy to create work and share it online, for a long time I was nervous to approach people in the real world. But it’s much better to just have some faith and meet all kinds of people. From there, opportunities will evolve and it won’t feel like making a living but just having a happy, balanced life.
What have you found has helped to get your name out there and win work?
I think as important as it is to have a distinct style it is also vital to keep switching it up, it shows you have a multitude of skills and could spark a new project you hadn’t ever thought of. I like to collaborate with other artists and any time I see someone’s work that really resonates with me, I always drop them an email to let them know. Getting your name out there is just about continuing to find new platforms to share what you do, so that’s through magazines, meeting people, blogs etc., and work flows from that.
Without a degree or a background in illustration, I realised quickly I needed to demonstrate my skill and dedication in another way. I saw social media as an opportunity to connect with lots of people in one go and have just tried to keep creating work that intrigues and challenges.
You have a particular focus on black and white artworks – why's that the case?
I love the simplicity of black and white, it really lets the illustration itself shine. Strangely enough when I paint, which I also love to do, it is always really colourful! I think naturally with illustrating black ink feels right and has maximum impact for me. But you will also see that I do have some colourful illustrations, although they tend to be inspired by my travels.
Your work has stylistic elements of tattooing – is this something which inspires you?
Yes, tattoos have been a great inspiration for me, many of the shading techniques I use have come from tattoo artwork and I love the use of line work often featured in geometric tattoos. I know people often quote that less is more but I feel like more is more when it comes to tattoos and I love to apply that to my work. People can have whole sleeves of tattoos and it just looks out of this world.
I get the sense you're quite a spiritual person – you quote India Arie on your blog: "Your real job in this world is to be you". Why does that resonate with you so much?
We are in a world where we are bombarded with information about who and how we 'should' be, look, behave, etc. With social media we always know what everyone is doing every second of the day and it is hard not to compare yourself to others. And the truth is you will only feel secure and settled if you are being true to yourself.
I think as soon as you realise the importance of energy, you are suddenly very aware of it, the good energy in your life and the bad energy, what makes you feel good and authentic and what is toxic. Some people work every second of the day and that works for them, but I don’t like to sacrifice time with friends and family because that is the only thing I would regret. So I make time for my work but I also make plenty of time to see people.
I hope to inspire people and to make others feel happy about who they are, especially the young ones who are still figuring it out. I’m familiar with the feeling of being unsure of who I am and what I want to achieve and I think people of all ages need to be reminded that it’s okay to just be you. Now that I have a bit of a platform, I want to share that message whenever I can.
"We are naturally creative beings and it’s what makes us different to the rest of the animal kingdom, we make things for pleasure and we appreciate things people have made – it’s a lovely thing. There are so many positives, being creative helps boost confidence, self-esteem, productivity, relaxing and can give you a new community of friends."
Do you feel creativity helps with one's happiness and well-being?
Without a doubt, I am such a big believer of being creative and finding that thing you love to do. Happiness and well-being ultimately come down to some little basic things and one of those is feeling fulfilled and having a purpose, which you often can’t get externally. Creativity gets the brain all fired up and excited at the endless possibilities, and that’s just what we need.
No matter how advanced machines get we always feel a sense of admiration, awe and wonder when someone has made something themselves. And you can feel all of that about something you have created yourself – so I recommend being creative to everyone!
What three pieces of advice would you give to aspiring illustrators looking to follow in your footsteps?
Firstly I would say draw what you love to draw. Don’t just do what you think you should do or what you think will sell. The world needs what you have to offer because no one else can do what you do.
Just keep going whatever happens. It can be really tough as an illustrator because you are your own boss but the hard work will eventually pay off if you stay in the game. Keep putting out new work, sharing your ideas, giving back, meeting new people, being open to opportunities and it will all come together.
Reach out to anyone who inspires you and let them know. Even if you don’t hear back they will know that they have helped you and that’s just a nice thing to do. You never know they might respond and it could be the start of a new friendship with someone you admire. As I mentioned before it’s all about energy and I think you get what you put out into the universe. Maybe it’s a little bit weird but who cares!
To see more of Pavneet’s work, visit www.pavneetsembhi.com.