Artist Spotlight: Jasjyot Singh Hans

In conversation with the illustrator who straddles the themes of body image, sexuality, and self-love through his work

The fashion industry across the world has remained a historically exclusive club. But, Jasjyot Singh Hans, a queer illustrator from Delhi, provokes these conventions by drawing women (and men) that are big, bold, beautiful — and often inspired by the women in his family and community. It's not surprising that his work found its way to noteworthy publications like The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Caravan, and Gaysi along with global brands like Facebook, Google, and Snapchat. Here, he talks to us about drawing fat femmes that empower him, why Indian brands should respect homegrown craft practices, and his November Noon favourites: the Bouganvillea and Bamboo Overlays.

When did you first discover your visual language?

I was always influenced by the world of comics, animation, music, and fashion. My joy was somewhere in the amalgamation of all of those influences in my work. When I was studying Animation Film Design at NID, Ahmedabad, I started to read graphic novels and was inspired by the work of Becky Cloonan, Craig Thompson, and Paul Pope. This was also when I started using a brush pen (in an attempt for my work to look like the people I admired so much). Over the next few years, I started to use it in a way that felt true to me and my message. It was also the time I started creating fashion illustrations.

Your illustrations challenge traditional notions of beauty and sexuality while showing your interest in fashion. Tell us how this originated and how your personal experiences inform your work?

I have always despised how, in pop culture and media, bigger bodies are always a prop, a butt of a joke, a caricature of a person, only for comedic relief. They’re never the protagonists, heroes, real people with complexities. Never a lead in a Bollywood movie, never the face of a fashion campaign. Drawing fat femmes in fabulous clothing felt empowering to me, a big ‘fuck you’, a way to create for myself something I didn’t see in magazines or fashion campaigns (still barely do).

Me drawing bigger bodies in my work came from a lot of these frustrations, combined with my body image issues. Through this body of work, I was able to carve out a way to not only accept my body but truly find joy in it. That our bodies are not reserved only for shame and cheap laughs at our expense but are worthy of respect, admiration, and celebration.

Can you outline your creative process?

It depends on what kind of project I’m working on, but typically the seeds of everything are in my sketchbooks — that is the playground. I prefer thin, inexpensive ones over luxurious, bound books because it takes the pressure off, and lets me focus on scribbling down ideas. For a lot of personal drawings, I usually start with a posture study in a piece of clothing or a mood. And, the rest of the process is focussed on supporting that initial idea. I make a few roughs, and then pencil the final piece out. Over the years, I’ve become quite dependent on the ‘pencilling’ stage of my work. This is where I try to iron out as many kinks in the drawing, so when it’s time for inking, I can just play some music and follow the lines. Inking is the most therapeutic part of the process. I usually scan in the final drawing keeping the pencil lines (the ‘bones’ of the drawing) un-erased and colour the pieces digitally.

Where do you get inspiration for your work? What was the last thing that you saw that inspired you?

I get my inspiration everywhere. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve stopped waiting for inspiration to hit me in the face and realised you can work your way to getting inspired. It’s about getting to a point in a piece where you feel excited to move forward. But, I find getting to that place without putting in any work lazy, maybe even naive, so I embrace that as part of ‘the inspiration process’ too. I got pretty excited to see the last two Mugler show presentations. In-person fashion shows were not possible because of the ongoing pandemic, and it was nice to see people innovate and find fun ways of introducing a collection and a point of view.

How do you think Indian fashion, as a community and an industry, has changed in the last decade? And, how do you see it treading forward globally?

It’s been exciting to see fresh and interesting work coming forward. At one point, Indian fashion had become synonymous with wedding clothing, which I understand, will always have its place because it’s a big industry in the country. But, this was also the time when the average Indian buyer would rather spend money buying a T-shirt from Marc Jacobs than to support younger brands within the country.

This is still the case to some degree, but I now see a more streamlined vision in terms of who the audience is, and a focus on craft and sustainability, which makes me happy. It’s important for fashion coming from a place like India to show care for the context the clothes are made in, care for the communities creating these clothes, respect for the craft practices of India, and create clothing that is just as timeless as these craft practices. The joy in any creative work always comes through, and I think those brands resonate with people globally.

What piece of advice has had the most considerable impact on you and why?

To not leave all my eggs in one basket. I’ve always been drawn to freelancing because it allows me to pursue all the different things that excite me. And these different practices fuel each other as well, which helps me to keep creating. The joy of seeing a published piece in a newspaper is different from that of painting a mural, which is different from the sleepless nights trying to plan out making my screen prints and zines and selling them online. They all fulfill parts of me as an illustrator and make me the illustrator I am.

What goal are you working toward at the moment?

I’d love to be working towards the goal of having three vacation homes around the world. But, I’m currently slowly working on my graphic novel, a memoir, for the lovely folks at Levine Querido, and creating work for my zine, Sikh Femmes in Sick Fashion, a follow-up to my zine from 2017, Sikh Ladies in Sick Fashion.

One of our favourites from your work, of course, is the illustration you made of November Noon’s Dragonfly Jacket. What drew you to the brand?

I got to know about November Noon (like most wonderful things) through my dear friend Surabhi Chauhan AKA Lovestuckcow. I love the simplicity of the clothes, the colour palette, and the styling. When I saw the Dragonfly Jacket, I knew that I would end up drawing it.

What’s the one thing about November Noon that resonates with your style of illustrations?

I love that November Noon clothes seem like the kind that the characters I draw could be wearing.

We are curious to know. If you had to pick a November Noon piece for yourself, which one would it be? And, how would you wear it?

I love the Bouganvillea and Bamboo Overlays. I love a light layer in a bold colour or pattern, and these are perfect for transitional weather. I would wear it with a pastel pagri, a white tee, olive pants, and Y-3 Yuben sneakers.