Charting the Map of Digital Art with Peppermint | Interview

In conversation with the digital artist Peppermint; musings on art and the internet

art written with halogen lights
Photo by Zach Key / Unsplash

The caves of Maltravieso, Cáceres, are nondescript at best, but their walls tell a very old story. Among the 71 hand stencils embellishing its presence, one of them was drawn 64,000 years ago by a Neanderthal. It’s the oldest known cave painting as of now.

Art has come a long way since then, archiving not just the biological evolution of human beings, but also the evolution of our ideas, cultures, and intelligence. We are arguably at the junction of the next big transition in art since its shift to paper from wooden tablets.

Samuel Cohens in his book “50 Essays: A Portable Anthology” writes, “When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created in the Net’s image.” This is inevitable with art, as demonstrated by the hype around NFTs and Zuckerberg’s idealistic Metaverse. Our ideas and cultures are already in the process of complete digitization, although the file is quite large and taking its time to upload, and we are bound to encounter bugs on the way.

Intelligence is also constantly optimised in the image of the internet. “As we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence,” observes Cohens.

Creativity, which is at the helm of art, is experiencing a similar transition.

This shouldn’t be confused as a mere switch of mediums, that is art moving on from paper. That shift happened long before the internet was invented. Take the example of mangas and comics getting adapted to anime and superhero flicks. Katsudō Shashin is the oldest known animated film from Japan, made using fifty frames stencilled onto a strip of celluloid.

This was sometime between 1907-1912. But does that imply a departure from the old medium of art in favour of the new, televised animations? No. The shortest best-selling manga, Demon Slayer started in 2016 and already sold 150 million copies. In contrast, One Piece, the highest-selling manga ever, has been running since 1997 and sold only 490 million copies. Anime and manga coexist, often profiting in symbiosis.  

Likewise, business is booming for the visual effects industry, but so are architecture, sculpting and interior design. Some art forms are dying, like enamel work and pottery, but I would argue that a significant transition is due.

The internet is different. It is less about the transition to spaces like Instagram, DeviantArt and Twitter, and more about the nature of the space itself. During the pandemic, people spent more time around these spaces than at any time in the past.

When art galleries and museums were forced to shut down in lockdowns, digital artists stayed open for business. Aside from the halting of big-budget movies, most digital artists thrived under the omens of an internet-trapped world. It's no wonder then, whereas print manga sales are on a steady decline since 1995, digital mangas are more popular than ever.

Lupamudra Chetia, 20, has been working as a visual artist for the last five years. Better known in the industry as Peppermint, she has worked with many local and international artists, including Joi Barua, Nikhil Sarma, Bhargab Ojhapali, Sannidhya Bhuyan and Karan Das. She has minted 3 NFTs so far that can be purchased at WazirX.

Through Fiverr, she also works with various clients outside the country. Pursuing a Bachelor's in Psychology at USTM, the DC fangirl observes the world through cat-eyed frames and often swears by black anime T-shirts. She likes to keep her hair short. Here's our conversation on the digital spaces that moulded her artistry.

You have a wonderful portfolio for success. You started out drawing anime characters by hand. Then you started a Youtube channel and made clips of the process. You moved on to digital art and then eventually to visuals and more recently to NFTs. What inspired you through each transition?

Well, paper was okay for me but I could never expand my skills because of the excessively expensive equipment. So I thought, moving to digital would be a nice shot since buying a graphic tablet was a one-time investment. Then, of course, I found a video on the internet of some sci-fi-looking work of art and it was made with Blender (a 3D software). I was awed by the 3D world so I decided to lay my hands on it in July 2020. Since then I've been in love with 3D modeling and creation. With two years of my savings through selling art and some help from my parents, I built my dream setup in the summer of 2021 which helped me grow as an artist very well.

You never went to art school. You’re self-taught. How fulfilling is the experience of teaching yourself as opposed to learning from a teacher in a class of 30 kids? And what were the challenges?

Well, you see out of 10 kids in India 8 go to art schools and not all of them grow up to take art as a passion or profession. It was hard when I had to level up with people having theoretical knowledge about art. As a self-taught (artist) I thank the internet very much for providing answers to all the questions I had to start with. I'm still learning and always will be - art is a passion to me and I don't think my not being qualified enough will drag me down if I keep practicing and try to be better at what I do.

Being in this field for quite a long time, have you met other artists who are self-taught? Or is there still a tendency among most art enthusiasts to rely on art schools?

Well, we can say that there are more people with a degree than people without one, but I've met artists who work professionally even after being self-taught. Fun fact is even if you're self-taught, you can always join high-level design institutes later in life with the skills you've grown. For example, my senior joined NIFT after completing his M.Sc.

Skills are what matters at the end of the day.

