a day in the life of illustrator antra svarcs
The Melbourne-bred creative on her work and new life in sunny LA.
We chat to Melbourne-born Monash University grad Antra Svarcs about her bold, colourful illustrations and love for the big outdoors, then follow her on a typical day around her stomping grounds in Venice Beach, Los Angeles.
Tell us about yourself, please. I’m an illustrator, and work as an art director for LA-based Alltrue, a membership service for social and eco-conscious women (for example, they send ethically made homewares or cruelty-free accessories.) I want my work to inspire a positive connection between people and with nature, so I like working with people who have that focus, too. My work is bold and minimalistic; it looks simple, but it’s about communicating the essence of the subject in a compelling way.
Tell us about studying communication design at Monash University. It was great for me because it was such a broad course. The briefs were open to whatever style or medium you were into. I threw myself into illustration, and was really supported by my tutors. I did a lot of travel throughout my degree, including an exchange at the Glasgow School of Art.
How did you make the transition from student to full-time creative? When I finished in 2015, I knew everybody in the faculty really well, and it was through those connections that I had my first commissions. My tutors had links in the industry who needed illustrators, and I had a mentor, Andy Murray, who helped me find work. It was still quite daunting at first. For a while I worked part-time in catering to pay the bills, but I was quite quickly able to shift toward illustration and teaching at Monash. You moved to Los Angeles for work in mid-2020, smack bang in the middle of the pandemic! What’s that been like? It was a crazy time to move to a new country, but it’s been super-exciting and I feel very lucky. I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors – hiking, biking and skiing – and in Lake Tahoe, so I’ve been really inspired and fulfilled through most of it. But it’s been challenging that I haven’t been able to come home to see my family and friends.
Has your style changed since the move? What have you learnt? I definitely have more cacti in my house! I’ve been lucky enough to do big hikes in the national parks, like Sequoia and Yosemite, and the drama of those landscapes is definitely weaving its way into my work. I don’t know if it’s being in the US or just getting older, but I’m getting more confident in my own style. When I was younger, I felt like I was scrambling, but knowing what my voice is now is a very calming, peaceful feeling.What mediums do you like to work in? I work with a combination of handmade and digital techniques. I sketch things out on thin paper, trace over and refine the image until it starts to become really strong. Then I work on a laptop and a Wacom tablet, (which I’ve been using since I won it for an illustration award years ago at Monash!). Recently I’ve started working with paper collage, moving the cut-out shapes to come up with my compositions. Even with digital work, I’ll bring in different lines or textures I’ve done by hand, so the final product always has a human touch to it.
A typical day in Antra’s creative life:
6-7:30am: I try to do something active first thing. I’ve actually started surfing! I might go up to Sunset Beach, and drive past the palm trees. Then I get to be in the ocean. The feeling of being out in nature is becoming more and more important to me.
8am: I journal while having my coffee. I do Morning Pages, an exercise from a book called The Artist’s Way. It’s from the 90s, and it’s kinda cheesy, but it tells you to write down three pages of stream-of-consciousness thoughts. It’s a brain dump to set your intentions for the day and clear your mind. I’ve always been a bit self-conscious about journaling, but I find this format really helpful.
9am: It’s a six-minute walk to my studio at SPARC (Social and Public Art Resource Center). It’s the old Venice police station, and apparently the oldest art deco building on the west coast. My studio even overlooks a community garden. I was so lucky to find a space there, and I find it important to separate work from home.
9am-11am: I try to keep this time free to focus on personal work – little creative explorations that are just for me. It ends up being super-fruitful and informing the work I do for clients.
1-2pm: I walk back home for lunch, and take an hour or two. The sacred, longer lunch culture is something I took away from my travels in Europe. It helps refresh me for the afternoon of work.
2-6:30pm: In the studio, I’ll switch back to whatever client stuff I’m working on. There might be a client meeting, but usually I like to lock into work, get into the flow of whatever project I’m working on, often while listening to podcasts or audiobooks.
6.30- 7:30pm: In the evenings, my energy usually goes into social time. During the pandemic, that has mostly meant keeping in touch with people from afar. I go for a neighbourhood walk after work and call loved ones back in Melbourne.
7:30pm: I usually cook at home. I brought a bunch of cookbooks from back in Melbourne, so it’s been great to keep that connection to what I’m used to eating. Although the Mexican food here has been a really welcome addition to my life!
This chinwag with ace illustrator Antra Svarcs was brought to you by our mates at Monash Art, Design and Architecture. If you’re keen to learn more about their inclusive, creative community and industry-led design course offerings, head this-a-way to the Monash University website.