You said you hated the colors in the drawing. But your visuals are full of color, even your 2d art has become quite vibrant. Was that an unconscious transition or do you like colors now?

Well, I was very unconscious of my art till very recently when a friend of mine pointed out my transition. All I was doing is making whatever I wanted to at the particular moment, I was a very non-color artist in the past but I've come across that, everything has phases, I guess. That was my phase as an artist and this is a new one.

Speaking of which, do you ever make art corresponding to your state of mind or is your art detached from your personal experience?

Yes, mood plays a big role in the art we make, especially in the colors we choose, when we're sad we tend to choose darker colors when we're happy we choose bright colors. The same goes for every form of art, be it music, writing, etc.

Personal art which I make for myself is very connected to my life but the artworks which are for sale or let's say an album art or posters are always inspired by others' stories or songs they're supposed to be based on.

You were known as Artist Nation before. Now you are Peppermint. You also go by two names - Tina and Lupamudra. What’s the story behind the four names?

Ah well, Tina and Lupamudra, those go to my parents who gave me two names. Artist Nation was just there when I started my Instagram and YouTube; I was trying to come up with a name as a thirteen-year-old. I came out as Peppermint in 2019, there's a long backstory of me being very fond of mints. You can call mints my coping system.

How do you see the future of digital art and NFTs?

I see it growing very big. People have started to learn more about digital art and how it's made. Especially our generation is starting to invest in crypto and NFTs, but there's always this stigma attached that digital art isn't real art because it's digital.

People say that because they're unaware of the process of making one - like the quote says, "you don't like what you don't understand".

I have known you for at least six years. But in school, we talked twice at most. Once to exchange Naruto episodes on a pen drive, and I don’t remember the second time. Maybe it was always once. So what was your school experience like?

Well, I was different in school, wasn't as confident as I am today. Thank you for the episodes though! The second time was in an examination hall – you were singing Thunder by Imagine Dragons.

School what can I say? I wasn't a good student academically and also morally - I got punished a lot because I was the class clown everywhere. I didn't have a great school life. I have horrifying experiences to be honest as I've changed schools about 6 times because my father works in a tea garden and gets transferred very often.

I'm afraid the episodes were dubbed in English. That was when I'd hoard anime instead of streaming. I don't remember singing Thunder though. You must have confused screeching with singing.
Has the frequent transfer of schools affected your perspective? Do you believe such life experiences helped you adapt quickly to art, for example, the transition from paper art to digital, and the way you quickly evolved your style?

Well, you see as a not-so-outgoing kid I had to spend most of my time inside my room because I couldn't go out to a friend's house. I spent most of my time practicing anything I could, from solving the Rubik's cube to making art. So I guess since childhood, I had the urge to push myself more than normal and achieve what I loved.

Art has helped me in many ways; people started to know me because I could draw, I got the light because of it or I'd have always been stuck in the caves of my own skin. Every artist needs experiences, both good and bad, to bring meaning to art, I guess.

Has the internet given you the space to grow as a person and experience society in a way that you otherwise couldn’t have?

Yes I couldn't thank the internet more

Talking to people without having them look at you is a confidence booster itself, although I've tried to focus myself and try to talk more over the phone. Until last year I was terrified to pick up calls and talk to anyone.

Fun fact - I wasn't able to talk to my best friend over the phone for around 5 years, sometimes she'd call and blabber everything and I'd reply in text. But thanks to this pandemic I've got more time to myself and to come out to the world. Also, the internet has helped artists to showcase their work a lot.

But you also had a strange encounter with internet fame when a video of you falling off a scooter went viral on social media. There was an instance of people sharing the video against your wishes. Admittedly, I have shared the video on Whatsapp too. What did you take away from that experience? Has the incident changed you in some way or the way you perceive the Internet?

Well, I have to thank the video for making me realize social media isn't worth it. I had this tension of people liking me and my art. I had that need of getting more followers on Instagram and impress people, but after that video, I came to my senses that Instagram and social media are just like show business and it's not healthy to worry about what people will think about you or your art, people watch and forget and move on. Ever since then, I stopped caring about who follows me or how many people follow me. It's just that I don't care about the number of people in the crowd anymore, I just am happy that I have a crowd, be it two people, five people or hundreds of them.

That's a very healthy outlook toward social media. Do you have a sense of purpose besides your job/passion? Like saving the world? Fixing poverty? Eating the biggest burger on earth? Bringing anime back to Indian TV?

Well, I want to eat the biggest chicken shawarma roll in the world. Anime got hyped in India during this pandemic and I don't like the toxicity of it. So meh, I don't know about that anymore.

Well, as I mentioned before I'm a psychology major too so my aim is to bring mental health counsellors to schools in India or Assam to start with, and also break the stigma around here of only crazy people seek mental help.

How's your mental health journey been? Has art helped as an outlet?

Well, I have had my ups and downs but yes, art has helped in some ways but also being an artist who puts out work in front of people can be overwhelming at times as you never know how people will react to your hard work of days. So, it's both good and bad, mostly good but we never expect consistency.

Art attracts millions of choosing beggars daily. Do you have any funny/interesting stories of clients who wanted their art to be done for free or offered hilariously low amount of money? How do you deal with such clients?

Well, some people just say okay after I tell them I'm not doing it for free but some people, oh my what to say, they "rage". They question our skills and how anyone can make what we make. Also (they) blame us for having an attitude. There was a guy who was very rude to me and said mean stuff. So I said to him, "okay, don't pay me, just buy me the colours and equipment I'll need to make your piece". and as we all know, equipments can be very expensive, so he left me on seen. Some say they'll pay and take the work and go AFK forever.

Free advice : always take an advance.

You went on a hiatus in the winter of 2020, if I remember correctly. Could you tell a little bit about it - why you took it and how did the comeback feel?

Well too much of anything isn't a good choice, if you love to eat burgers and we gave you burgers everyday for every meal you'll vomit the next time you see burgers. Breaks are healthy, it's good to step back and breathe differently for once. The comebacks are always better. After a break, you're fresh and all ready to make stuff. Don't ever overdose yourself with anything, even if it's the most dear thing to you.

Peppermint is the artist. What’s Awkwardsuperhero like? What does she do when she’s not making art or watching anime?

Well awkwardsuperhero is awkward as you can see, very clumsy and is what you describe as a geek but not into education. This side of me is just full of fandom, superheros, anime, bands. I spend most of my free time reading comics/mangas or watching movies/series. My life in a nutshell is a fan who is also an artist, I'd be nowhere if I wasn't a fan of superheros or anime.

How supportive were your parents towards your art pursuits?

Honestly, they were not as supportive as they are today after actually seeing me grow and I'm happy with how things turned out. And I don't blame them because you know how it is when you start with 10% success rate of getting a living out of this, parents want a secure future and proving them that you have one with what you do is our responsibility.

Do you believe that digital art comes with some amount of privilege? For example, the majority of people in India still don’t have access to the internet, and most underprivileged children will never pick up a laptop or a tablet in their life. Some kids might have great potential for art but will never become successful, simply due to lack of resources. Do you have any thoughts on how we can make technology more accessible to these kids? Or any other ways to bring forth their artistic creativity?

So, you see, instead of blaming the situations or lifestyle you should work hard for what you want. I'll tell you my story - I sold art made on the middle page of my notebook with a ballpoint pen for two years for a very cheap price, then with the money I got, I invested in frames and better paper and sold the art for a slightly higher amount, after four years of doing so I bought a laptop with the money. Patience is necessary, I had enough privilege to ask my parents for a laptop but I chose to earn it because I wanted to value it.

I say, yes, some people have more privilege than others but with hard work and patience, you can achieve everything. Learning to value what you have is what I believe in, rich kids buying expensive pieces of equipment and throwing them away once bored is who you should never become.

You also play the guitar and keyboard. Does music influence your work?

Well yes it does, I play the guitar/Keyboard and write songs that I just keep to myself and it inspires me to make a painting or sketch out of it, it's beautiful how every form of art connects and brings meaning to one another. A while ago I made an animation inspired by a dancer.

Would love to hear your ""From the vaults"" songs someday.

Surely one day.

What’s your experience with the pandemic? What have you gained, and what have you lost?

The pandemic has been very well for the ones from the creative field, as it gave us solitude and more time to focus, I have learned a lot while this period and have changed a lot as an artist. What I have lost is the experience of physical appearance, I have missed opportunities of working on sets because of the pandemic but I hope I get another chance soon. This phase has also been very depressing looking at loss of people even how cruel humanity can be. I hope everything goes back to normal soon"

Is there any book/movie that has impacted your life perspective in a major way?

Yes a book, it's called - the Perks of Being a Wallflower. It has helped me come out to everyone. I also watch a lot of documentaries. The last I watched was of Lady Gaga's.

It’s the most cliche question ever, but I have to ask this. How do you see yourself in ten years, both job-wise and mentally?

Well, my mind changes every time but as for my present self I see myself performing on stage as a visual jockey with some DJ I like or a friend who is a musician, and also as a counsellor . Mentally I hope I am not exhausted of everything I just want to be happy and at peace.

What would you like young artists to know that you wish you knew when you started?

Don't trust everyone who is nice to you, always take a % of advance payment, value what you have and don't let the grind stop.

Last question. To-may-toes or To-mah-toes?

To-mah-toes always.

Source: Stories Under My Bed